Put your hand up if you’re a frustrated Canadian supporter – as I get the impression there are an increasing number of us! Once again Canada loses a game they easily should have won, and sure there were some impressive performances but they simply cannot justify a track record of just 4 wins in 15 games over the last two years. In fairness to some of Canada’s excellent players the time for constant experimenting and tinkering with combinations must surely be over with literally weeks to go before we are to compete on the World stage. There is no point in almost winning game after game if you are just not finishing them. Canada was up against a woefully disciplined American side on Monday night in Burnaby whom they should have easily dominated especially as the Eagles played large periods of the match with just fourteen men. As heroic and impressive as the performance against Samoa was last week it doesn’t count for much if you can only play 70 minutes of an 80 minute game. This is a side which desperately needs confidence going into a World Cup where they potentially will get eaten alive by Ireland and France and stand a good chance of being humiliated by their other opponents Romania and Italy, especially as they have lost both encounters with Romania in the last two years as well as their last match with Italy. To say that Canada needed to get at least one win out of the Pacific Nations Cup is the understatement of the year, and one can only feel empathy for a squad heading into the biggest challenge of their rugby careers with very little to show for their efforts. If there is not a crisis of confidence yet within the Canadian camp then it is surely coming at a time when they can least afford it!
Canada vs USA
Final Score – Canada 13/USA 15
Once again, like many Canadian supporters I was left scratching my head at the final whistle as to how we managed to lose yet another game in the last 10 minutes. The USA was not particularly flash, and their discipline was truly appalling, but they somehow managed to do the basics when it mattered most better than Canada, and if anything the three yellow cards they got pulled them closer together and focused them on the task at hand. Canada only once managed to make any gains against the Americans in the 30 minutes of the match that the Eagles were reduced to fourteen men. To rub salt into the wound the Americans actually managed to score a large proportion of their points with only fourteen men.
Canada was the only side to score a try, and it was certainly an impressive score by Nick Blevins who continued his impressive form from the game against Samoa. However, that in all reality was about the only thing to get excited about in a match where Canada failed to ever really put the Americans under any kind of sustained or consistent pressure.
Canada as usual started the match well and many of the improvements witnessed against Samoa were kept up, with greater intensity and support at the breakdowns and crisper passing. However, after fifteen minutes the errors started to creep back in and the discipline started to once more slip. Canada when able to use him properly were making excellent use of winger Jeff Hassler. Connor Braid was having a solid day out in centrefield and was making some fine passes and line breaks for the most part to put Hassler into space. But in all honesty that was about it. The Americans pushed Canada hard in the set pieces and scrums, their lineouts left a lot to be desired and as the game wore on the intensity started to slide even despite the arrival of Phil Mack at scrum half for the last quarter. Canada were increasingly unable to maintain possession beyond more than one or two phases and as this continued the passing skills and overall organisation started to look suspect. The Americans could sniff victory as a tired and disorganised Canada allowed the Eagles to take up residence in their 22 for the last five minutes of the game and Eagles fly half AJ MacGinty had acres of space to loiter in the pocket to set himself up for a last-minute drop goal that would once again rob Canada of a game they should have easily won.
There is little question in my mind that the yellow card handed out to Eagles lock Greg Peterson early in the match should have been a red, as the video replay clearly shows a deliberate and malicious punch to the head on Canada’s Brett Beukeboom. It was the epitome of poor sportsmanship and has no place in the modern game. Had Peterson seen red and the Eagles been forced to play with just 14 men then perhaps it would have been a better day for Canada. However, the fact still remains that Canada failed to make any inroads against the US in the ten minutes Peterson spent in the sin bin and what’s worse conceded a penalty which resulted in 3 points for the Americans. In today’s game and given the often inconsistent standard of refereeing present in the global game at the moment, as a side you have to take such calls on the chin and move on. Canada should have had the edge in discipline by a country mile in this match but instead they gifted 12 points to the Americans through penalties. As Canada prepare to open their World Cup campaign against an Irish side who are probably the best in the world at forcing opposition teams into disciplinary mistakes, such weaknesses really need to be addressed and time is simply running out. A tournament that promised so much for Canada and should have really set the team on a solid footing for the World Cup has sadly gone begging. Some serious reflection is now needed by both players and coaching staff as Canada makes its final preparations for the World Cup and their opening game with Ireland.
It saddens me that despite occasional flashes of brilliance from Canada in this match, and to be honest the two players who really stood out for me were Conor Braid and Jeff Hassler both of whom are reaping the rewards of their time in Europe, the tone of this piece is overwhelmingly negative. Canada needs some miracles in the three remaining games they have before the World Cup – I don’t regard the game against a third string Glasgow Warriors side at the end of August as anything more than a glorified practice session. The Americans will be keen to make it three from three when they meet Canada again in Ottawa in a fortnight, and the warm-up games in England against Fiji and Georgia will be exceptionally stern tests of character for Canada. On a positive note I still believe that Canada has a nucleus of exceptionally talented and motivated players, but there does seem to be a fundamental disconnect in how we are coaching these players to get the results needed to instill some much-needed confidence into a side heading into a World Cup. There is no question that Canada’s players are motivated and committed to doing their country proud come September/October, but have we really set them up with the confidence and organisation they need going into an exceptionally competitive World Cup? Looking at the evidence before us right now, I would sadly have to answer no.
We will know more once Canadian coach Kieran Crowley announces his World Cup squad on August 5th, and from there Canada has an exceptionally difficult albeit not impossible, given the spirit in the team, task of turning two years of misery into World Cup glory. I am sure everyone reading this wishes them the very best of luck and, as I have been saying since I started writing this blog, the men’s team would do well to spend some time before leaving for England with the women’s team who did so well last year at the Women’s World Cup to tap into what a winning culture really feels like!