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Unbeaten Canadian rugby teams closer to qualifying for Paris Olympics

Canada Rugby Canada Rugby - The Canadian Press

LANGFORD, B.C. — Canada's women sevens rugby squad moved into Sunday's semifinal, and the men set a path to get there, as both teams won all their games Saturday at the Rugby Americas North (RAN) Olympic qualifying tournament.

The Canadian women crushed Mexico 82-0, to punctuate lopsided victories over St. Lucia (59-0) and Jamaica (53-0), and outscored their opponents by a combined 194-0, in front of 3,352 mostly Canada-supporting fans.

"We don't just want to look at the score line," said women's coach Jack Hanratty following the win over Jamaica. "We want to look at every moment of the game to see where we can do better, we want to look at every moment in the game."

They certainly did that, scoring pretty much at will against a Mexican squad that infrequently had possession of the ball inside or outside its own end.

But this wasn't a matter of trying to drive up the score, Hanratty said. Moreso, it was a matter of chasing a perfect performance.

"There is a big element of the unknown for us, so for us, we're trying to concentrate on ourselves," he said.

The men won both their games, albeit not as convincingly, but still advanced to Sunday's semifinal, having won their pool. Canada will play the winner of the Mexico-Barbados quarterfinal.

After battering Barbados 38-0 in their opening match, the Canadians found themselves in tough with a pesky Jamaican squad that trailed by only two with 2:13 remaining in the second of two seven-minute halves.

Brock Webster's late try secured Canada a 21-12 victory.

"Yes, it was a lot closer than what we were looking for, but hats off to Jamaica, they put an incredible performance together," said Alex Russell, who did most of the legwork on Webster's late insurance run down the wing.

"We've just got to learn from our sort of mistakes and move on to the next game."

The Canadian men were hoping to build some momentum following their win against Barbados, in full knowledge they'll have to beat the U.S. to win the tournament and guarantee an invitation to Paris.

"I think we were just trying to be a little too cute with the ball," captain Phil Berna said.

St. Vincent & The Grenadines pulled out of the tournament late last week, forcing some schedule juggling that reshaped the women's afternoon into a four-team round-robin, with Jamaica, St. Lucia and Mexico joining Canada.

The Canadian women won't have to contend with the powerful U.S. team that is already Paris-bound, after its top-four finish in this season's HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.

Canada's No, 14-ranked men, however, will have to get past the 10th-ranked U.S., which took a step toward booking a ticket in Sunday's semifinal with lopsided (62-0 and 40-0) victories over Bermuda and Mexico, respectively.

The last teams standing Sunday qualify for next summer's Paris Games.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2023.

Note to readers: Corrects the Sunday scenario for the Canadian men's team in the seventh paragraph. Minor fixes throughout.