Canada and the USA faced similar problems heading into the NACRA 7s championship this evening in Ottawa. Both sides creamed their five previous opponents en route to the final, lending unrealistic scenarios for what they’d see against each other. They both were going to have to play tenacious defense, test their fitness off the ball, fight for possession of their restarts – all aspects of the game that evolved on an uneven playing field. Both sides never adjusted fully and fell short of their potential, but Canada performed a little bit better and won by a converted try 26-19. The hometown team is now the top North American seed in the 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens.
First, the restarts. Both sides had used their kickoffs to produce massive amount of tries in each game. Canada hurt themselves, as a handful of Ciaran Hearn’s dropkicks either sailed out of bounds or didn’t go 10 meters. The USA didn’t come down cleanly with any of their restarts, but they were able steal possession as the aerialists batted the ball to the ground. Mike Palefau was good in cleaning up some of those 50/50 contests.
Second, defense. Both sides had played the majority of the weekend on offense and knew they had to be switched on from the get-go.
“That was tough, going against no defense all weekend and then coming into the final,” USA’s Shalom Suniula said. “We probably worked overtime, and it shocked us. Shocked them also but they dealt with it better.
“They were impressive in the breakdowns,” Suniula added. “They anticipated the contact area better, we weren’t there in numbers, and they capitalized for a better result. Yes, the support was slow but we could have been technically better, too.”
Suniula conceded that the aggression wasn’t there either, and that was a function of mentality and attitude. The Eagles’ confidence took a hit early in the first half when Maka Unufe collided with Luke Hume just before the center’s try. It took two staff members to escort him off the field, as Unufe’s knees wobbled under his own weight.
“Yes, Maka’s injury shook up the team,” Suniula said. “We started him because we thought he’d be a perfect match-up for Sean Duke. When he got injured, we had to change that match-up, and credit goes to Canada for playing it better.”
Duke would go on to score the go-ahead try with about a minute remaining in the 20-minute match, but the damage had been done prior to that long breakaway game-winner.
“Toward the end of the first half, especially after they got that try just before halftime,” Suniula pinpointed a turning point in attitude. “We should have gone into halftime down one try, but we were down two. Mentally, it shouldn’t have done anything, but it did.
“It’s a game of mistakes, and whoever makes the fewest wins,” Suniula added. “It came down to one turnover or one missed tackle.”
But that’s what’s most frustrating about the USA’s loss. You can forgive a mistake. In one-on-one battles, someone has got to win. What’s difficult for many to forgive is watching a team lose its way. A couple of nice efforts saw the USA get back to 19-all, but those tries were somewhat against the run of play. Certainly one wishes these tries weren't bookended by slow support or penalties committed out of frustration.
“We have a few new faces that we’re trying to fit in our mold, and we had a few injuries, so that disrupted our continuity,” Suniula said. “But that’s no excuse, because they’ve been in our system for the last month, and we didn’t use them as well as we should have.”
Canada came out on top, and they deserved the win and hometown support. They might not have been technically superb, but they also didn’t buckle when momentum shifted.
“That’s the beauty of 7s,” Suniula said. “You’ve never won until the last whistle blows. It was a roller coaster ride but the ride ended up higher for them.”