Canada men record biggest win of season, down Australia to reach France 7s semifinals
TOULOUSE, France — Alex Russell scored the go-ahead try and Canada's defence held firm in the dying seconds Saturday in a 12-10 upset of Australia to move into the semifinal of the HSBC France Sevens.
It was the biggest win of the season for the 14th-ranked Canadian men, who face a relegation playoff next week in London to remain a core team on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series next season.
But first, they will play No. 2 Argentina in Sunday's semifinal. The Pumas dispatched No. 7 South Africa 21-12 in their quarterfinal.
By making the Cup quarterfinals in France, Argentina sealed a top-four finish in the season standings which means automatic qualification for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
It marked Canada's first trip to the cup quarterfinals in 10 stops on the World Series this season. The fifth-ranked Australians, who won the overall title last season and lifted the trophy in Hong Kong to open the 2023 campaign, were making their eighth quarterfinal appearance this season.
The Canadians best finish this season has been 10th and it came in the opening event in Hong Kong in November. Since then they have finished 11th, 14th (five times) and tied for 15th (twice). They had won 15 games and lost 36 heading into Toulouse, the 10th and penultimate stop for the men this season.
Captain Phil Berna put Canada ahead early with a converted try with the Australians down a man as Darby Lancaster lay injured on the pitch. After a lengthy delay for treatment, Lancaster was taken off the field on a stretcher, giving a thumbs-up as he left.
Australia was down a man again soon after when Hayden Sargeant was sin-binned for a high tackle on Max Stewart, who had to leave the field for a head injury assessment.
Australia's Tim Clements scored early in the second half but Dietrich Roache missed the conversion, leaving Canada's lead at 7-5. James Turner, a speedster whose nickname is Jimmy the Jet, then scored in the corner to give Australia a 10-7 lead.
Russell restored Canada's lead with a try in the last minute, racing past Australian defender Nathan Lawson, who got a hand to him but could not hold on.
The Australians mounted a furious late charge before Henry Paterson, hit by Brock Webster and another Canadian tackler, coughed up the ball near the Canadian try-line some two and half minutes into added time.
It was the first meeting between the two since the Canada Sevens in March in Vancouver, where the Canadians ended an eight-game losing streak to the Australians with a 29-12 win.
After losing 29-12 to Series-leading New Zealand and defeating No. 11 Uruguay 26-0 on Friday, the Canadian men downed No. 13 Kenya 33-7 to finish runner-up to the All Blacks in Pool A.
The eighth-ranked Canadian women missed out on their Cup quarterfinals, concluding Pool A play Saturday with a 28-7 loss to No. 1 New Zealand. The Canadian women opened play Friday with a 26-19 loss to the third-ranked U.S. and 35-7 win over invitational side Poland 35-7.
The Canada women then moved into the consolation bracket, downing No. 11 Brazil 26-17 in the ninth-place semifinal and will take on No. 10 Spain on Sunday for ninth place.
The Toulouse tournament is the final event of the seven-stop women's circuit.
By making the cup quarterfinals, the New Zealand women clinched a seventh World Series title in 10 years. The Black Ferns sevens squad won five of the six previous tournaments this season.
Both Canadian teams will be looking to up their game ahead of the Rugby Americas North Sevens Olympic qualifier in Langford, B.C., in August.
The Canadian men have a fight on their hands to hold onto their place on the circuit.
The number of core teams in the men's World Series is being reduced to 12 from 16 next season to match the number of women's sides and align with the Olympic competition structure.
The 15th-ranked core team following Toulouse will be relegated, with Japan currently in the hot seat. The Japanese have 16 points, eight less than Canada.
The teams ranked 12th, 13th and 14th at the end of Toulouse — currently Spain (48 points), Kenya (37 points) and Canada (24 points) — will move into a four-team relegation playoff together with Tonga, the Challenger Series 2023 winner, next weekend in London.
The playoff winner becomes the 12th core team on the 2024 Series, while the other three teams will have to go through regional sevens championships in order to qualify for the 2024 World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series.
No. 11 Uruguay came to France with a slender one-point lead over No. 12 Spain.
New Zealand defeated Argentina 19-17 in the final in Singapore last month to become the first men's team to join host France at the Olympics.
The All Blacks (with 160 points) have dominated the men's circuit with podium finishes in seven of the nine events, including tournament wins in Sydney, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Singapore. Argentina (140 points) has four podium finishes with wins in New Zealand and Vancouver.
Olympic champion Fiji currently stands third at 130 points, followed by France (122), Australia (112), Samoa (111) and South Africa (106).
On the women's side, Ireland, Fiji and Britain are battling for the final Olympic automatic qualification, looking to join New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. in Paris.
Sabrina Poulin scored Canada's lone try in Saturday's loss to New Zealand, with Olivia Apps adding the conversion. Poulin, Apps, Fancy Bermudez and Piper Logan scored tries in the win over Brazil with Apps kicking two conversions and Breanne Nicholas booting one.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2023
The Canadian Press