The USA 7s is of course the home tournament of the United States, but it is also essentially the home tournament for Canada, and the Canadian team didn’t disappoint their many fans this weekend, playing a hard-nosed, fearless brand of 7s rugby that put them into the semifinals.
Ultimately, the ending in Vegas was perfectly appropriate for the Canadians. They came back from a 19-0 deficit, tied the game near the end, and won the third-place playoff on a penalty kick from Phil Mack. Throughout the weekend, they were fearless, physical, and clearly believed in themselves, and their fans believed in them, too.
John Moonlight was enormous in contact, and his thundering runs opened up all sorts of possibilities for the team. Nanyak Dala produced a special spark, and Connor Braid and Conor Trainor were at turns hard to stop, and smart with their delivery.
But the heart and soul of this team is their smallest player. Mack isn’t afraid to make a tackle, he is an elusive runner, and he leads.
The Canadian team came in without captain Nathan Hirayama and top try-scorer Sean Duke, but they had several very experienced players. And the game they play is one that uses their power runners – which are legion – and they simply play without fear of losing.
Add to that a strong fitness level – as good as anyone’s – and a complete faith in what each other is doing, they were the team of the tournament in many ways.
The story would have been very nice with their 2-1 effort in Pool Play and their 17-14 defeat of France (coming from 14-5 down) in the quarterfinals. Making the semis is huge for a team in the lower reaches of the World Series standings, such as Canada.
But the third-place game cemented this weekend as a weekend for Canada. Down 19-0 against a Samoa team that was outpacing them, Canada never deviated.
Trainor capped off a series of power runs and short offloads, and then John Moonlight took a pass from Braid to go over. With time almost up Mack zipped over for the game-tier.
Canada kept scoring because they kept winning their restarts, and they did it again, and seemed to use that ability to garner strength as Samoa’s waned. A penalty in front of the posts with time up gave Canada one more shot. Mack considered the options for a moment, then pointed to the posts. No problem, pandemonium, and a rousing rendition of “O Canada” with the fans.
More than the point 17 World Series points, this tournament showed how you can win with a group of players who believe in the process and work intensely hard to be strong enough, fit enough, and together enough to win.
Their four victories were all by razor-thin margins. They lost relatively convincingly to the two finalists, and perhaps were a bounce of the ball from finishing several spots lower. But they did win those games, and they did it in exciting fashion. This 2014 USA 7s was the 7s for Canada in many ways.
Canada Results at the 2014 USA 7s
Canada 17 Kenya 15
Tries: Braid, Moonlight, Douglas
Canada 0 South Africa 29
Canada 21 Wales 19
Tries: Mack, Dala, Douglas
Convs: Mack 2, Braid
Canada 17 France 14
Tries: Braid 2, Dala
Canada 7 New Zealand 26
Canada 22 Samoa 19
Tries: Mack, Moonlight, Trainor
Convs: Mack 2