Canada locks up World Cup rugby sevens spots

North America Caribbean Rugby Association sevens championship took place at the Twin Elm Rugby Park...

North America Caribbean Rugby Association sevens championship took place at the Twin Elm Rugby Park in Ottawa Sunday Aug 26, 2012. Canada (black)) defeated Trinidad & Tobago 46-0 during the finals Sunday. (QMI AGENCY/Tony Caldwell)

AEDAN HELMER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:39 PM ET

OTTAWA - Next stop Moscow on Rugby Canada's road to Rio, where sevens will make its Olympic debut in 2016.

The Canadian men's and women's sides made history in front of 2,000 flag-waving fans at Twin Elm Park Sunday, capturing gold medals in the first North America Caribbean Rugby Association championship held in this country.

By doing so, both teams earned a berth in next year's World Cup in Russia, where they will be joined by their American counterparts, who also qualified.

The Canadian women steamrolled the competition on the way to their title, running up scores without conceding a single try all weekend. The women capped a perfect tourney with a 46-0 win over finalists Trinidad and Tobago after dispatching Mexico 42-0 in the semis.

The men enjoyed a similar undefeated path, but ran into some tough competition from Team USA in the highly-anticipated and hotly-contested final.

With the score deadlocked in the final minutes of the game, Canada's Sean Duke stripped the ball and found some space along the sidelines, running nearly the length of the pitch, breaking a tackle and scoring the game-winning try in a 26-19 victory.

"I saw a whole lot of field when I first got the ball," said Duke. "I knew I had my man beat and I just took a few hard steps forward. They had one man back who got a hand on me, but I was lucky to get away and have just enough in the tank to get over the line."

The Americans staked an early lead off a converted try from star Luke Hume, but the Canadians stormed back with three straight tries before halftime, including back-to-back strikes from John Moonlight, to take a 19-7 lead into the break.

Team USA clawed its way back to even footing with a pair of quick tries early in the second half, setting the stage for Canada's late-game heroics.

Canadian coach Geraint John said the team achieved both of its goals with the victory.

"We wanted to qualify for Moscow, and we did that, but we really wanted to win the tournament," said John, whose squad returns to the international circuit with a tournament in Australia in six weeks.

"We showed great intensity and great physical presence and determination in that final. USA came back in that second half but I thought we showed composure, we had patience, and it was nice to score that final try."

The Canadian and American squads were on a collision course throughout the entire tournament, each team dominating their respective pools on the way to the final.

The Canadians have now beaten the No. 1-seeded American side in four straight head-to-head matchups.

"There's a lot more speed (from the Americans) on the field, good hits and physical aggression out there. There's no love lost between the two sides," said John. "There's a friendly rivalry (and) we're all friends off the pitch, but once you step over that white line on the field that goes out the window for about 20 minutes."

The women's side barely broke a sweat, averaging 47 points for through six straight matches, peaking with the win over a scrappy Trinidad & Tobago squad.

Team captain Jen Kish paced the Canadian side with three tries and set an early physical tone in the final, which was never in doubt.

"We never went into the tournament thinking no one was going to score against us, it really occurred to us in the last game. To not let them score on our home soil was a goal we kind of created as we went," said Kish.

"The young girls really displayed well and they turned it on through the whole tournament. We had good momentum and it all just fell into place.

"Now that we're officially going to the World Cup, we're going to take this momentum into the circuit. We're just going to build for the World Cup. It's the only tournament we really care about, until the Olympics, anyway."

aedan.helmer@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @OttSunHelmer


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