HONG KONG â€” Canada has advanced to the Cup quarter-finals for the third World Series event in a row, but will have to get past Olympic champion Fiji to reach the final four at the Hong Kong Sevens.
Canada, which defeated Kenya 17-14 on Friday, continued its winning ways with a 28-14 win over France on Saturday before losing 26-7 to Series leader South Africa.
The Canadian men, who are 10th in the overall standings after six events, raced to a 21-0 lead over No. 11 France on two tries by Justin Douglas and one by Nathan Hirayama. Two tries by Alexander Lagarde narrowed with the lead to 21-14 with both Hirayama and Jean Baptiste Mazoue yellow-carded after a heated confrontation between the French scores.
Captain John Moonlight padded the lead with a try for Canada, which finished seventh in the recent Vancouver and Las Vegas events.
Canada trailed early against South Africa after Dylan Sage went over within the first minute, taking advantage of a penalty against Canada prompted by some prickly defence after the kickoff.
Fine play by Moonlight helped Canada tie the score. Aggressive counter-rucking by the Canadian skipper led to a scrum near the South African goalline and Moonlight then kept a drive alive with a creative between-the-legs pass that ultimately led to Douglas’ 25th try of the season.
But the Blitzboks sealed top spot in Pool B on second-half tries by Ruhan Nel, Cecil Afrika and Siviwe Soyizwapi.
Had Canada won, it would have faced No. 4 New Zealand in the quarters.
The Canadian men are 2-43-0 all-time against Fiji and have been outsccored 1,394-437.
Hirayama scored 22 points on Day 2 of his 50th career World Series tournament, bringing his Canadian sevens points record total to 995.
Fiji, third in the overall standings, beat rival New Zealand 17-14 to stay on course to win the Hong Kong event for a third straight year.
The Pacific Islanders were facing the possibility of failing to make it out of the preliminary stage after being held to a 17-17 draw with Wales but ended up finishing top of Pool C after a dramatic last-gasp win over New Zealand.
The Kiwis almost won right at the end with a last-minute try but the score was disallowed after the final pass was ruled to have gone forward.
“We expected a tough match from New Zealand but we managed to keep our cool and composure,” Fiji coach Gareth Baber said. “We worked hard and were able to snatch it right when it could have been taken away from us.”
New Zealand faces South Africa in Sunday’s quarter-finals.
“That’s sevens for you,” New Zealand coach Scott Waldrom said. “I believe this team is still good enough to win because when we get it right we do look good, but unfortunately we keep making mistakes.”
Australia went through as Pool A winners after beating England 12-10 in a bruising encounter to decide the group.
Although both teams were already assured of a place in the knockout phase after winning their first two pool games, they threw everything they had at each other in a match that had the crowd on its feet and roaring for more.
“I thought it was a great game of footy, I really did,” Australia coach Andy Friend said.
“It was really competitive because both teams wanted it, you could see that.”
Both sides scored two tries apiece but kicking proved decisive with Australia’s James Stannard nailing a conversion from the touchline after England’s Oliver Lindsay-Hague had missed one in front of the posts.
England coach Simon Amor said he was not surprised how hard the teams went at each other, saying the match would put them in good stead for the knockout games ahead.
“It’s England versus Australia,” Amor said. “And it’s a wonderful sevens environment so people get inspired by the crowd. It really was a full-throttle kind of affair.”
Australia will play Pool D runners-up Argentina in the quarters while England faces the United States, which finished undefeated at the top of Pool D with wins over Russia (14-7), Scotland (19-14) and Argentina (33-5).
Perry Baker has been the star for the U.S., scoring tries in every match, including a hat trick against Scotland but head coach Mike Friday said the Eagles needed to get better as a team if they wanted to win the biggest title on the Sevens circuit.
“If we want to progress in this tournament we’re going to have (to) pull our socks up and put together a proper performance over two halves,” he said.
“We’re in the main event tomorrow and that’s the main thing … we need to promote the good habits and extinguish some of the bad traits because there’s very small margins in the game of sevens.”
With files from The Associated Press
The Canadian Press