Rugby men’s sevens fall short of Olympic gold dreams
Four Vikes alumni wore the Canadian jersey for the Olympics men’s rugby sevens tournament in Tokyo this July but fell short of a chance at an Olympic medal after a tough quarter-final loss to New Zealand.
Co-captained by Vikes alumnus Nathan Hirayama, the Canadian men’s rugby sevens team had gold medal dreams for the team’s Olympic debut but ultimately was unable to best the New Zealanders who later took home the silver medal from the tournament. Hirayama was joined on the Canadian team by fellow Vikes alumni Mike Fuailefau, Lucas Hammond, and Patrick Kay.
“The ultimate goal is to win a gold medal,” said Hirayama in a UVic press release before the start of the Games. “We’re not the favourites going into the tournament, but we’re an experienced group of guys, and if things align and we’re at our best, I think we have a shot.”
The New Zealand All Blacks snagged an early lead in the quarter-final matchup and went into halftime ahead 21-0. Kay, the 27-year-old from Duncan, B.C., was able to score a try in the second half followed by another from teammate Harry Jones, from Vancouver, B.C., but New Zealand held onto their lead for the win.
After losing their first two opening matches to the strong Fiji and Great Britain teams at the beginning of the tournament, Canada made a big comeback and defeated host team Japan 32-12.
“In the first two games, they were maybe a step behind,” said Doug Tate, the former rugby coach for the Vikes who coached Hirayama, Fuailefau, Hammond, and Kay during their time at UVic. “They were in a tough pool. I thought they played well against Japan.”
It was their only win at the Games and the Canadians placed eighth overall after losing to both the United States and Australia in the placement matches. The All Blacks went on to play reigning Olympic champions Fiji in the final match at Tokyo Stadium. Fiji was able to repeat Olympic gold with a 27-12 final score.
Tate thought the team performed better as the tournament went on and had nothing but great things to say about his former players, who he believes were at a disadvantage in the tournament because they weren’t able to play all year like some of the other teams.
“A lot of the other teams have been playing in professional leagues in Europe, but the [Canadian] guys have just been training out of Langford for months,” said Tate in an interview with the Martlet. “All four of those players were very good attacking players, they could beat players one on one, so they made everyone around them better. Also, all four of them were good teammates at UVic.”
This was Canada’s men’s rugby sevens Olympic debut as the team just missed qualifying for Rio 2016, which was the first time rugby sevens had been played at the Olympics. The Canadians qualified for Tokyo in July of 2019 after going undefeated at the regional qualification tournament, the Rugby Americas North Sevens, held in the Cayman Islands.
Hirayama was one of Canada’s flag bearers during the opening ceremonies, walking alongside basketball player Miranda Ayim from London, O.N. Due to the Games’ COVID-19 restrictions, Tokyo Stadium was empty of spectators throughout the riveting rugby tournament. This was a disappointment to the former Vike from Richmond B.C.
“It’s a shame not to play in front of spectators,” said Hirayama in UVic’s press release, “but we understand and it’s out of our control.”
Hirayama was just 18 when he made his debut for Canada Sevens in 2006. The 33-year-old is now Canada’s top goal scorer for rugby sevens. According to Tate, he was an exceptional player with excellent skills right from his first year at UVic and has only gotten better.
“He’s got world class skills, like he’s kicking the ball with both feet on kickoffs – no one else in the world is doing that,” said Tate.
The four former Vikes rugby players are among 20 UVic-connected athletes, alumni, and staff at this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. For the women’s rugby sevens team, former Vike Pamphinette Buisa competed in the women’s Olympic tournament that ran from July 29th until the 31st. The Canadian women’s team placed ninth overall. Other Vikes-connected players competing include Canadian rowers Patrick Keane, Kai Langerfeld, Caliegh Filmer, and Avalon Wasteneys. Filmer won the bronze medal for Canada in the women’s pair while Wasteneys took home the gold in the women’s coxed eight.