James Pritchard was almost unstoppable Saturday.
The fullback contributed 21 points as Canada dumped Georgia 31-12 in an international rugby test before a crowd of 3,661 at Swangard Stadium.
“It’s good when you have have a day like today when you can have those points and get them proper,” said Pritchard. “It’s a very satisfying day and it’s up there with my top games.”
He produced one try, two converts and four penalty goals on the day. Of his points, 16 came in the first half as Canada built a 23-7 lead and rarely looked back. He boosted his second-best all-time career Canadian point total to 445 and moved close to the record 491 held by Gareth Rees, who is now Rugby Canada’s national program manager.
Rees watched the match from the sideline.
Pritchard, a 32-year-old Parkes, Australia native who is eligible to compete for Canada on the basis of a Canadian passport that stems from his grandfather’s Ruthoida, Sask., birthplace, helped Canada conclude a three-game test series that included Italy and the U.S. with a 2-1 record.
The only loss came in a loss to the Italians eight days earlier.
“Every test match, we want to put our foot down and stamp our authority,” said Pritchard. “We fight for games like this — Georgia, and especially Italy. Those are the big teams coming after Canada. You’re never going to get better competing against low teams. You want to compete with the best.
“To put in a good showing against the U.S. and just come up short against Italy is satisfying. We thought we could have done more against Italy, but we come out with two test wins and we hold one of the best world rankings.”
Canada, ranked 13th, was smaller, on the whole, than the 15th-ranked Georgians. But the Canadians outmuscled the visitors in scrums and on and near the goal-line as tighthead Jason Marshall and other forwards had a strong game literally and figuratively.
Early in the first half, Canada denied a try on its goal-line while preserving a precarious 10-0 lead. The Canadians caught a break when Tedor Zibzibadze crashed into a padded goal post while attemping a diving try, but still had to hold off the Georgians again before punting the ball out of trouble.
A short later, Pritchard scored a try, culminating a long run by Conor Trainor from the Canadian half of the field and some adept laterals with Phil Mackenzie and Matt Evans. By adding the convert, Pritchard gave Canada a 17-0 advantage that ultimately secured the victory.
“Forwards decide if you win the game, and the backs decide by how much,” said Pritchard. “They did a big strong stand there, especially on the goal-line in the first half. At the back there, it’s always good looking up and watching the boys drive the opposition backwards. So our hats, especially at the back, have to go off to them, because they do the work in the engine room.”
DTH Vandermerwe, early in the first half, and Sean Duke, early in the second, also scored tries to account for the rest of Canada’s scoring. Pritchard’s lone faux pas came after Duke’s try as he missed the convert.
Revaz Belkania and Shalva Mamukashvuili scored tries for Georgia in the first and second halves, respectively. A convert on the first try surmised the other Georgian points.
Canada avenged a loss to Georgia in 2010.
“We made a couple of silly errors right at the start and Canada got away to a big lead, and from then on we were playing catch-up,” said Georgia coach Milton Haig.
He said the club had to be disappointed with some of its efforts, but was pleased to give his squad, which featured many young players, a development opportunity against Canada. He also criticized his players for failing to stop Pritchard — after talking about the need to do so before the game — by taking too many penalties in the first half.
“If you give him anything halfway, he’s always going to convert those kicks into points,” said Haig.
Georgia kept the ball in Canadian territory for most of the second half, but Canada still managed to hold Haig’s crew out of the end zone on all but the one occasion. Canadian coach Kieran Crawley praised his club after an important test win at home.
“We had to defend a lot there in the second half and we’re happy with the result,” he said.