HAMILTON, New Zealand — Canada finished seventh at the New Zealand Sevens on Sunday after its second-half comeback fell short in a 28-19 loss to Samoa.
It marked Canada's best finish of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series season, moving the Canadian men up one spot to 11th place in the overall standings.
Fiji routed the United States 38-0 in the final for back-to-back victories in the World Series. New Zealand won the first tournament at Dubai, but Fiji took the second at Cape Town and the third in Hamilton. The U.S. has been runner-up at all three stops.
The American success this season is good news for Canada, given the top four finishers at the end of the season secure automatic qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The remaining teams will fight it out in regional qualifiers and a last-chance repechage.
Not having the Americans around qualifying would ease Canada's path.
Canada lost 21-5 to the U.S. in the NACRA Sevens Cup final that served as North American qualifier for the 2016 Games in Rio. The Canadian men then finished fifth in a last-chance qualifying tournament in Europe.
The World Series switches to Sydney, Australia, next weekend with Canada in a pool with the second-ranked Americans, No. 12 France and No. 13 Kenya.
The Canadians, whose pre-season preparations were disrupted by a two-month labour dispute with Rugby Canada, had tied for 11th in both Dubai and Cape Town — the first two stops of the 10-event circuit.
Canada was relegated to the fifth-place semifinal game against Samoa after losing 33-7 to Olympic champion Fiji in the Cup quarterfinals earlier in the day. Samoa was beaten 28-19 by South Africa.
Samoa captain David Afamasaga scored the opening try, finishing off a powerful run by Siaosi Asofolau for a 7-0 lead. Canada answered through a try by Connor Braid, hacking the ball ahead with his foot and then pouncing on it, cutting the Samoa lead to 7-5.
Alatasi Tupou scored Samoa's second try, taking a pass after Asofolau crashed through the Canada defence to make it 14-5. Asofolau capped off a flowing attack with a tray at the very end of the half for a 21-5 Samoa lead at the break.
Converted tries by Luke McCloskey and Phil Berna early in the second half cut the Samoa advantage to 21-19. But Danny Tusitala scored after a rampaging run by Johnny Samuelu to increase the Samoa lead to 28-19.
Canada fell behind early against Fiji with Meli Derenalagli scoring within the first 20 seconds, finishing off a fine solo run by Vilimoni Botitu for a 7-0 Fiji lead. Aminiasi Tuimaba doubled the lead, slashing through the Canada defence for the try.
After a penalty against Fiji, Braid capped off a Canadian attack by diving over for a try converted by captain Nate Hirayama.
But Fiji's Waisea Nacuqu ran through the Canadian defence with no time remaining in the first half to increase the lead to 21-7. The Pacific Islanders increased their advantage in the second half when Tuimaba intercepted a Canadian pass and raced in for a converted try that made it 28-7.
Jousa Vakurunabili powered in for the final try, kissing the ball before touching it down.
Canada advanced to the final eight by going 1-1-1 in Pool D on Saturday, blanking Japan 24-0, losing 49-10 to New Zealand and tying Spain 12-12.
New Zealand scored two late tries in its final pool match against Spain to cost the Spanish team a place in the quarterfinals, sending Canada through to the Cup competition on points difference.
Fiji, the U.S., South Africa and New Zealand topped their pools with unbeaten records on Day 1.
The Canadian Press