Canada’s Phil Berna, centre, is tackled by Great Britain’s Alex Davis, back, and Max McFarland, right, during HSBC Canada Sevens quarterfinal rugby action, in Vancouver. (File photo by The Canadian Press)

Canada’s Phil Berna, centre, is tackled by Great Britain’s Alex Davis, back, and Max McFarland, right, during HSBC Canada Sevens quarterfinal rugby action, in Vancouver. (File photo by The Canadian Press)

Olympian Phil Berna leads new-look Canadian men’s rugby sevens team

Olympian Phil Berna leads new-look Canadian men’s rugby sevens team

Phil Berna took close to a month off after the Tokyo Olympics and then the competitive juices started flowing again.

“I called myself back into training,” said the 25-year-old from Vancouver. “The time off was great but I think I felt myself getting a little too pudgy, having a few too many sweeties.”

Pudgy likely means something different to an elite rugby sevens player than it does Joe Public.

“I’m hard on myself,” Berna said with a laugh. “But when you go from peak fitness going into the Olympics, anything other than that just feels wrong.”

The six-foot-two 215-pounder is back in action, leading a new-look Canada side.

The Canadian men finished sixth last weekend at the HSBC Canada Sevens In Vancouver, defeating Germany 24-5 and Chile 19-14 before losing 29-19 to the U.S. On Day 2, the Canadians lost 31-5 to Britain in the quarterfinal, beat Spain 33-19 and then were defeated 26-7 by the U.S. in the fifth-place playoff.

South Africa won the tournament, defeating Kenya 38-5 in the final. Britain was third.

Berna liked what he saw from a Canadian team in transition.

“I was very proud by the performance overall,” said Berna. “Especially the young boys coming through. I think they really made the most of their moment.

“The home crowd definitely helped. All the boys played up to a very high standard that we’re holding ourselves to again this weekend.”

The World Series shifts Saturday to Edmonton, the second half of a truncated 2021 campaign due to the pandemic. The 2022 season will kick off in late November in Dubai.

Canada co-captains Nate Hirayama and Harry Jones along with Connor Braid, Justin Douglas and Conor Trainor have retired in the wake of Tokyo, where the men finished eighth in their Olympic debut.

Other players are taking time off in advance of the 2022 season.

Berna, Jake Thiel and Andrew Coe are the only Olympians on the current Canadian squad although Josiah Morra has also played in the World Series. Thiel is serving as the team’s vice-captain.

Berna expected some turnover in the team after the Olympics, with veterans transitioning to life after rugby.

“But a few kind of caught me by surprise,” he acknowledged. “It would be lovely to have Justin Douglas still in the mix. It would be great to just have his pace out wide.”

With 145 tries on the World Series, the 27-year-old Douglas is second only to Hirayama’s 147 among Canadians.

“He’s had a really good career and I think he could have more. But everyone has a time to move on,” Berna said of Douglas. “I think it opens the door to a lot of these young, exciting guys to take their opportunity.”

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