[Canada's Connor Braid. Ian Muir photo]
The semifinals for the NACRA 7s championship have been set: USA v Mexico, Canada v Jamaica.
The USA kicked off the playoffs with a 47-0 win over the Bahamas.
“Last night we mostly talked about our tackling, wrapping up and making good tackles,” USA’s Maka Unufe said of the team’s debrief after day one. “We’ve been working on our defense a lot, and we didn’t get to do much yesterday. [USA 7s coach Alex] Magleby wanted to see if we were achieving.
“The Bahamas were definitely the most physical team we faced so far,” Unufe continued, “and it took some time to adjust. But I think we lived up to Mags’ expectations. We’ll learn more in the next game, because I’m sure we’re going to have to tackle more.”
Unufe admitted that he didn’t know much about the team’s semifinal opponent, Mexico, which defeated Guyana in a thrilling 17-14 quarterfinal. However, he did notice that they’re excellent kickers and seem to have some internationals infused on the squad.
Unufe was more interested in the Canada, which won their quarterfinal against Barbados 45-7.
“Oh yeah, it fires me up,” Unufe said of watching Canada play. “Since I’ve been with the USA, we’ve never won. I really want to win; they’re our rivals.”
What was most notable about Canada’s massive win, was how difficult it was to take ballcarriers to ground. Even smaller players like Phil Mack would spin off of and drag multiple defenders to avoid going to ground. Tyler Ardron displayed incredible strength on the sideline, repeatedly fending his defender from shoving him into touch before hitting Connor Braid back inside to keep the ball alive long enough for a score. And Jeff Hassler taught Barbados the value of hitting the line at pace. And then there was Ciaran Hearn, who was just as successful being elusive, working the gap between defenders to score untouched.
It was an impressive show, and the hometown team have one more match before guaranteeing a seed to the Rugby World Cup Sevens next year.
Jamaica is all that stands between Canada and the big show. Jamaica defeated Trinidad & Tobago 19-5 in the final quarterfinal of the day. Both sides had good speed, but Jamaica took some more risks and were rewarded. One recalls a kick-pass from the ground, fantastic try-saving tackles, and impressive passes out of a spinning tackle. Jamaica will need to pair that creativity with perfect defense if they’re to give Canada a run.