SPORTS

Canadian men's sevens team 3-0 after first day of North American championships

06/13/2015 08:53 EDT | Updated 06/13/2016 05:59 EDT
CARY, N.C. - Canada's men's rugby sevens team went 3-0 on Day 1 of the North American Caribbean rugby championships on Saturday, staying the course for a potential showdown with the United States for the one regional Olympic qualifying spot up for grabs.

Canada beat the Bahamas 45-0, Trinidad and Tobago 38-7 and triumphed over Guyana 51-0 to top Pool B with nine points. The remaining pool game, against second place Cayman Islands, i scheduled for Sunday.

The U.S. played one less game as St. Vincent and Grenadines was unable to attend the tournament due to visa issues and the recent hacking attack of U.S. State Department servers. This left Pool A with four teams instead of five, resulting in a critical imbalance.

Canadian Coach Liam Middleton was not happy about the situation.

"On an international stage when you are talking about Olympic qualification it's not right that one team will have played four games versus five games on the way to the final," said the first-year coach.

"We've taken it on the shoulders and said, 'look, we'll make the most of that extra game that we have to sharpen ourselves up more.'"

One of the highlights of the tournament for Canada was the return of Phil Mack, who was recovering from knee injury for the past few months. He appeared to shake off any rust by the third match, scoring three tries against Guyana.

"It felt all right," said Mack. "We were trying to go game by game. We're pretty fortunate that we have a solid 12 (man roster) and so we split up the workload pretty evenly."

Added Middleton about Mack, who has amassed over 500 points on the World Rugby Sevens Series in 125 matches since 2008: "He opens things up for us. As a side in the middle of the field he can really pull defenders out of place and he opens the game up for us."

The U.S. won both its matches handily, downing Barbados 54-0 and blanking Mexico 50-0. It was the first games the U.S. had played since turning the World Rugby Series on end by winning the London Sevens.

The loser of tomorrow's final will have one final shot at qualifying for Rio, via a yet to be determined repechage tournament that would include teams from the Oceania and Americas zones.

In Canada's game against the Bahamas, Newfoundland's Ciaran Hearn scored a hat trick of tries. A feisty Trinidad and Tobago challenged Canada for much of the first half before tries from Richmond, B.C.'s Nathan Hirayama, Tyler Ardron of Lakefield, Ont., and Victoria's Mack pulled Canada away for good.

In the third match against Guyana, Middleton started the game with all his top guns. Harry Jones gathered in an Adam Zaruba pass at 40 seconds, taking it in for a try to start the scoreboard ticking over.

Mack would go on to score two first half tries, before scoring his final of the day with no time left to take his team to 51-0 with the Harry Jones conversion.

On the women's side, the U.S. is a perfect 3-0. Canada's women did not have to attend the tournament after winning the Amsterdam Sevens last month and finishing the Women's World Rugby Sevens Series in second place overall.

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