After a solid opening game against Uruguay a new look Canada, under interim Coach Francois Ratier, took their show on the road to Texas to do battle with their arch enemy the USA in the second round of the inaugural Americas Rugby Championship. While we always thought this was going to be a bridge too far as a second outing and thus a comfortable win for the Eagles, we really had to take our hats off to the performance Canada put in. They had the Americans on the ropes for much of the match and were competitive to the final whistle. Their age old problem of fading out in the last quarter against quality opposition appeared to rear its head again, but then a try by replacement back Duncan Maguire really put some spark back into the Canadian effort after a blitz of tries by the Americans. Canada’s defence held well in the last ten minutes and they can hold their heads high having lost by only eight points after an intense encounter. So far the cohesion in this squad, especially as witnessed in the follow up game against Brazil this past weekend back in Canada, is clear for all to see and we must confess to really liking what we see. It’s early days still, but there is definitely some promising progress taking place in Canadian rugby.
USA vs Canada
Final Score – USA 30/Canada 22
To be honest, as only their second outing, this was going to be a tough match for a new look and predominantly young and inexperienced Canadian side to win. However, what we didn’t expect was how well Canada played and how this group were really able to take the match to the Americans for the full eighty minutes. Apart from a lack of composure and focus towards the end of the third quarter which would see the Americans score with seeming impunity, Canada looked really solid and perhaps most encouraging of all fought their way back into the match and were always in contention. Unlike in matches we saw last year they didn’t fade away and if anything found a second wind and spark of life just when they needed it most. While there is still a long way to go, what we have seen in the opening three rounds of this year’s inaugural Americas Rugby Championship is exceptionally positive from this young Canadian side and bodes well for the future.
What really impressed me in this match is the pressure Canada put on the Americans in the first half, which clearly rattled their hosts and saw Canada leading 12-10 at the break. Admittedly the Americans were making far too many mistakes but these were due in large part to the dominance Canada had in a lot of areas of play. Canada was clearly winning the scrum battle and their lineouts were proving to be much more productive than the USA. The Americans were being forced into costly errors and scrum half Gordon McRorie was back to form and having a field day with the boot. Canada constantly looked dangerous on attack and were holding on to the ball much better in the contact areas, an area which proved costly to them last year. The US defence was holding up well but the constant probing by Canada was giving the Canadians plenty of opportunities at points from penalties, which McRorie made no mistake in cashing in on.
This positive play from Canada continued in the second half but the Americans were clearly benefitting from a stern talking to by Eagles Coach Jon Mitchell at half time. It resulted in a very purple patch for Canada at the end of the third quarter as they would leak three tries in the space of ten minutes all scored by Eagles Captain and veteran lock Todd Clever. It wasn’t pretty and is something that no doubt will be reviewed in detail by Canadian coaching staff for the remainder of the competition. A solid defence all of a sudden looked remarkably porous for Canada. However, as Canada’s bench got called into action Canada came back firing and once more looked competitive. A superb individual effort from Duncan Maguire got Canada right back in the match through a brilliant try from some scrappy ball. This rejuvenated Canada and for the remainder of the match despite intense pressure from the USA they held firm and even tried some attacks of their own.
In short, despite the defeat and an alarming and costly loss of structure for ten minutes this was a solid outing for Canada particularly in terms of their development as they seek to rebuild after the World Cup. The veterans, Ray Barkwill, Hubert Buydens, Gordon McRorie and Phil Mackenzie all put in as usual an inspirational performance which really helped their younger teammates really match up in a demanding encounter. Canada put in a solid shift in Houston and all 23 players can feel exceptionally pleased with their achievements as they continue to build for an exciting looking future.
Canada vs Brazil
Final Score – Canada 52/Brazil 25
All credit to Brazil, they were certainly not daunted by the challenge of playing Canada at Rugby HQ in this country. They put in a spirited challenge and showed that Brazilian rugby has some definite potential and will only continue to get the respect it deserves as it gets more and more exposure to this annual competition. For Canada it was an important further step in cementing cohesion amongst a very promising looking squad and one which we at the Lineout are really looking forward to seeing in action in this year’s Pacific Nations Cup.
While there were few people who doubted anything other than a resounding Canadian victory, we were heartened by the intensity and quality of the Brazilian challenge. Although often outclassed particularly up front, they showed plenty of resilience and enterprise when running the ball in space. Their 25 points were all well earned and the results of some solid work.
Canada chose to field some of their more inexperienced backs in this match and it showed, as defensively Canada looked shaky at times and if it had not been for their bruising forward dominance over the Brazilians, Canada may have ended up with a much less flattering score line. What Canada can be pleased with however, was their forward play. Hooker and Captain Ray Barkwill bagged an impressive try of his own and tries from the rest of his forward pack showed just how promising Canada is looking up front after just three outings. Flanker Lucas Rumball has been outstanding all tournament and picked up two tries in this match. Lock Paul Ciulini looks impressive and Clay Panga looks great value for money at number 8. In short, with the added experience of Ray Barkwill and Hubert Buydens this Canadian forward pack looks really solid and I am expecting great things of them come the summer.
Brazil can take heart from an impressive and courageous effort in their first ever Test match against Canada. For Canada it was a great day out that really highlighted the sense of cohesion in this young squad and obvious enthusiasm about the future. Canada face a very significant challenge as they now make the long trip to Argentina to take on one of the best teams in the world, even if the South Americans are without most of their A list players. As most readers of this blog know I have been advocating for a regular annual meeting between our two countries and am delighted to see that this is now a reality. The similarities between Canada and Argentina in terms of the challenges rugby faces in both countries are significant. Argentina has emerged from these challenges as an international powerhouse of rugby and the learning experience that Francois Ratier’s charges will get from such regular encounters between the two countries will prove invaluable as well as a source of inspiration. It will be a tough encounter and one that for all intents and purposes favours the South Americans. However, if Canada can compete and continue to show the kind of heart and commitment they have already shown so far this year then whatever the outcome next Saturday in Argentina, it can only be positive in terms of development and building towards the next Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019.