Canada’s European Tour ends with some positives but plenty of homework to do!

Posted: December 2, 2014 in Canuck Rugby
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Canada’s end of year European Tour

Having already looked at one of Canada’s three Internationals in Europe this November against Namibia, we’ll take a quick look at their last two matches against Samoa and Romania, the latter being of particular interest as Romania will be our pool opponents in next year’s Rugby World Cup.

Canada vs Samoa
Final Score Can 13/Sam 23
Vannes, France

Despite the match opening under a torrential downpour, this game provided plenty of entertainment and some great running rugby by both sides.  There is no doubt that the slippery conditions made for some tricky handling early on, but fortunately the weather eased up and allowed for a second half in which players did not have to contend with the rain.

This was an important match for Canada, as despite the off field political problems currently plaguing Samoan rugby, this Pacific Island nation is some real quality opposition for Canada and thus excellent preparation for next year’s World Cup.  Despite the internal turmoil facing the Samoan players it was clear from their opening challenge that they had come to play and do their country proud and showcase why they have been such a problem side for big teams like Wales.

The first half saw some enterprising rugby from both sides and solid defence, however, at half time the game had seen both sides fail to cross the whitewash and instead trade penalties with the Samoans being much more effective in this department.  Samoa enjoyed the bulk of possession and Canada obviously needed to rethink their attacking game if they were to crack the Samoan line.

Canada came out of the blocks in the second half firing.  Scrum half Gordon McRorie, despite some initial handling errors in the first half was having a great game and was finding Conor Trainor in centre field with increasing accuracy.  Trainor was making some serious inroads into the Samoan defence which gave the Canadian attack a much needed sense of urgency and purpose.  However, at the same time it also displayed some glaring weaknesses in the Canadian skill set.  We played some exciting running rugby at times in the second half, but I couldn’t help feeling that some of the passing although adventurous was often downright risky.  Up against better opposition next year such passing will simply lead to intercept after intercept by teams like France and Ireland who will be our two big pool opponents.  Some of Canada’s passes although spectacular had more in common with volleyball at times than rugby.  It is clear that this is the influence of Canada’s successful experience in sevens rugby but at the fifteen a side game it is borderline suicidal at times and Canada will need to watch this as they prepare for next year.  This was clearly shown by a brilliant break by Trainor which was followed up by a poor offload to McRorie causing him to knock the ball on but which otherwise would have almost certainly led to a try.  Canada sometimes need to have more confidence in their ability to hang on to the ball and go to ground and rely on their forwards to get good ruck ball and open up another passage of phases to release the backline.  There seemed to be a reluctance to do this at key times in the game and which would ultimately cost Canada dearly.

Nevertheless , some excellent touch finding by James Pritchard at fullback got Canada some good lineout possession and once more danger man Trainor was off to score a brilliant try down the blindside.  Canada were back in the hunt only trailing Samoa by 13-16.  It was here however, that just as against Namibia the week before, Canada seemed to run out of ideas in the last ten minutes, allowing Samoa to comfortably pull away.  Once more some seriously risky passing by Nanyak Dala caused Canada to lose possession and Samoa pounce on the opportunity to cross the Canadian try line and start to put the game out of sight.  With Samoa pushing hard, causing Canada to make mistakes another Samoan penalty put the game out of reach and Samoa emerged deserved winners at 23-13.  There was much to take heart from for Canada in this game especially on attack.  If Canada can tighten up the passing and handling errors and watch their discipline in defence then there is plenty of room for optimism.  However, at the moment based on this outing Canada has a great deal of work to do if they want to be competitive against the bigger nations next year.

Romania vs Canada
Final Score – Rom 18/ Can 9
Bucharest

A very important match for Canada and one which they needed to end the year with on a high sadly went begging for Canada on a perfect afternoon for rugby in the Romanian capital.  Canada will face Romania in the Pool stages of their World Cup campaign next year and a convincing win would have been an important confidence booster.  Canada didn’t play badly but Romania’s highly effective scrum and rolling maul eventually wore them down and just as in the previous two November tests, Canada seemed to run out of ideas and energy in the last 10 minutes of the game, which is an area the coaching staff really must work on in the next ten months if Canada is to put in any kind of credible performance at the World Cup.  We have some great talent and good players but at the moment are lacking in the ability to finish out tough games – whether this is lack of fitness or a skill set issue or a combination of the two is hard to judge – but it must be addressed by next September.

As in their previous two outings this month Canada looked impressive on attack though as in the match against Samoa some exciting but highly risky passing manoeuvres were in evidence.  In a try less match, both sides traded penalties with Romanian fly half Florin Vlaicu’s boot punishing Canada in the second half through a series of penalties as the relentless physicality of the Romanians eventually pushed Canada into making too many mistakes and breakdowns in discipline.

As he has throughout November, Canadian fullback James Pritchard played a solid game with the boot and managed to get Canada on the scoreboard first.  Gordon McRorie at scrum half also contributed a further two penalties for Canada but that was as far as Canada could get in terms of points in a tough physical battle.

As the game progressed you could sense the Romanians gaining in confidence and to their credit their set-piece play was superb even if none of it resulted in a try.  Canada made a valiant attempt at getting across the Romanian line in the latter half of the second half but as we have seen all month after 70 minutes the Canadians were exhausted and looked out of ideas.  A very motivated Romanian side kept them pinned all match and were effective in shutting down breaks by the always dangerous DTH Van der Merwe and Conor Trainer along with Ospreys star Jeff Hassler.  In the end, Canada entertained but failed to inspire and ultimately walk away with a much needed win and Romania were the deserved victors through a gritty but consistent display of rugby.  Canada may have been the more exciting team to watch on the field, but Romania got the job done and did it well.

So as we end the month, it is with several notes of concern for Canada.  A good side has provided us with some exciting rugby but which sadly did not translate into results.  I felt slightly concerned by many in the media especially in Canada hailing the games against Samoa and Romania as narrow losses.  A narrow loss is less than a converted try and in both cases the score difference was significantly more than this.  I do not mean to be critical as I, like everyone else in Canada, want to see us do well next year but in order to do that we have to be honest and by doing so help the coaching staff and players identify the areas that need work.  A little bit less emphasis on razzle dazzle in attack and more on getting the basics right and playing a full game of eighty minutes is what is needed.  I have no doubt we have the talent; we just lack the polish and cohesion to pull it off at the moment.  Here’s hoping we’ll find it by next September.

On a side note, I was very disappointed to see the lack of coverage of these games in Canada this month.  I am sure Canada would have benefited from the extra motivation of knowing fans at home were cheering them on.  TSN provided excellent coverage of Canada’s campaign in the recent Women’s World Cup, as well as Canada’s home games this year.  However, for these matches one had to seek out obscure links on YouTube after the match.  For the Romanian game which one would have thought would have been a big draw for Canadian rugby viewers given we will be playing them in next year’s World Cup, the only coverage was a Romanian broadcast on YouTube with no English commentary.  If we are to get behind the team and give them the support they need surely this needs to be addressed especially in the year leading up to a World Cup.  Hopefully the folks at TSN broadband are reading this.

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