Phil Berna impressed by young guns on Sevens Series return in Canada
Canada’s new captain reflects on his team’s performance in Vancouver and looks forward to the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2021 finale in Edmonton.
Having lost four key members of their Tokyo Olympics team to retirement, the truncated HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series was very much a venture into the unknown for Canada.
Record points-scorer and captain Nathan Hirayama, Conor Trainor, Connor Braid and then prolific try-scorer Justin Douglas announced that Tokyo would be their swansong.
At 25 years old, Berna is hardly what you would call a veteran but he was easily the most experienced member of the new-look squad chosen by coach Henry Paul for the tournaments in Vancouver and Edmonton that form this year’s series.
While disappointed to twice lose to USA on their way to a sixth-place finish, Berna says he was pleased by the way the team of youngsters showed up.
“From a totally new team, playing together for the first time ever, I was pretty pleased with the results,” he said.
“It would have been nice to get one back on the US in the (fifth-place) final but it is what it is and we move on to Edmonton.”
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Canada beat Germany 24-5 and Chile 19-14 in their first two games and then bounced back from defeats to USA (29-19) and Great Britain (31-5) to register a third win of the tournament against Spain (33-19).
After leading 7-5 at half-time in the rematch with USA, they conceded 21 unanswered points to the Men’s Sevens Eagles, to lose 26-7.
“In attack, I feel like everyone worked off each other well and we did well to keep the ball alive. We knew that was a strength of ours and we could create openings and fatigue teams by just doing that. It was a good job from the young guys,” he said.
Big shoes to fill
The unenviable task of replacing Hirayama, a star of the Series for 15 years, fell to Brenning Prevost. Berna felt the Series debutant, aged 23, showed up well.
“It is hard to replace a guy like Nate. Any nation would have a hard time replacing Nate but he did very well and there is a lot of his game that can grow,” he commented.
“He did really well off kick-off to give us an opportunity to compete and backed himself to step hard off that right foot and cut upfield.
“Brenning is really keen to get better and that is all we can ask for. They were big shoes to fill but I think, for his debut, he did amazing. I was really proud of him.”
A capacity-restricted crowd, limited to vaccinated spectators, meant BC Place was nowhere near full to its 54,500-capacity last weekend.
But Berna, whose father comes from Italian stock, says the spectators present still made a “crazy” amount of noise.
“There is nothing like playing in Vancouver, the crowd was going crazy for all the Canada games. It just gets you playing on another level and it is such a good experience for the younger guys. I think they played up to it and I’d like to thank all the fans who turned up.
“While it was not the Vancouver Sevens we have all come to know and love, which is a big party with everybody crowded around each other and 40,000 people in the stands, it was still a good one.
“To be back on the World Series is huge, just seeing all the familiar faces again was really good and we are all excited to get cracking again in the New Year, starting in Dubai.”
A venture into the unknown
Next up, though, is the much shorter trip to the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, a new venue on the Series, and where this year’s title will be decided.
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“I have never been to Edmonton, I have certainly never played rugby there,” he said. “We are in a CFL (Canadian Football League) Stadium so it’ll be another big stadium. Hopefully, they’ll be a bit of fan love and people will be tuning in on TV still and we can get another good result at home again.”
Canada have been placed in Pool A with Vancouver champions South Africa, Cup quarter-finalists Hong Kong and Mexico.
Berna says the Blitzboks are a side they need to measure themselves against.
“They have a lot of depth in their team and it’ll be another really good challenge for the young guys coming in, and for all of us,” he said.
“We need to get the young boys used to playing against that level of competition.”
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