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Nicholas, Greenshields split first two rugby sevens games with Canada

After Canada’s women’s rugby sevens team laid down a statement to open pool play at Tokyo 2020, they landed probably the biggest dud in the history of their program.

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After Canada’s women’s rugby sevens team laid down a statement to open pool play at Tokyo 2020, they landed probably the biggest dud in the history of their program.

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Facing Brazil in their first truly competitive match since February 2020, the Canadians started slowly on Thursday morning at Tokyo Stadium but by full time had raced away to a 33-0 win.

Seeded third and the defending bronze medallists from Rio, the Canadians would have been heartened by how their game developed over the course of the match.

But their second game has raised serious questions about their medal chase, as the Canadians dropped a shocking 26-12 loss to Fiji.

Blenheim’s Breanne Nicholas and Sarnia’s Julia Greenshields of Team Canada are playing at the Olympics for the first time. Neither made the scoresheet in the first two games.

It has to be understood: while Fiji’s men are now two-time gold medallists in Olympic rugby sevens competition, the women’s team, known as the Fijiana, are positively minor league in both profile, player depth and funding.

Canadian coach Mick Byrne chose to start some of his younger players against Fiji, leaving veterans Ghislaine Landry, Kayla Moleschi, Britt Benn and Charity Williams on the bench to start.

Where it was youthful nerves or something else, the Canadians looked remarkably naive on defence in the first half, with no one taking the initiative at crucial moments while most tackle attempts made by the Canadians were ineffective.

They’ll need to get their defensive posture sorted if they’re to have any hope of landing another medal. The Canadian women won bronze in Rio in 2016.

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There’s concern for the health of two key players for Canada as well: Keara Wardley appeared to injure her leg while running the ball on attack in the second half, crumpling to the ground. She had to be taken off the field in a medical cart and it’s hard to imagine she’ll be healthy enough to play in the next two days.

And Williams walked off in the care of a medic late in the game, possibly dealing with a shoulder problem.

Fiji got two tries from Reapi Ulinisau to go with single tallies by Ana Maria Naimasi and Viniana Riwai. Canada’s tries were scored by Landry and Moleschi.

Canada’s match against France on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET) now has huge implications. The Canadians need a win to maintain a solid position going into the knockout round.

And they are in a good spot, even after the shocking loss to Fiji, because of a big win over Brazil to open the day’s play.

The Canadians end the day +19 in points differential, ahead of Fiji at +7. France finished the day 2-0 after a tight win over Fiji (12-5) and a solid victory over Brazil.

To secure first in the pool, Canada will need to win big over France, unless the Fijiana manage to totally overwhelm the Brazilians and overcome their points deficit. France finished Day 1 with a points differential of +42.

Canada’s missteps against Fiji weren’t just a surprise in historical context, they came after the women in red beat up on Brazil.

The Canadians did labour through the first half as the Brazilians, though as rusty as the Canadians still played a very physical brand of defence.

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It took the Canadians nearly six minutes to find their first score, as the ball eventually found its way to speedster Williams, who blasted around the outside edge of the Brazilian defence to score.

The Canadians burst out of the gates in the second half, as Wardley scored the first of her two tries just a minute into the half. The Canadians went into halftime feeling a little nervous but Wardley’s tally gave them comfort and the women in red never looked troubled again.

Karen Paquin, Landry — who also booted four conversions — and a second for Wardley rounded out the scoring for the Canadians.

In the other Pool B opening match, France laboured to a 12-5 win over Fiji. France have pushed Canada in the past, so they’ll have taken note of Canada’s up and down first day.

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