Canada wins first ever rugby sevens title at Singapore Sevens
"It's awesome, we're so excited," says captain John Moonlight
They say good things come to those who wait – and Canada’s rugby sevens team has done its fair share of waiting.
The North Americans made history in Singapore at the weekend beating USA 26-19 in the final to clinch its first World Rugby Sevens tournament title in the series’ 18-year history.
“It’s hard to put into words how it feels,” captain John Moonlight told CNN pitchside after the win. “We’ve worked so hard over the years.
“The core group of us, we’ve got some good young guys coming through and this year we didn’t know what was gonna happen – and it’s awesome, we’re so excited.
“We beat three of the top five teams today and on any given day any team can beat anyone in sevens. We know if we keep playing hard, we’re going to be up there every time. We’re showing that Canadian rugby is on the scene now.”
In a tense final against the USA, Canada looked to have the title sealed early on after racing into a 19-0 lead.
However, nerves and inexperience appeared to play their part as Perry Baker scored twice to drag the USA back level.
With the game looking like it could go either way, Lucas Hammond took advantage of a brief opening in the USA line to seal a historic win.
All that remains now, perhaps, is a congratulatory telephone call from Canada’s Prime Minister, and avid rugby fan, Justin Trudeau.
“Well, hopefully we hear from him,” Moonlight said, when asked by CNN’s Christina Macfarlane. “He played a little bit of rugby with us back in the day so you never know, he might show up!”
The victory is another feather in the cap for Canada’s coach Damian McGrath, who led Samoa to a shock win at last year’s Paris Sevens.
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“It’s incredible,” McGrath told World Rugby. “Last night we were beaten by Fiji so we had a little bit of soul searching and then we came back and beat some of the best teams in the world.
“This will show that Canadian rugby has so much to offer.”
In Sunday’s first quarterfinal, USA upset Olympic champion Fiji thanks to a Ben Pinkelman-inspired performance.
The 22-year-old ran over two tries to lead his side to a 24-19 win.
Australia then ensured South Africa’s Blitzboks wouldn’t compete in the semifinals for the first time this series.
Trailing by 10 points with just a minute remaining, Tom Lucas ensured a grandstand finale by running half the length of the pitch to give Australia a fighting chance.
The Aussies then regained possession almost immediately after the restart and a brilliant break and offload by Liam McNamara allowed Lachie Anderson to score under the posts, which left a simple conversion for the win.
“The whole squad is pretty pumped by the effort that the boys put in there,” Lucas said after the win. “It was a great performance out there. We fought right to the end and just didn’t give up.”
Eventual winner Canada then made it three quarterfinal upsets in a row, triumphing 26-14 over New Zealand – thanks in part to Nathan Hirayama’s dancing feet.
The 29-year-old changed direction twice in the blink of an eye to evade the attempted tackles of two Kiwis and finished with a pirouette to cross the line.
In the last quarterfinal, it was Kenya which suffered last-gasp heartbreak, as England’s Dan Bibby scored a penalty with the last kick of the game to give his side a narrow 13-12 win.
The day of shocks continued as the teams entered the semifinals, with the USA producing a comeback win to steamroll Australia 40-7 thanks to a scintillating performance from Perry Baker.
The long-legged speedster raced clear of two chasing defenders, running more than half the length of the field to spark a dominant US display.
Justin Douglas then led Canada to a convincing 17-5 win over England to book a place in the final, scoring one try after a blistering run down the wing and setting up another with an inventive break between England’s lines.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Hirayama, who was named player of the final, told World Rugby.
“A lot of us have been on the scene a long time and we came through some dark times, but to come away with that win was special.”
Beaten semifinalist England overcame Australia 14-12 to win the bronze medal match, while Wales beat Scotland 24-12 to claim the Challenge Trophy.