Canada Sevens: Clean sweep for big guns
DAY ONE, WRAP: South Africa, Ireland and USA emerge as pool winners on an opening day dominated by core teams.
After approximately an 18 month-wait, the World Rugby Sevens Series is back up and running again and the action on day one of the Canada Sevens did not disappoint.
South Africa, Ireland, USA, Kenya, Great Britain, Canada, Hong Kong and Spain have made it through to the Cup quarter-finals and are still in contention for the 20 World Series points that come with winning the Vancouver title.
As the only teams involved in this year’s competition to have featured in a Vancouver final before, South Africa and Kenya were favourites to contest the top spot in Pool A, and that proved to be the case.
Kenya, the 2018 runners-up, got going with a 17-5 win over Spain before making short work of invitation team Mexico.
Seven different players crossed the whitewash in a 45-7 win for the Shujaa Sevens but José Velasco Pons received the biggest cheer when he darted under the posts for Mexico – their first World Series points since their Shield quarter-final against Spain at the Hong Kong Sevens in 2011.
In South Africa’s opening game, Angelo Davids became the fourth Blitzbok player to score four tries in a match in World Series history and the first in Canada. Davids’ haul came in a 53-0 win over Mexico – a record score in Canada for Neil Powell’s team.
South Africa had never lost to Spain in 14 previous outings on the Series and their copybook never looked like being blotted as they cruised into a 22-0 half-time lead. They did concede their first points of the tournament shortly after the restart, however, when Enrique Bolinches managed to stretch out and score. Normal service was resumed thereafter and South Africa controlled the remainder of the game to win 34-7.
A 57-0 victory over Mexico ensured Spain’s points difference was good enough for them to make it through to the Canada Sevens quarters for the second year in a row as the second-best third-place team. Miguel Reina celebrated with a hat-trick, the third of the opening day.
All eyes were then on the all-African showdown to decide first place in Pool A, and the match didn’t take long to ignite as Muller du Plessis crossed for the Blitzboks with just 35 seconds on the clock.
Further punishment for Kenya followed as they conceded three more first-half tries and lost Willy Ambaka to a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on. Ryan Oosthuizen scored their second and Ronald Brown continued his fine form with two more. With all four tries being converted, South Africa led 28-0 at the interval.
Kenya got the first score of the second half when Daniel Taabu showed a great turn of pace to enter the in-goal area before unselfishly passing to Alvin Otieno who was better placed to touch down underneath the posts.
After JC Pretorius replied for South Africa, Kenya scored another brilliant try down the left, with Alvin Marube supplying the finish on this occasion. Ambaka threatened to add another down the same flank but was stopped in his tracks by Darren Adonis and the match ended 33-14 to the Blitzboks.
Having won both of their opening games, Great Britain and Ireland had already qualified for the quarter-finals by the time they met in Pool B’s concluding fixture.
Great Britain had announced their arrival at this level with a 24-5 win against fellow World Series debutants Jamaica on what was a special occasion for Englishman Tom Bowen, who marked his 50th World Series tournament appearance by setting up one try and scoring another.
Great Britain then had to come back from 5-0 down against Hong Kong after Liam Herbert’s opening try for the Asian team, Max McFarland running in a second-half hat-trick in a 31-5 win.
Ireland had also had it tough against Hong Kong in the first match of the day – and the first on the World Series for 559 days. But they held on to win 17-14 and followed it up with a 50-0 victory against Jamaica – their third biggest win on the World Series. Mark Roche and the impressive Conor Phillips bagged a brace of tries apiece against the side coached by World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee, Fijian legend Waisale Serevi.
Before the play-off for top spot, Hong Kong recorded their biggest-ever World Series win against Jamaica to secure third place in the pool and improve their points difference. Seb O’Brien’s hat-trick try took Hong Kong up to 60 points for the first time in history. Jamaica were unable to fire a shot back in reply and were kept scoreless for the second consecutive match.
An absence of points in the first half of the Great Britain v Ireland encounter pointed to the extra pressure riding on the outcome. Both teams conceded turnovers at regular intervals and there were a flurry of penalties at the breakdown in a scoreless first half.
Two minutes into the second half Ireland finally broke the deadlock, Gavin Mullin taking advantage of a slip in defence by Jamie Barden to score the opening try. Faced by a green defensive wall in front of them, Great Britain struggled to gain ground but, with just over a minute to go, Bowen raced clear and Luke Treharne knocked over the conversion to level the scores at 7-7. A draw, however, was enough for Ireland to top the pool on points difference (+53 compared to Great Britain’s +45).
USA and Canada went into the final match of the day unbeaten and with bragging rights and first place in Pool C on the line.
Both teams had been tested to different levels up until that point, with Chile giving crowd favourites Canada a real scare until the home side pulled through to win 19-14.
A new-look Canadian team had hit the ground running in their first match with a sensational first half against Germany. Canada held a 24-0 advantage but Germany coach Damian McGrath will be proud of the way his players stuck to their task against his former team. In addition to keeping their line intact, the Germans scored the only points of the second half through Manasah Sita, to lose 24-5. The win was Canada’s 400th on the World Series.
Andrew Coe opened the scoring for Canada in their next game against Chile but he was left floundering by Diego Warnken’s stop-and-go as Los Condores Sevens hit back. Jake Thiel responded immediately but fellow Tokyo Olympian Coe had to get himself up off the deck again as more trickery, this time from Felipe Brangier, saw the former Los Condores skipper score their second try. With the conversion going over, Chile went into the break 14-12 up.
Sensing their team could be on the wrong end of an upset, cries of ‘let’s go, Canada’ rang out from the stands, and lifted by the support, Vancouver native and captain Phil Berna set about taking the game back to Chile. His powerful run led to Matthew Percillier scoring the match-winner.
USA had beaten Chile 33-5 in their first game but were slightly flattered by the scoreline. And neither did they have it all their own way against Germany, Tim Lichtenberg running in a try from 45 metres after Malacchi Esdale had struck first for Mike Friday’s men.
With both conversions successful, the score stood at 7-7. But USA, who’d lost Cody Melphy to injury, signed off the half with a brilliant break-out try, Joe Schroeder scoring after collecting Naima Fuala’au’s deft crossfield kick. Esdale’s second and a Kevon Williams try put further distance between the teams and USA ran out 26-7 winners.
In the battle for third place, Germany at last found some of the fluency that brought them success on the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2020. Chasing a big score to give them a chance of making the quarter-finals, Germany scored five tries to lead Chile 31-0 at the break, Ben Ellermann scoring twice. But they lost out in the second half two tries to one and the 36-12 victory – their biggest on the series – wasn’t enough for them to make the Cup quarter-finals.
USA silenced the home crowd in the final match, racing into a 19-0 lead after Martin Iosefo’s opener was followed by a brace from Adam Channel. Percillier finished off a superb counter-attack to give Canada hope but a second try from Iosefo and one from Matai Leuta killed the game off. Henry Paul’s side sent the crowd home on a high note, however, when Anton Ngongo and Jack Carson crossed late on to make the final score 29-19 to USA.