The final match on the opening day of the Pan Am Games rugby sevens tournament turned out to be a rematch of the 2011 gold medal game, but the outcome for the Canadians was far less sweet.
The men lost to Argentina 21-7, the team Canada beat to win gold at the previous Games.
They face a tougher route to Sunday’s final now but they vowed to regroup and make it happen.
“Yes, we would have liked to win that game,” head coach Liam Middleton said afterward.
“The support here is phenomenal and the guys are so pumped up for that kind of support, which we don’t get anywhere else in the world. So I don’t think it will take them anything to get up tomorrow morning and go again. We want to win the gold.”
The Canadians face Chile in the quarters and then, most likely, the U.S. — the top-ranked team in the tournament — in the semis.
The Pan Ams are a bit of an odd tournament for the Canadian men.
On one hand it means nothing to their biggest goal right now of qualifying for the Rio Olympics while on the other it means everything: national pride and attention for a growing sport.
“We really want to put out an inspirational performance, something the fans can grab onto and really start to appreciate rugby with it coming up to the Olympics,” team captain John Moonlight, of Pickering, said before the tournament began.
“Much like our women’s team did so well at year ago with Magali (Harvey) scoring that unbelievable try, which really threw rugby into the main centre of media,” he said referring to the rugby 15s women’s World Rugby in Paris last year where she ran 90-metres, dodging French along the way, to win the semifinal match.
“We need stuff like that happening, inspirational stuff.”
In the first two matches, his team delivered some dramatic scoring moments in their victories.
There was Matthew Mullins, in his debut with the national team, sliding on his knees across the try line to score in their first win of the day, 45-0 against Guyana.
And Phil Mack, who somersaulted across the line to score in the second 26-14 victory over Brazil.
But the Canadians couldn’t stick to their game plan against the Argentine defence.
“They came at us in waves, and we struggled to shake into our normal game,” the coach said.
While the crowd at Exhibition Stadium was sparse for much of the day, they were behind the Canadians all the way, jumping from their seats every time the Canadians had possession.
“We want to win for the fans, for us, and for our families who are here watching,” Mack said. “It’s a disappointing way to end day one. We’re going to regroup and we’ll be good tomorrow.”