VANCOUVER — Canada looked to be in the driver's seat, but took no chances, pounding Wales 29-7 Saturday to finish unbeaten in Saturday's opening day of the HSBC Canada Sevens Rugby tournament.
The win left the Canadian men first in Pool B with a 3-0 record. They face Spain in Sunday's quarterfinals.
"The first mission accomplished," said captain Nathan Hirayama, who scored a try and kicked a convert during the win. "Now we have different goals going into tomorrow."
Canada opened the tournament with a convincing 31-21 win over France, then needed a couple of late tries to defeat Fiji 26-21.
A loss to Wales could have set up a scenario with three teams tied with 2-1 records, resulting in points for and against deciding the two teams advancing to the championship round. Instead Canada scored four consecutive tries to lead 22-0 at half time.
"You can't take any chances in sevens," said Hirayama, a Richmond, B.C., native. "We knew it could be messy, points for and against. We were full focused on just trying to get that win."
Even when the game looked under control at half time Canada was careful not to let its guard down.
"You have to stay switched on for all 14 minutes," said Harry Jones of West Vancouver, B.C., who scored the game's second try. "Even up 22-0, a bounce of the ball, you let them score and they're back in it."
Theo Sauder of Vancouver and Pat Kay of Duncan, B.C., also scored tries.
Canada's best finish at the Vancouver tournament was a seventh in 2018. Spain finished second in Pool C with a 2-1 record.
"The Spanish have been fanatic all year," said Hirayama. "We are going to have to do our homework tonight."
Canada, ranked 10th overall in the World Rugby Sevens Series standings, punched above its weight Saturday. France is ranked fourth while Fiji, last year's winners in Vancouver which lost to South Africa in overtime at last weekend's Los Angeles Sevens, is third. Wales is ranked 15th.
"Any time we go out on the field we feel like we can beat anyone," said Sauder, who had a pair of tries against Fiji. "We come out with confidence and look to do our thing."
Canada trailed 14-12 with time ticking away in the second half against Fiji but took advantage when Vilimoni Botitu was given a yellow card. That led to Duncan scoring the go-ahead try. Justin Douglas of Abbotsford, B.C., added some insurance.
The Canadians showed their mettle with a goal-line defensive stand in the first half.
"The boys showed character and heart," said coach Henry Paul. "It's not all about technique. Sometimes it's just can you scramble for your teammates."
Against France, Canada took advantage of an early yellow card shown to Paulin Riva to build a 14-0 lead then cruised to a 24-0 advantage at half time.
Hirayama had a try and three converts. Phil Berna, of Vancouver, Connor Braid of Victoria, and Lucas Hammond of Toronto also scored tries.
The crowd at BC Place Stadium showed imagination and creativity in their costumes.
A section of pink furry pigs sat near a group of black-and-white polka dotted Dalmatians. There were tall hats, spiked hats, fisherman's hats, a hat with a huge bald eagle and plenty of toques of various description. Red and black lumberjack jackets were popular, along with fake beards. Flags from all the participating countries waved.
Even a Jesus was in attendance, double-fisting beers.
The tournament is being played at the same time other sports events around the world are being cancelled or postponed due to the spread of the coronavirus.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix mentioned the tournament at the Vancouver COVID-19 update.
"I know people love that event and have been waiting for it to come to Vancouver, but if you're sick, don't go," said Dix, a sports fan who has attended the event in the past. "Watch it on TV."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2020
Jim Morris, The Canadian Press