Canada finally puts in an almost complete performance in a thrilling encounter at BMO field in Toronto against Samoa, but a last-minute lapse in concentration sadly sees them just miss the victory they so desperately needed. Nevertheless, there were a ton of positives to take out of Canada’s performance on Wednesday night. The majority of the problems they faced in the opening two games of the Pacific Nations Cup seem for the most part to have been fixed. It was a tight and energetic performance from Canada, despite the sweltering heat of a Toronto mid-summer evening. Canada played with heart and commitment and matched the Samoans’ intensity for the full 80 minutes. Phil Mackenzie’s brilliant try after defeating several Samoan defenders seemed to have the game sewn up for Canada at the 75th minute. It was then five minutes of nail-biting tension to see if Canada could keep their composure till the very last whistle, something which they have consistently come short on in the last year. Once again a lapse of concentration at the death cost Canada a game they really should have won, despite concerted Samoan pressure in the Canadian 22 for the last few minutes. Still as disappointed for Canada as I along with the other several thousand fans at BMO field, we could all take heart from a dramatically improved Canadian performance and it is this that will hopefully carry them forward into final preparations for a tough World Cup. To lose by only 1 point to a side as good as Samoa is heart-wrenching but every Canadian player stood up and was counted on Wednesday night and it was the most complete team performance from the Red Nation that I have seen in the last ten months – so hopefully it’s upwards and onwards from here on!
Canada vs Samoa
Final Score – Canada 20/Samoa 21
Wow this one hurt! In a truly superb afternoon of rugby at BMO field in Toronto on a sweltering summer’s day, which yours truly got to attend, Canada put in their best performance of the year only to fall agonizingly short at the final whistle. The crowd had been treated to two superb games prior, which saw Tonga decimate a poor US Eagles outfit, while Fiji just squeaked past an ambitious and skillful Japanese team. By the time Canada and Samoa came onto the field the excitement had been built for an epic encounter which is exactly what the crowd got. Canada may have lost this match but they played out of their skins and can take a lot of confidence from this game especially if they can turn it into winning ways going into the World Cup. On the basis of that performance they should have no trouble dispatching the USA on Monday night in Burnaby as the two sides battle it out for the wooden spoon.
Canada started this match full of intent, and I was delighted to see Phil Mack selected to start as scrum half. Against a powerhouse side like Samoa his intensity would prove vital and he did not disappoint being easily one of Canada’s best players on a night where many of his teammates put in equally big performances. Canada completely dominated Samoa in the first half and you couldn’t help feeling in the stands that Canada were on the way to a historic victory. They were doing everything right, the intensity at the breakdown as controlled by Phil Mack was outstanding as was the support play. Canada were matching the big Samoans in the scrums and lineouts. On top of that the passing by Canada was truly sublime at times and the wayward passing of games gone by seemed to have been stamped out. Furthermore, the loss of inspirational Captain and number 8, Tyler Ardron after just five minutes due to injury did not seem to diminish the Canadians’ composure or intensity in the slightest. Canada was avoiding a pointless kicking game and choosing instead to hold onto possession and take the ball and game to the Samoans. In short, the first half was an inspirational performance with a superb try scored by centre Nick Blevins and at the half time whistle Canada were very much in charge at 13-3.
Samoa however started the second half full of intent and their efforts soon began to pay off as Canada seemed to lose some of the momentum they had in the first half. Samoa used their immense strength in the shape of hooker Anthony Perenise to crash his way through the Canadian defence and get Samoa’s first try on the board. Samoa then kept up the physical pressure on Canada and got themselves into the lead with two successful penalties as Canadian discipline started to crack under the weight of the Samoan onslaught. With ten minutes to go it was 16-13 for Samoa and that sinking feeling was once more setting in with the home crowd. Then a piece of Canadian magic happened that raised the roof at BMO field. Phil Mackenzie managed to keep a Samoan kick to touch from their 22 in the field of play through some dazzling foot and hand work and then he was off, beating at least five Samoan defenders. It was truly world-class and if Canada can play like that on a regular basis then they can hold their heads high. Fullback James Pritchard converted and all of a sudden it was 20-16 for Canada with five minutes to go. The crowd held its breath.
Samoa dug in and then proceeded to put immense pressure on Canada. With a mere thirty seconds left on the clock, Canada stole a Samoan lineout on the Canadian 22, but then in a moment of confusion and a serious lapse in concentration, two Canadian players collided spilling the ball. Replacement Samoan hooker Sakaria Taulafo pounced on the loose ball and talk about being in the right place at the right time. Samoa missed the difficult conversion, but it didn’t matter the Pacific Islanders had just edged out the Canadians 21-20 and as predicted will now battle it out with the other tournament favorites in the final on Monday night. The heartbreak for Canada’s players who had put in a truly heroic shift was there for all to see. They had played well and this was a performance to be immensely proud of despite the loss by the narrowest of margins. Still it all comes down to holding your composure to the very last second and that is the one area Canada really needs to fix. I personally would have kept scrum half Phil Mack on the field till the end and not taken him off with ten minutes to go, his composure and organisational skills at the breakdown may have kept Canada from making that last-minute fatal lapse in concentration. Readers of this blog know that I clearly regard him as Canada’s first choice scrum half, and I hope to see him play as such come the World Cup.
As I said as much as the loss was a crushing disappointment, Canada upped their game so much in this match that there is a lot to be excited about. Samoa are the best side in the Pacific Nations Cup this year and to run them this close is a major achievement. Some of the skills shown by Canada on Wednesday night were world-class and showcased some of the obvious talent in the squad. This was a solid and composed performance and clearly demonstrated a concerted effort to fix problems we have seen in Canada’s game since last November. If Canada can just find that little bit extra to close out big games like this then the future looks bright. Although perhaps overdue Canada has finally found a game plan that works and the 23 players involved in this turnaround on Wednesday night can hold their heads high as they hopefully continue to take the cause of Canadian rugby onwards and upwards!