The Macquarie Men's Sevens team will face Samoa in the quarter finals of the Wellington Sevens tomorrow after sensationally topping their pool.
Geraint John’s men secured qualification to the main part of the draw after wins over France and Kenya.
Conor Trainor and Ciaran Hearn may grab all the headlines with their try-scoring feats but the entire team can look back on day one with immense satisfaction.
They opened their campaign at Westpac Stadium with a testing encounter against France – runners-up in their last Sevens outing at Dubai. Canada led 14-7 at half-time thanks to tries from Trainor and Nathan Hirayama but France drew level with minutes on the clock when Paul Albaledjo landed a pressure conversation.
The Canadians, who had looked full of running and guile throughout, were not to be denied and Ciaran Hearn broke the line late on to touch down.
Pool D was thrown wide open soon after when Kenya thumped Australia 35-10 but France registered their first win later in the day by dismissing the Kenyans.
Australia were next up for the Canucks and the scores were tied at 7-7 apiece at the break. Australia hit the front with a try from one of their star players, Lewis Holland, but were breached at the death. Trainor chipped in with another try but the tying conversion was missed.
It was left to the final game to decide Canada’s fate and they got off to a bad start by falling behind to Kenya. Trainor scored their sole try of a first-half that ended 14-7 to the Kenyans.
The second-half saw a complete turnaround in fortunes for John’s side as they upped the tempo and ran in two tries from Trainor (again) and Nanyak Dala. Hirayama was three for three with his conversions and a quarter-final spot was clinched with a 21-14 victory.
The commitment of the Canadian team was personified by IRB Series debutant Jeff Hassler, who ran back 80 metres to stop a Kenya attack and made the last tackle of the game when he put the Kenyan into touch.
John said, “It has been an interesting day in the terms of the competitiveness of the games. It goes to show that a lot of teams are improving but also that you never know what can happen on the day.”
“I think we’ve done well lately. We’ve always beaten core teams – that has been a goal of ours. We have to be pleased with the day. We’ve got five players here that are under the age of 20 and only three over 22. Again that is pleasing with regards to our development and where we want to go in the future.”
John praised the ‘great pressure and intensity’ of the entire squad. He also highlighted the efforts of Tyler Ardon, who stole three line-outs, and Hassler’s insatiable defence.
Trainor, with four tries on the opening day of competition, already has 20 points to his name and he is closely followed by Hirayama, who scored a try and six conversions to accumulate 17 points.
Sevens team manager, Brian Hunter was delighted with the efforts of the side and said they richly deserved their spot in the latter stages of the tournament.
He commented, “The guys had a great start by knocking over France and narrowly missed out on a draw with Australia when Nate Hirayama had a bad bounce for his conversion attempt. They came back very well to beat Kenya.”
Hunter was speaking from a local hospital in Wellington as he awaited news on John Moonlight’s injured shoulder. The knock, sustained in the final pool match, should be enough to keep Moonlight out of action on day two but he will be in attendance to cheer his teammates on.
Australia were the big casualty of the pool stages as they could only fashion a draw against a dogged French side. The result means Canada top Pool D and will face Samoa in the quarter finals at 3:17pm on Saturday (New Zealand time).
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