It was another ugly afternoon for Canada, as they came woefully short against a highly motivated US Eagles team who once again taught them a painful lesson in finishing skills amongst the cornfields south of Ottawa. At this point with two extremely challenging warm-up games against Fiji and Georgia in England prior to the global showdown of the World Cup, Canada needs to find some answers as they recorded their seventh straight loss. At the end of the match the team looked shattered and you could feel the sense of despondency amongst the players. They know they are better than this but somehow just can’t pull it together. The players and coaching staff have a monumental task ahead of them in the next three weeks to shake off the demons of the last year and restore some pride and confidence to the Canadian jersey. If this isn’t done Canada could end up having their worst World Cup in history, as the team potentially exits the tournament without a win. The return of some of Canada’s big guns like Jamie Cudmore, DTH van der Merwe, Jebb Sinclair and Jeff Hassler should surely help the cause but these four alone can’t lift the team out of its current doldrums. Let’s hope for the team’s sake that the performance in Ottawa last Saturday really was rock bottom for the team and it’s only onwards and upwards from here on end from every one of Canada’s 31 man World Cup squad!
Canada vs USA
Final Score – Canada 23/USA 41
Canada wanted to win this match desperately and so did their supporters, but sadly instead of coming agonizingly close to a victory as they have of late, they were blown away by an American side that for the most part looked the model of composure and a well executed game plan. The expressions on the Canadian players faces at the final whistle said it all – no matter what spin the PR people at Rugby Canada put on it this is a team suffering a crisis of confidence! Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Canada’s recent performances is that the team is not without talent, especially at an individual level, but somehow as a unit they just can’t seem to get organised to really harness the potential they have. To make matters worse, the player of the game from a Canadian perspective and who really could have added some firepower to Canada’s cause in England, Taylor Paris, took an injury that has now ruled him out of the World Cup. Sadly for this team for every step forward they take, they seem to take two backwards.
As I watched the opening ten minutes of this game, I like many Canadian supporters, really had the feeling that the misery of the last few months for the Canadians was all about to end in dramatic fashion. Canada came out of the blocks firing on all cylinders. They looked sharp, confident and were playing with lots of intent. The handling was good and their attacks were well executed while their defence looked solid. Winger Taylor Paris in his first outing in a Canadian shirt this year was on fire and looked a very exciting prospect for Canada’s World Cup campaign. In short there was hope and plenty of it!
However, once again after a stellar ten minutes, Canada’s game started to disintegrate in the face of well-organised and mounting US pressure. The errors in both discipline and handling crept back into Canada’s game and all of a sudden the euphoria of the first ten minutes quickly began to dissipate. Nevertheless Canada managed to keep themselves in front through the boots of scrum half Gordon McRorie and flyhalf Nathan Hiryama so that just before the half hour mark they were still in front 6-0. The Americans though had been increasingly winning the possession battle particularly from the set pieces and Canada’s defences were starting to creak again. Just on the half hour mark, the US lock Greg Petersen was able to take advantage of too many Canadian players sucked into defending against a US driving maul. Petersen dived across between the posts from a superb offload from the back of the driving maul. There were two Canadian defenders there, but they looked more surprised at Petersen’s move than actually ready for it. US flyhalf, AJ MacGinty just as he did at the beginning of the month would slot everything put before his highly accurate boot. All of a sudden the Americans were in front 7-6 and looking good for it.
Five minutes later the Americans would set up a superb counter attack and hit the Canadian defences at speed. Once again Canada’s problem of missing crucial first phase tackles would come back to haunt them. The defence was completely wrongfooted and as the Americans built up a blistering run of speed Canada’s last-ditch defence simply had no answers allowing Eagles flanker Andrew Durutalo the opportunity to claim another easy seven pointer. 17-6 to the Eagles going into halftime and Canada looked like they had few answers to the American onslaught.
The second half would start for Canada much in the same vein as the first and you felt that there had obviously been some positive work done in the dressing room at half time. In a sustained period of possession five minutes into the second half Canada looked positive after some excellent work from Canadian flanker John Moonlight. Canada put in a massive effort and although it wasn’t pretty at times, with the passing not the crispest and Canada often struggling to keep hold of the ball in the contact areas, they did enough to eventually get the ball to Taylor Paris on the wing allowing him to showcase his speed and skill and get Canada that much-needed first try. All of a sudden Canada were back in the match trailing 17-11 even though McRorie who didn’t have the most accurate afternoon with the boot couldn’t convert the try.
