Whangarei - Canada captain Pat Riordan praised his side’s “awesome” performance in overcoming Tonga 25-20 in their Pool A encounter at Northland Events Centre on Wednesday.
Tries in the last quarter of an hour from number 8 Aaron Carpenter and wing Phil Mackenzie helped Canada come back from 13-20 down, maintaining their 100 per cent record against Tonga in Rugby World Cups.
Riordan’s pride in his team’s tenacious effort was evident. "That was awesome, I'm so proud of the boys, the guts they showed,” he said.
The hooker admitted there was little time at the interval to dwell on Tonga’s revival. "I was too busy getting my head stitched up,” he said.
Canada had to battle to wrest the initiative from Tonga after two tries from Siale Piutau had helped the Sea Eagles to a 20-13 lead midway through the second half.
Piutau crossed just before half-time and again on 53 minutes to register the first brace of tries by a Tongan player in a Rugby World Cup.
Canada led 10-7 at the break thanks to second row Jebb Sinclair’s 13th-minute try, after DTH van der Merwe scythed through and fellow centre Ryan Smith delivered the scoring pass, plus a conversion and penalty from full back James Pritchard.
Piutau's first try, converted by full back Kurt Morath, brought Tonga back into contention just before the break, and Morath leveled straight after the interval with a penalty.
James Pritchard replied almost immediately before Piutau’s try, converted by Morath, took them 17-13 ahead.
As the second half wore on Tonga began to find more shape to their play and another Morath penalty took them 20-13 ahead.
However, Carpenter powered over the line on 67 minutes after good work from Conor Trainor to leave the sides poised at 20-18, before Mackenzie's try and Pritchard's conversion took the Canucks clear.
"We knew at halftime that we didn't have enough points with the wind against us. But we managed to come through - got over the line in the end,” said Canada Head Coach Kieran Crowley. "It gives us confidence and self belief that we can get over the line. Two or three years ago, we would have lost that today. It gives me confidence that they can nail it. The strength and conditioning guys have done an excellent job in that area. We'll see how their recovery technique is."
Crowley was especially pleased with the scrum.
"To perform like that on a world stage is amazing,” enthused Crowley. “If we had regular competition, I don't know where these guys could go to."
"After every game we win, I think I say this is the proudest moment,” added hooker and captain Riordan. “It's the culmination of all our hard work."