Sports Olympian Phil Berna leads new-look Canadian men's rugby sevens team
Canada names unchanged starting 15 for Rugby World Cup qualifier rematch against U.S.
Coach Kingsley Jones has named an unchanged starting 15 for the second leg of Canada's Rugby World Cup qualifying series against the U.S. Eagles. The Canadian men won the first leg 34-21 on Sept. 4 in St. John's, N.L. The rematch is Saturday in Glendale, Colo. The only change in the Canadian matchday 23 is in the replacements where veteran lock Kyle Baillie comes in for Mason Flesch. Baillie was not fit last weekend. “We’ve got a 13 point lead (in the series) at the moment and we’ve got 80 minutes to play,” Jones said. “We know it’s going to be a different challenge this week, a big challenge.
Phil Berna took close to a month off after the Tokyo Olympics and then the competitive juices started flowing again.
"I called myself back into training," said the 25-year-old from Vancouver. "The time off was great but I think I felt myself getting a little too pudgy, having a few too many sweeties."
Pudgy likely means something different to an elite rugby sevens player than it does Joe Public.
"I'm hard on myself," Berna said with a laugh. "But when you go from peak fitness going into the Olympics, anything other than that just feels wrong."
The six-foot-two 215-pounder is back in action, leading a new-look Canada side.
Speedster Justin Douglas the latest Canadian rugby sevens star to call it quits
Canadian speedster Justin Douglas has joined rugby sevens teammates Nate Hirayama, Connor Braid and Conor Trainor in calling it quits in the wake of the recent Tokyo Olympics. The 27-year-old from Abbotsford, B.C., retires having scored 145 tries on the World Series circuit, second only to Hirayama among Canadian men and 16th on the all-time list. He steps away from the sport after helping the Canadian men to an eighth-place finish at the Tokyo Games. "I don’t think it would’ve been hard to see how much the last nine years on the field have meant to me," Douglas wrote in a social media post. "Pretty sure I had a smile on my face the entire time.
The Canadian men finished sixth last weekend at the HSBC Canada Sevens In Vancouver, defeating Germany 24-5 and Chile 19-14 before losing 29-19 to the U.S. On Day 2, the Canadians lost 31-5 to Britain in the quarterfinal, beat Spain 33-19 and then were defeated 26-7 by the U.S. in the fifth-place playoff.
South Africa won the tournament, defeating Kenya 38-5 in the final. Britain was third.
Berna liked what he saw from a Canadian team in transition.
"I was very proud by the performance overall," said Berna. "Especially the young boys coming through. I think they really made the most of their moment.
"The home crowd definitely helped. All the boys played up to a very high standard that we're holding ourselves to again this weekend."
The World Series shifts Saturday to Edmonton, the second half of a truncated 2021 campaign due to the pandemic. The 2022 season will kick off in late November in Dubai.
Canada opens rugby sevens in Vancouver with victory over Germany
VANCOUVER — Brennig Prevost scored a try and set up another on a pretty play to Phil Berna as Canada opened the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series with a convincing 24-5 win over Germany on Saturday. The Canadian women's sevens team fell 22-12 to the United States. In his World Rugby Sevens debut, Victoria's Prevost assisted on Berna’s opening try of the game. Prevost kicked a ball into the end zone where the Canadian captain was able to get a hand on it. “It was half set, half off the cuff,” Vancouver's Berna said. “Brenning kind of yelled at me. I said I would be there and got there just in time.
Canada co-captains Nate Hirayama and Harry Jones along with Connor Braid, Justin Douglas and Conor Trainor have retired in the wake of Tokyo, where the men finished eighth in their Olympic debut.
Other players are taking time off in advance of the 2022 season.
Berna, Jake Thiel and Andrew Coe are the only Olympians on the current Canadian squad although Josiah Morra has also played in the World Series. Thiel is serving as the team's vice-captain.
Berna expected some turnover in the team after the Olympics, with veterans transitioning to life after rugby.
"But a few kind of caught me by surprise," he acknowledged. "It would be lovely to have Justin Douglas still in the mix. It would be great to just have his pace out wide."
With 145 tries on the World Series, the 27-year-old Douglas is second only to Hirayama's 147 among Canadians.
"He's had a really good career and I think he could have more. But everyone has a time to move on," Berna said of Douglas. "I think it opens the door to a lot of these young, exciting guys to take their opportunity."
Canada remains undefeated at rugby sevens in Vancouver with back-to-back wins
VANCOUVER — After cruising past Germany in their first game, the Canadian men needed a late try from Matthew Percillier to defeat Chile 19-14 and remain undefeated Saturday at the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. Trailing 14-12, Percillier took a pass from captain Phil Berna to score the winning points. “We found our footing in the second half,” said Percillier, a member of the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds and one of several players making their World Rugby Sevens debut. “If we bring that tempo the whole game, no one is going to keep up with us.” Veterans Andrew Coe and Jake Thiel also scored tries for Canada.
