For a third year in a row, B.C. Place saw two constants, one great, one not.
The great was the fans in the stands were delivered a thumping good time. But, sadly for those fans, Canada couldn’t deliver the big finish.
After a day one where things went well enough for the Canadians and then suddenly not, Day 2 started with hope for at least a fine finish, but that again proved elusive: Canada made too many mistakes, blew a 10-0 lead and lost 21-15 to Samoa in the 13th place game.
In the final, Fiji took the title with a scintillating 31-12 win over Kenya, giving an army of loud and proud blue-clad fans the win they’ve been hoping for since the first edition of the tournament in 2016.
The comparison point between Canada and how the two finalist teams made the final couldn’t have been more stark: both Kenya and Fiji played hard crunching, thrilling, mistake-free rugby all weekend.
“To play our game we have to keep the ball and no give away possession. We stuck to our game plan and worked together and trust in what individual skills we have,” Fiji’s Eroni Sau said. “Kenya is a physical team. Every team playing now on the series, it’s not like before, everyone knows how to play sevens.”
Though not quite how to play Fijian sevens, he conceded with a smile.
South Africa finished third, their third appearance in the top three in Vancouver in three years. (They’ve lost the previous two finals.)
In 14th, a new low-finish for the Canadians at their home event, they were left ruing mental mistakes, something that’s dogged them all season.
“A lot of it comes down to mental work, that last two minutes, you’ve got to grind as you can and the top teams do that,” Canada captain Harry Jones said of his team’s struggles. “Those little marginal errors that sometimes we make the top teams aren’t doing and if we can fix that one small part of our game, we’ll be top eight, top four, a lot more often.”
Sunday’s disappointment came all a day after the Canadians just missed out on qualifying for the cup round, again through their own mistakes.
In pool play, things look to be setting up well after a draw with Australia, who finished sixth on Sunday. In the second game, they had the USA, who finished 4th, on the ropes before a wayward kick by the normally dead-on Nathan Hirayama and a couple unlucky bounces resulted in a last-play score for the Americans and a loss.
The final sequence against the U.S. was an example of those little errors, as a draw in that game actually would have served the Canadians just as well as a win. Yes, they could have just kicked or run the ball out and they’d have been fine.
After the loss to Samoa, coach Damian McGrath pulled no punches about his team’s mental fragility.
“Every game that hasn’t gone our way has been of our making,” he said. “We mix the sublime with the ridiculous.
“When things are going well we go well but as soon as upset happens we’re finding it difficult to get back on track and that’s my job.”
Even after the American misstep on Saturday, the Canadians still nearly pulled out a place in the cup round. They smashed Uruguay in their final pool game, meaning they just needed a U.S. win over the Aussies to make the cup round. But a stunning second half collapse from the Americans put that idea away and tumbled the Canadians down to the consolation trophy round.
At the end of Saturday, the team was very frustrated with how things had gone in their losses and overall in the tournament, Jones said.
“Our boys didn’t get a lot of sleep (Saturday) night … and I wish we could shown a better performance today.”
When they came to the stadium Sunday morning, you figured they would seize the initiative against the wobbly Scots, but instead they made mistake after mistake and the Scots were more than happy to take the chances on offer.
The game ended on a forward pass and veteran forward John Moonlight smashed the ball to the ground in frustration, his team having lost 19-0.
They did turn things around in their next game on Sunday, winning their second game of the day over France 31-19 to put them in the 13th place game, but that really was small consolation.
It was a tough weekend with a tough finish.
“We wish we could have impressed a little bit more,” Jones said. “Hopefully we can win it all next year.”