The fragile character of Canada’s rugby sevens team was shown in a 21-15 loss to Samoa Sunday.
The Canadian men led the game 10-0 at one point, bringing roars of approval from the hometown crowd. Canada then allowed a try late in the first half, followed by another early in the second. Samoa would score 21 unanswered points before Canada managed a try in extra time.
The loss left Canada in 14th place at the HSBC Canada Sevens Rugby tournament. It’s the worst finish in three years of the event.
The collapse was something head coach Damian McGrath has seen too often this season.
“That’s probably the story of our year so far,” a frustrated McGrath said. “We mix the sublime with the ridiculous.
“Teams see us as weak. When they get a score, they can get another one. We have to find a way to stop that. If there is a crack in the dam we have to find a way to block it.”
An announced crowd of 77,096 attended the two-day tournament at BC Place Stadium. Fiji drew the largest and most vocal contingent. The Fijian fans chanted, waved flags and pounded drums.
Scattered in the crowd was one group sporting shaggy white wigs and fake mustaches to look like Albert Einstein. Another group dressed like a pit crew from a Formula One race. There were also hula dancers, men dressed like highway patrol officers, various other furry animals and two young girls, one decked out like a piece of pizza, the other a hot dog.
Canada, which finished with a 2-3-1 record, showed a Jekyll and Hyde personality all weekend. The flashes of brilliance and quality play were counterbalanced by mental errors and costly mistakes.
“A lot of it comes down to mental work,” captain Harry Jones said. “Those little marginal errors that sometimes we make, the top teams aren’t doing.
“If we can fix that one small part of our game, we’ll be top eight or top four a lot more often.”
Canada finished seventh at last year’s tournament and ninth in 2016.
During pool play on Saturday, Canada pushed both the United States and Australia to their limits. A late mistake resulted in a 28-21 loss to the United States. Earlier the Canadians scored a try in the final seconds for a 19-19 draw with Australia.
McGrath said his players don’t lack effort, they just need to clean up the mistakes.
“It’s a mental issue,” he said. “Every game that hasn’t gone our way it’s been about our own making. Our mistakes have cost tries.
“It just shows the margin between success and failure is close and, at the moment, we have been pushing ourselves to the negative side.”
Canada had a 1-1-1 record Saturday but finished third in Pool A and failed to advance to the Cup competition. The top two qualifiers from the four pools advanced to the championship playoffs.
Canada defeated Uruguay 47-5 in its final pool match but still needed the United States to beat Australia to move onto the championship playoffs. The Australians erased a 21-7 half-time deficit for a 31-21 win.
Canada started Sunday looking flat in a 19-0 loss to previously winless Scotland. Canada made eight errors and gave away the ball 12 times.
McGrath called it one of the worst games he’d seen the team play.
The Canadians regrouped to beat France 31-19. Canada trailed three times in the match but battled back to score 17 unanswered second-half points. Nathan Hirayama led the attack with two tries and three converts.
The Canada Sevens is the sixth stop on the 10-country HSBC World Rugby Seven Series. South Africa came into the weekend leading the series with 92 points, followed by New Zealand with 82, Fiji 79 and Australia 72. Canada is ranked 11th with 35 points. Its best result of the season was fourth in Cape Town.
Canada finish eighth in the overall standings last year with 98 points, managing a win in Singapore and a third place in London. The Canadians were 13th in 2015-16 with 40 points.
In Rugby Sevens, teams of seven players play two, seven-minute halves. Traditional rugby has 15 players playing 40-minute halves.