McRorie’s inability to really get Canada back in contention with an accurate kicking game saw his early departure in the second half to be replaced at scrum half by Phil Mack. As readers of this blog know, I am a big fan of Mack and feel that he adds a speed and intensity at the breakdown that Canada so desperately needs especially when they find themselves in games that are getting away from them physically. I wasn’t disappointed in Mack’s work rate and he immediately made a difference when at the 55 minute mark some sustained pressure and intensity from Canada saw Mack get an excellent offload to centre Nick Blevins. Blevins with some fancy footwork which is rapidly becoming his trademark would score a crucial try to get Canada right back in the hunt. Blevins has been really solid for Canada in their last few outings and will definitely be someone to watch come the World Cup. Canada trailed 20-16 as they headed into the final quarter, a period which has been their nemesis all year.
The question on everyone’s lips was could Canada, with twenty minutes to go and only four points behind, hold on and go one better and actually finish and win a game? The short answer was sadly no. With fifteen minutes to go, scrum half Phil Mack in a rare lapse of discipline found himself unable to get to the ball due to some fairly obvious US obstruction, but the frustration that had been building came to the fore and he carelessly stamped the offending player resulting in a yellow card. Even though I felt the card offence was harsh, the sad reality is that calls like that at this level are inevitable and if you want to compete you just have to rise above them and keep your composure. Canada suddenly found themselves in the last fifteen minutes a man down.
The USA saw their opportunities and struck mercilessly. US Captain and fullback Chris Wyles ran through some gaping holes in the Canadian defence, and this was followed up by replacement back Andrew Suniula running through a nonexistent Canadian defence to score a ridiculously easy try. As has been the case all year Canada simply started to fall apart in the last quarter. They looked lifeless and disorganised and that sense of a team that was utterly demoralised was there for all to see. US scrum half Mike Petri would score another soft try against the 14 man Canadians 5 minutes later, seizing on a gap presented by a half-hearted Canadian defence. 34-16 for the Americans and it was all over but the crying with five minutes to go. The return of Phil Mack from the sin bin put some fire back in the Canadian attack and their efforts were rewarded through a consolation try for Captain and number eight Aaron Carpenter who to give him credit has been a sound workhorse for Canada in all their matches this year that he has played in.
The last act of the game though would belong to the Americans as another example of the shocking passing skills that all too often seem to be a trademark of Canadian rugby at the moment would be there for all to see. On the eighty minute mark Canadian lock Tyler Hotson without really looking sent a wayward pass to no one in particular that was so easily snapped up by American lock Cameron Dolan, it had probably been advertised on the billboards leading into the ground. Dolan simply strolled to the Canadian try line as there was not a Canadian defender in sight. The final whistle blew and Canada shuffled off the field after a humiliating 41-23 loss.
Canada really need to find something special in the coming weeks. As I have said all along, hopefully they will go and spend some time with the Women’s team who at last year’s Women’s World Cup in France, showed us all what a winning culture looks like. As poor as Canada are at the moment, I for one, don’t feel that their World Cup campaign is a lost cause. Let’s be honest they do have a mountain to climb to turn themselves around and surely the big concern is will the two remaining warm-up games against a very physical Georgia and very fast Fiji result in yet more injuries to some of our key players, especially some of the bigger names like Cudmore and company? Those risks will have to be carefully managed by the Canadian coaching staff, as well as really digging deep to fix and address the problems Canada are facing.
There is no question in my mind that Canada’s 31 man World Cup squad has the talent to put in a credible World Cup performance provided they can get the basics right. Tighten up the handling and really work on that defence and Canada can hopefully once more earn the respect of the bigger teams like Ireland and France that they will be facing in three weeks time. For me there is nothing worse than watching a proud and motivated group of players start to lose their sense of self-belief and that is my biggest concern for the team going into the World Cup. Three weeks is not much time for Canadian Coach Kieran Crowley and his staff to turn things around, but I genuinely believe that last Saturday’s performance in Ottawa was rock bottom and it really can’t get any worse than that. Canada will pick themselves up and I am confident that once they leave these shores will find that focus and motivation to put in at least one really big performance at the World Cup that will restore the pride we all know is there in the Canadian jersey.