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Moonlight retires form Canada 7s

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John Moonlight, Canada 7sJohn Moonlight, Canada 7sJOHN moonlight, Canada 7s most capped player who led Canada to some of its greatest sevens triumphs, is retiring to become a firefighter in his native Pickering, Ont.


The 30-year-old Moonlight played in 65 World Series events, scoring his 116th career try in Hong Kong prior to representing Canada earlier this month at the Commonwealth Games in Australia.

"I'm excited," Moonlight said in an interview. "I'm so privileged in the fact that I had an unreal rugby career. I travelled the world representing Canada for so many occasions. And I get to switch from that career right into probably one of the next best careers that you could have — in my hometown — and finally be able to give back to the community."

 

Moonlight starts his new career May 7, kicking off a seven-week training period before joining the regular rotation.

"As much as I love rugby and I love wearing that (Canada) jersey, I have to focus on preparing myself for the rest of my life and setting myself up," he said.

Devoting himself to a sport well down the Canadian pecking order, Moonlight may be better known outside of our borders despite a gritty hard-nosed playing style that embodies the Maple Leaf.

"World rugby will lose one of its great warriors," Canada coach Damian McGrath, an English native, said by email from Singapore where Canada is preparing to defend its lone World Series title.

"In my almost 30 years of professional coaching he stands among a small group of players I've come across I would call 'greats' ... He epitomizes Canadian rugby," McGrath added. "He is driven, he has true grit and has made the best of his talent. I wouldn't say he's the best at any one thing but he's the best at putting everything together."

A longtime captain and co-captain of the sevens squad, Moonlight is a physical specimen with a seemingly bottomless gas tank. Whether he had the ball in hand or was hunting down an opponent who had it, the six-foot-one, 226-pound Moonlight left a mark.

But what set Moonlight apart was his toughness and work ethic.

"He would do anything for the team," said former sevens teammate Sean Duke, who scored 124 tries for Canada. "The amount that guy works is insane. And he's always been that way.

"He's one of the toughest players I've ever played with. Probably the toughest. He will put his head anywhere. He's not afraid of anything."

Duke noted how Moonlight would always be the one sprinting towards an opposition try-scorer, busting a gut to deny an easy conversion from under the posts.

Moonlight played in a Canadian-record 318 matches on the World Series, 14th on the all-time list, and scored 580 points.

Moonlight was the longtime Canadian skipper but shared the captaincy recently with Nate Hirayama and Harry Jones after missing time with the team to take a firefighting course in Texas.

Former Canadian seven coach Liam Middleton called Moonlight "the full package."

"John's a phenomenal person, first and foremost," Middleton, a native of Zimbabwe who has coached around the world, said in 2015. "He's one of the most exceptional people I've met in my rugby career. Fantastic leader, a guy of high great integrity. Huge work rate."

After becoming a carded athlete, Moonlight honed his body in the weight room. Watching him run, it was hard not to marvel at the muscles in his legs.

Moonlight does not expect to continue playing rugby at club level but hopes to stay involved in the sport, helping young talent develop. And while he has experienced both the highs and lows of Canadian rugby, he is optimistic about the future of the sport here.

"I see there's some good people, especially in the sevens program, trying to do good things," Moonlight said. "If we get the (talent) development right, I think Rugby Canada is going to get themselves back on track."

His next goal is to compete in an Ironman triathlon.

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