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Canadian rugby men finish a season-best fourth at HSBC France Sevens

Result a high note in a tough year for national squad as they prepare for relegation showdown
Alex Russell and Kalin Sager celebrate Canada’s cup quarter-final win over Australia on Day 2 of the HSBC France Sevens on Saturday, May 13, 2023, at Stade Toulousa in Toulouse, France. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-World Rugby-Mike Lee

Canada ran into a buzz saw in Argentina and lost to France but still finished fourth at the HSBC Sevens on Sunday, its best finish on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series this season.

The performance was a timely boost for the 14th-ranked Canadian men who now move to a relegation playoff next weekend in London to save their status as a core team next season.

The Canadians, whose best showing previously this season was a 10th place in the opening stop in Hong Kong, lost 33-5 to No. 2 Argentina in the semifinal before falling 28-12 to No. 3 France.

A diving try at the corner flag by Roderick Solo in extra time gave No. 1 New Zealand a 24-19 win over No. 2 Argentina in the men’s championship game. It marked the All Blacks’ 67th career tournament win on the World Series.

In the women’s final, No. 1 New Zealand rallied from a 14-5 halftime deficit to down the third-ranked U.S. 19-14 for its sixth straight tournament win. The New Zealand women finished runner-up in the season opener in Dubai.

The finale of the seventh and final stop of the women’s circuit marked just the third time this season the Black Ferns sevens squad had trailed going into a second half.

No. 2 Australia defeated No. 4 France 33-7 in the bronze-medal match. The Canadian women finished 10th after losing 15-14 to Spain in their final outing Sunday, dropping one spot below Japan to ninth overall.

Both Canadian teams will now focus on the Rugby Americas North Sevens Olympic qualifier in Langford, B.C., in August.

By reaching the men’s final in Toulouse, New Zealand clinched the World Series season title with one event left on the 11-stop season. Argentina and No. 4 Fiji joined New Zealand in earning qualification for the 2024 Paris Olympics by assuring themselves of a top-four finish in the season standings.

Australia, Samoa and South Africa will go after the final automatic Olympic berth next week in London.

The All Blacks have dominated the men’s circuit with podium finishes in eight of the 10 events, including previous tournament wins in Sydney, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Singapore.

On the women’s side, Ireland joined New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. in booking its ticket to the 2024 Olympics.

With the men’s World Series field being cut to 12 from 16 next season, No. 12 Uruguay, No. 13 Kenya, No. 14 Canada and Tonga, the 2023 Challenger Series winner, will meet in London to decide who becomes the 12th core team next season. Japan, as the 15th place team after Toulouse, has been relegated already.

Uruguay came to Toulouse in 11th spot, holding a slender one-point lead over Spain in the race to avoid the playoff. But the Spaniards placed above the South Americans in Toulouse to consign them to the relegation playoff, with Canada playing its part by blanking Uruguay 26-0 in pool play Friday.

The Canadian men went ahead in the third-place game with Jack Carson reaching over to touch down after being tackled just short of the try-line, capping a Canadian attack that started from a lineout after a penalty to France.

France led 7-5 at the break on a converted try from Aaron Grandidier after the Canadian defence was busted open. The French increased the lead early in the second half with Jordan Sepho scoring under the post after outracing the Canadian defence down the touchline.

The speedy Brock Webster cut the lead to 14-12 with a try under the posts after corralling the ball at the restart. The French answered with a move that started deep in its own territory before Grandidier found a hole in the Canadian defence for a 24-12 lead with two minutes remaining. Jonathan Laugel added an insurance try for a 28-12 win.

France won bronze while Canada finished tied for 15th in Toulouse last season.

In the semifinal, the Canada men trailed Argentina 26-0 at the half after conceding two tries to Rodrigo Isgro and one each to Marco Moneta and Agustin Fraga.

After Isgro put the Pumas ahead in the third minute, he set up Monet for another score with an offoad in the tackle that allowed Moneta to speed home. Fraga increased the lead, after winning the ball at the breakdown, before Isgro scored his second, retrieving a kick en route to the try-line.

Canada’s Kalin Sager bulled his way over early in the second half to cut the lead to 26-5 after Argentina’s Tobias Wade was sin-binned for deliberately knocking a Canada pass down. The Canadians then lost Lockie Kraatz to injury.

Mateo Graziano outpaced the Canadian defence and held on through a chasing Canadian’s tackle to touch the ball down and up the lead to 33-5.

It marked Argentina’s fifth trip to a tournament final this season. The Pumas won in New Zealand and Vancouver and finished runner-up to the All Blacks in Los Angeles and last time out in Singapore.

Argentina, which has not lost to a team ranked outside the top 10 this season, secured its Olympic qualification on Saturday by advancing to the Cup quarterfinals.

After placing 10th in Hong Kong, the Canadian men finished 11th, 14th (five times) and tied for 15th (twice), coming to France with a 15-36 record on the season.

The campaign started with some turmoil with coach Henry Paul stepping down in late December after the season opener. Sean White, a former Canadian sevens and 15s international, took over as interim coach.

The Canada men have only ever won one tournament on the World Series, defeating the U.S. 26-19 in 2017 to hoist the cup in Singapore. Their first-ever cup final appearance was a loss to New Zealand at the 2014 Glasgow Sevens.

The Canadian women trailed Spain 10-7 at the break with Julia Greenshields scoring a converted try. Ingrid Algar’s 13th-minute try proved to be the winner for Spain with Piper Logan’s converted try a minute later not enough to close the gap.

The Canada women went 2-3 on the weekend, downing Poland and Brazil and losing to the U.S., New Zealand and Spain.