GUADALAJARA, MEXICO - Canada's sevens team has become the first-ever gold medalist in rugby at the Pan American Games.
Canada defeated Argentina 26-24 to claim gold at Tlaquepaque Stadium in 30-degree heat in host city Guadalajara, Mexico.
"It's the first time in history they've had rugby at the Pan Ams and we're the first team to win it," coach Geraint John said. "It's great for the team and great for the country. We were down, but we never panicked. The players always believed when they got the ball they could score."
Canada scored seven unanswered tries to down Mexico 45-0 in the quarter final earlier in the day. They then played the United States in a nail-biter of a semifinal, with a last-minute conversion from Nathan Hirayama sealing a 21-19 win.
In the gold medal match, Argentina scored early before a John Moonlight try tied it up for Canada. The Argentines led 12-7 at half time, but Moonlight crossed over again early in the second to tie the game again.
With ball in hand, Canada took the lead for the first time in the match, 19-12, through a Conor Trainor try and Hirayama conversion.
The teams traded scores again, with another try to Trainor taking Canada to a 26-19 lead, but Argentina scored on the death and only a missed conversion stopped the game from going into overtime.
Hirayama was superb for Canada throughout the tournament, making some crucial kicks for Canada, including the match winner in the semifinal.
"It didn't really kick in that we'd won gold, it just felt like another win. It was surreal, but it feels pretty good now," Hirayama said following the gold medal victory."
Sean Duke led the side in tries over the course of the two days, with five in total. Trainor and Mack also showed well with four tries a piece.
Rugby Canada CEO Graham Brown was in attendance at the gold medal game, watching alongside several dignitaries including Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, and Minister of Sport, Bal Gosal, and was very pleased with the Canadian performance.
"I'm very proud of our Canadian sevens team. Watching them contribute to the Canadian Pan American team's overall success in a sensational final was a moment for all Canadians to be proud of," Brown said. "This success could not have ben possible without the hard work of our players, support staff and the Canadian Olympic Committee. Thanks also to the Pan American Games committee and volunteers for helping make our team's stay conducive to success."
The Canadian team also wishes to thank its sponsors, Macquarie Financial in association with Trafigura Ltd.
With the gold medal performance including two victories over IRB sevens circuit core team U.S.A. in the pool stage and semifinal and a win over core team Argentina in the final, coach John hopes the IRB will consider promoting his team's status.
"We've always said we want to be a core team," John said. "Hopefully we today we showed we have what it takes to be one."
For now the team is simply celebrating an historic moment for rugby and Canada.
"To have come down here and just competed is enough, but to win a gold medal is very special," Trainor said. "It's something we'll remember forever. This will be a highlight for a while."
Canada 26 - Argentina 24 (Gold medal match)
Canada tries - John Moonlight (2), Conor Trainor (2).
Canada conversions - Nathan Hirayama (3).
Canada 21 - U.S.A. 19 (Semifinal)
Canada tries - Ciaran Hearn, Phil Mack, Sean Duke.
Canada conversions - Nathan Hirayama (3).
Canada 45 - Mexico 0 (Quarter final)
Canada tries - Sean Duke (2), Nanyak Dala (2), Ciaran Hearn, Nathan Hirayama, Tyler Ardron.
Canada conversions - Nathan Hirayama (5).
Canadian Sevens Team
Tyler Ardron (Peterborough, ON) (Ontario Blues)
Nanyak Dala (Saskatoon, SK) (Prairie Wolf Pack)
Sean Duke (Vancouver, BC) (British Columbia)
Matt Evans (Duncan, BC) (Unattached)
Ciaran Hearn (Conception Bay, NFLD) (The Rock)
Nathan Hirayama (Richmond, BC) (British Columbia)
Phil Mack (Victoria, BC) (The Rock)
John Moonlight (Pickering, Ontario) (Ontario Blues)
Taylor Paris (Barrie, ON) (Ontario Blues)
Mike Scholz (Oakville, ON) (Ontario Blues)
Conor Trainor (Vancouver, BC) (British Columbia)
Sean White (Victoria, BC) (BC Bears)
Geraint John - Head coach
Kieran Crowley - Assistant coach
Brian Hunter - Manager
Matt Barr - Strength and conditioning coach
Isabel Grondin - Therapist