Canada wraps up the World Sevens season this weekend in London, hoping to end on a high note after a disappointing showing in Paris.
Still there have been more pluses than minuses for coach Damian McGrath's men recently, including a first-ever tournament win in Singapore last month. However, after ending their 140-event drought, the Canadian men slumped to an 11th-place finish last weekend in Paris.
Bumping heads with a surging Scotland and Series champion South Africa in their Paris pool didn't help — Scotland went unbeaten before running into South Africa in the final. And it doesn't get any easier in London where the Canadian men, who slipped one spot to No. 8 in the overall standings after Paris, are in a pool with No. 3 Fiji, No. 4 New Zealand and No. 15 Japan.
This season, Canada is 0-4-0 against Fiji, 1-1-1 against New Zealand and 1-1-0 against Japan, including a 21-7 win last week in Paris.
The Canadians went 2-3-0 in Paris, blanking No. 14 Russia 33-0 in their only other win.
The three losses were all painful. South Africa dominated en route to a 31-7 victory while the losses to Scotland and Argentina came in the dying seconds.
The Scots, whose roster was reinforced with six Pro12 players including four internationals, scored on a chip-and-chase after a Canadian penalty with no time remaining for a 26-19 win. Argentina, regaining possession after a Canadian forward pass, penetrated the Canada defence for the winning try with 20 seconds remaining for a 15-14 decision.
"It was a lesson in game management for us really," said McGrath.
The loss to the Blitzboks still rankles, despite the quality of their side.
"We let ourselves down badly against South Africa, which was a real disappointment," said McGrath. "Just the manner in which we played, it was almost as if we didn't feel we could win — which is probably the only time I thought that this year."
McGrath, always looking for positives, says the Canadians have learned from Paris.
"The players learned a couple of valuable things like how to close a game out," he said. "And I don't think we're making those mistakes again. The only downside I think is it's given us a really really tough draw this weekend."
And despite missing out on the Cup quarter-finals for only the second time in seven events, McGrath saw some real class on offence.
"Some of the tries we scored were top-drawer ... there were far more positives than there are negatives," he said.
Canada starts play Saturday with 81 points in the season standings, six behind sixth-place Scotland and one ahead of Argentina. The Canadians finished 13th, ninth and sixth, respectively, over the last three seasons on the World Series.
Justin Douglas, who has served as Canada's get-out-of-jail card all season, ranks third on the circuit going into London with 34 tries in the first nine events. Playmaker Nathan Hirayama stands seventh in points with 220. And hard-nosed captain John Moonlight enters the event on 98 career tries and 490 points.
McGrath hopes to have a healthy Lucas Hammond back after he missed out on Paris due to a head blow during training. Matt Mullins, who sat out Monday 2 in Paris, has recovered from a nasty gash sustained in a clash of heads against South Africa.
The coach also expects to see the best of Adam Zaruba and Pat Kay, saying their match fitness was boosted in Paris after injury absences.
Luke Bradley, UVic Vikes, Port Alberni, B.C.; Jared Douglas, Abbotsford RFC, Abbotsford, B.C.; Justin Douglas, Abbotsford RFC, Abbotsford, B.C.; Mike Fuailefau, Castaway Wanderers, Victoria; Lucas Hammond, UVIC Vikes, Toronto; Nathan Hirayama, UVic Vikes, Richmond, B.C.; Harry Jones, Capilano RFC, Vancouver; Isaac Kaay, UVic Vikes, Kamloops, B.C.; Pat Kay, Castaway Wanderers, Duncan, B.C.; Luke McCloskey, Castaway Wanderers, Victoria; John Moonlight (capt.), James Bay AA, Pickering, Ont.; Matt Mullins, Queen’s University, Belleville, Ont.; Adam Zaruba, Capilano RFC, Vancouver.
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter.