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South Africa ends Canadian rugby sevens men’s dream of Olympic qualification

Canadian women have already qualified for Paris
Canada captain Phil Berna, left, and teammate Noah Flesch celebrate Flesch’s winning try in a 24-19 victory in extra time over Chile in quarterfinal play on Day 3 of the World Rugby Sevens Repechage in Monaco in a Sunday, June 23, 2024, handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-World Rugby, KLC fotos, Mike Lee

South Africa ended the Canadian men’s Olympic dream Sunday with a 28-0 win in the semifinal of the World Rugby Sevens Repechage.

Fatigue played a part with the depleted Canadians, having lost Alex Russell and Kalin Sager to injury, having just three men on the bench. Matt Oworu, who sat out the quarterfinal, dressed for the semifinal despite an ankle issue.

The Canadians had needed a dramatic 24-19 win over Chile to reach the final four. Noah Flesch scored the winning try in extra time, after Cooper Coats converted a Thomas Isherwood try with the clock in the red to force overtime.

South Africa faced Britain in the final, with the last Olympic berth on the line at Stade Louis II, with Canada meeting Spain for third place. Britain defeated Spain 17-12 in the other semifinal.

China and Kenya faced off in the women’s final.

Twelve men’s and 12 women’s teams were competing for the last berth in the Olympic field. The fifth-ranked Canadian women have already qualified for Paris.

Selvyn Davids scored two tries and Tristan Leyds and Rosko Specman added singles for South Africa, which led Canada 14-0 at the half.

After Davids gave South Africa an early 7-0 lead, the Blitzboks lost Christie Grobbelaar to a yellow card for a high tackle in the first half but still managed another try with Leyds slicing through the Canadian defence.

The Canadians attacked in the second half but could not breach the Blitzboks defence. And South Africa took advantage when Canada make mistakes.

Still it was a stirring end to a dismal season that saw the Canadian men relegated from the top-tier HSBC SVNS series after a 3-36-0 campaign. Spain delivered the final blow in Canada’s relegation battle with a 22-14 win on June 3 in Madrid.

The men’s semifinals featured four teams from the 12-country HSBC SVNS, formerly known as the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. South Africa finished seventh this season while Britain was eighth, Spain 10th and Canada 12th.

In the other quarterfinals, Britain blanked Tonga 33-0, South Africa dispatched Uganda 26-0 and Spain downed Hong Kong 26-5.

The South Africans were the favourites coming into the tournament, having earned Olympic bronze in Rio in 2016 and won the elite HSBC SVNS series season title on three occasions while finishing runner-up nine times. The Blitzboks also won this season’s opening event in Dubai.

Coats and Jack McCarthy also scored tries for Canada against Chile. Tomas Salas, Cristobal Game and Gonzalo Lara replied for the South Americans, who came agonizingly close to earning promotion to the HSBC SVNS in Madrid, losing 12-10 to Uruguay on a late try.

The Canada men, who placed eighth at the Tokyo Olympics, had been a core team on the top sevens circuit since 2012-13 and lifted the trophy in Singapore in 2017. Now they will have to battle their way back to the top tier.

The Canadians snapped a 29-game losing streak with a much-needed 31-12 win Friday over Uganda before dispatching China 33-14 Saturday. That set up a showdown with unbeaten Britain for top spot in Pool B, with the British winning 17-12 to hand the Canadians a tougher draw in the final eight.

Canada has taken part in the Monaco qualifier before, beaten 14-12 by Russia in the 2016 repechage quarterfinals.

Prior to Friday, the Canadian men had not won since Dec. 10 in Cape Town — a 33-17 victory over France to finish seventh on the season’s second stop. Canada placed last in the other six events, going winless in Dubai, Perth, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Madrid produced four more losses in the relegation bracket.

The relegation fight was a product of the sevens circuit reducing the number of men’s teams to 12 from 16 to align with the women’s competition and the Olympic field.

The Paris Olympic men’s field already includes host France plus New Zealand, Argentina, Fiji and Australia, who booked their tickets by finishing in the top four of the HSBC SVNS series this season. They are joined by six regional qualification tournament winners: Uruguay (South America), Ireland (Europe), U.S. (North America), Kenya (Africa), Samoa (Oceania) and Japan (Asia).

The Americans beat Canada 24-14 in the final of the Rugby Americas North (RAN) Sevens last August in Langford, B.C.

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The Canadian Press