Berna and the veterans are enjoying the leadership role.
"It's really exciting times on the inside right now. I think everyone's really buying into what we put out so far," he said. "We'll just keep that going all the way to 2024 (and the Paris Olympics). We'll have new guys coming in and out, I'm sure, but we have a solid group. And more guys coming back from Olympics and guys at home still training hard."
Having seen the Olympic side hold the upper hand against the young guns in training before Tokyo, Berna figured there might be "a lot of kinks to work out on the team."
"But then when it came to game time in Vancouver, I was blown away by everyone's performance," he said. "And the weeks leading up (to Vancouver), I started really gaining confidence in the boys and they started getting confidence in themselves, And really just knowing their roles, doing what they're good at and bringing it out to the field."
There is more to come, he says.
"I still think we have some gems that we haven't seen too much of yet. I think we'll see Matt Oworu run some very hard, devastating lines this weekend."
Canadian men's rugby sevens team downs Spain 33-19
VANCOUVER — The Canadian men's rugby sevens team avoided elimination from a World Sevens Series tournament in Vancouver with a 33-19 win Sunday over Spain. North Vancouver winger Elias Ergas scored two tries for the Canadians, who battled back from a 14-5 deficit. After falling 31-5 to Britain in an earlier quarterfinal Sunday, the host Canadians salvaged the chance to play the United States for fifth place. “Throughout the whole tournament we made a big deal of no matter what is happening in front of us, just keep our heads up, trust our skills, our athleticism our fitness,” said Ergas, whose first World Sevens Series tournament was in his hometown.
Thomas Isherwood makes his Canada debut this weekend, replacing the injured Elias Ergas (hamstring).
Egas, Matt Percillier and Moriah are speedsters to watch, says Berna. Brennig Provost has also impressed in the playmaker role.
Due to the pandemic, the World Series ground to a halt after the Canadian men finished third in Vancouver in March 2020. The men got in six of 10 planned tournaments and the women five of eight before the schedule stalled. A women's event in Langford, B.C., scheduled for early May last year was one of the tournaments cancelled.
Only seven of the men's core teams are taking part in the Canadian events with New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, Argentina, Japan, France and Samoa among those missing.
The Canadian men have been drawn in Pool A with South Africa, Hong Kong and Mexico in Edmonton. Hong Kong finished seventh in Vancouver while Mexico lost all its games.
The hope is the Canadians beat Hong Kong and then Mexico to secure a place in the quarterfinals before wrapping up group play against South Africa.
Rugby Canada is making half of the 32,000-capacity lower bowl available outdoors at Commonwealth Stadium.
Like Vancouver, Edmonton features a four-team women's competition that features Canada, Britain, Mexico and the U.S.
Phil Berna (capt.), Vancouver, Vancouver Rowing Club; Jake Thiel (vice-capt.), Abbotsford, B.C., Abbotsford RFC; Matt Oworu, Calgary, Pacific Pride; Nicholas Allen, Vancouver, UBC Thunderbirds; Alex Russell, Chichester, England, McGill University; Ciaran Breen, Victoria, Cowichan RFC; Jack Carson, Victoria, UBC Thunderbirds; Matthew Percillier, Victoria, UBC Thunderbirds; Brennig Prevost, Victoria, Castaway Wanderers; Josiah Morra, Toronto, Toronto Saracens; Andrew Coe, Markham, Ont., Markham Irish RFC; Thomas Isherwood, Okotoks, Alta., Foothills Lions RFC; Anton Ngongo, Victoria, Castaway Wanderers.
Olivia Apps, Lindsay, Ont., Lindsay RFC; Fancy Bermudez, Edmonton, Nor’Wester Athletic Association; Emma Chown, Barrie, Ont., Aurora Barbarians; Alysha Corrigan, Charlottetown, CRFC/Saracens; Chloe Daniels, Sutton, Ont.; RC Academy/Queen’s University; Olivia De Couvreur, Ottawa, Ottawa Irish; Renee Gonzalez, Toronto, UVIC; Asia Hogan-Rochester, Toronto, unattached; Nakisa Levale, Abbotsford, B.C., Abbotsford RFC; Kiri Ngawati, Victoria, Westshore RFC; Temitope Ogunjimi, Calgary, Calgary Hornets RFC; Sabrina Poulin, Saint-George de Beauce, Que., Town of Mount Royal Rugby; Florence Symonds, Discovery Bay, Hong Kong, UBC Thunderbirds.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Former Canadian women's sevens coach John Tait hired by B.C. Rugby .
Former Canadian women's sevens coach Tait has been named B.C. Rugby's new technical director. B.C. Rugby said Tait will report directly to its CEO and play a "vital role in building upon B.C. Rugby’s long history of success on the field." Tait, who led the Canadian women to Pan American gold and Olympic bronze, resigned as women's sevens coach and high-performance director in April in the wake of an independent review into a players complaint pursuant to Rugby Canada's harassment and bullying policy.