The Canadian Men's National Rugby Team beat the USA Eagles, 28-22, to retain the Can/Am Trophy at BMO Field in Toronto earlier today.
With the Toronto skyline in the background and 10,621 in attendance, "The Battle at BMO Field" was a hugely physical encounter between two sides determined to outmatch each other in the first ever rugby match held at the stadium.
Canada kicked off to start the match and the USA recovered, but a poor kick directly into touch by flyhalf Nese Malifa halted the Eagles attack. Canada took the lineout at the USA’s 22-meter line and several minutes of back-and-forth play ensued. The Eagles tried to get mauls going off the lineouts but Canada was able to halt them in their tracks.
Scrumhalf Mike Petri’s box kick went directly into touch, so the ball was brought back to the spot of the kick at the USA 10-meter line. Canada won the lineout and blinside flanker Jebb Sinclair broke away into the try zone but was called in touch just before the try line. USA's blindside flanker Louis Stanfill tried to take a quick lineout with Canadian players crowding the area but it was picked off and Sinclair found the ball in his hands again to score from five meters out. The conversion by James Pritchard was good, and the score stood at 7-0 after six minutes.
USA got on the board next when Canada was penalized and Malifa kicked for points from 23 meters out to make the score 7-3 after nine minutes of play.
The Eagles tried to work a kicking game, with Petri launching box kicks and speedy winger Takudzwa Ngwenya chasing, but Ngwenya knocked the ball on to grant Canada its first scrum of the match. Canada won the scrum and showed good initiative by attacking from deep and applying pressure with a chase. The USA recovered and inside center Andrew Suniula ran well to gain ground. The support was slow in coming but the Eagles maintained possession and used forward drives to work their way up the pitch. Canada was not shy up front, putting in some very physical play to stop the USA forwards.
Ngwenya knocked the ball on in the air again and Canada looked to counterattack with a numbers advantage on the right side, but a forward pass halted the move.
The USA scrum improved from the Churchill Cup and held steady for Petri to attempt another box kick, which bounced well before rolling into touch to pin Canada deep.
Lineouts were an issue for both teams and it showed when Canada was penalized for not throwing in straight.
A big hit by Canada’s Ciaran Hearn almost unsettled the ball but the Eagles got a kick off and fullback Blaine Scully put good pressure on to recover the ball. The ball was then worked right for captain and flanker Todd Clever to pass to Ngwenya, who cut in between two Canadian defenders to score. Malifa’s conversion was good and the USA took the lead, 10-7, at the 25-minute mark.
Canada continued their bruising forwards play on the next possession but it could not prevent Scully from forcing his way to Canada’s 5-meter line. Clever got the ball on the wing and ran around an attempted ankle tackle for the try. The touchline conversion by Malifa sailed wide, but the USA increased the lead, 15-7, with four minutes left in the half.
Canada took the points on offer when the Eagles were called for not wrapping in the tackle and winger James Pritchard nailed the kick for points from 30 meters out. 15-10 to the USA to effectively end the half.
In the second half, the Eagles stole a Canadian lineout only for the ball to be knocked on by a charging backline. Carpenter passed the ball out of the Canadian scrum for the backs to kick and chase. Canada got runners downfield quickly to cover and counter the USA maul. Deep in their own territory, the Eagles were looking to kick out of their own try zone but Malifa dropped the pass at the back and Man of the Match Phil Mackenzie pounced on the loose ball for another try to Canada. Pritchard’s conversion was good and Canada regained the lead, 17-15.
Roland Suniula came on for Malifa as the USA tried to take back the lead. Canada was penalized and Andrew Suniula had chance to put up three points but missed the kick from 22 meters out in front.
USA’s hopes of working a maul off a later lineout were again stuffed by the Canadian pack, which gave up no ground. Clever rescued the effort by taking the ball off back but Canada’s openside Chauncey O’Toole stole the ball and mounted a charge well into the USA half that had the crowd on its feet, but was tackled into touch.
The Eagles stole ball on Canada’s next possession but were called for diving over and Canada kicked for posts. Pritchard’s effort was good and Canada held a five-point lead at 55 minutes.
The USA kicked off and recovered the ball, but a promising move down the left touchline was halted by a crunching tackle from Sinclair. Referee on the day Mark Lawrence called the Eagles for a knock on and Canada won on their own put in. Carpenter picked the ball off the back before being brought to ground, but he popped a pass up to charging scrumhalf Ed Fairhurst on the inside, who raced away and slid in under Scully’s tackle to score. The conversion missed and Canada lead, 25-15 with 20 minutes left in the match.
Canada looked ready to score again when O’Toole had a big break off a stolen USA lineout, but Ngwenya’s covering tackle ended his run.
Later on, Canada’s DTH van der Merwe stripped the ball off USA winger Kevin Swiryn and Canada kicked downfield. Scully did well to field the kick but two Canada chasers left him with no room to run and tackled him in the try zone. The Eagles relieved the pressure with a kick to touch when Canada was penalized in the resulting scrum.
It was then Ngwenya's turn to set up Clever for a try when the USA won a lineout in Canadian territory and the winger launched a good run before being tackled and the ball was passed out to the captain, who hit a gap and broke an attempted tackle to touch down behind the posts for his second try. The conversion by Tai Enosa was good to bring the USA within reach, 25-22, with less than two minutes remaining on the clock.
A tense final minute saw a chance for the Eagles to mount an attack but Scully knocked on during a run down the left touchline. Canada drove back the USA scrum to earn a penalty and chose to kick for points. Pritchard’s kick sailed over and brought the score to 28-22 in Canada’s favor.
After the kickoff, Canada ran out the clock with a series of forward drives. They had a chance to score again when the USA was called for hands in the ruck. Canada powered over the line following a lineout close to the USA try zone, but Lawrence called a knock on and brought the match to an end.
"We shot ourselves in the foot a bit with the three tries we conceded," Eagles head coach Eddie O'Sullivan said after the match. "It made it difficult, but this is test rugby. I think if we hadn't made those mistakes we would've given ourselves a shot, but unfortunately we made those mistakes. We've got to take the positives with the negatives, but overall I'm disappointed that we lost the game."
O'Sullivan was happy with some things his team did though. "Obviously being the first match out of the blocks, guys aren't going to be up to match speed. We saw opportunities and we took them. I'm reasonably happy but disappointed with the defeat," he added. "I think having hurt ourselves so much with errors, it was good that we did fight our way back into the game. It was still there for the taking up until the last few minutes. We just have to cut down on the error count and play with the ball more."
Canada head coach Kieran Crowley was happy with his team's win and proud of how the players came back, but isn't letting them let it go to their heads. "It's a win," he said. "It's a test match between Canada and the USA so obviously we're happy with that side of things. It wasn't how we would have liked it but test matches are a challenge and I was very pleased with the way the guys stuck to it in the second half. For the boys to come back the way they did in the second half I'm pretty pleased with them.
"In the second half we got a little ball and a little momentum, whereas in the first half we would go one phase then make a mistake or turn it over. Our scrum was very good. Our lineout, well we obviously have a lot of work to do there but we stuck at it and I think the composure we showed got us through in the end, which was great."
"I thought the execution was poor overall," the former All Black stated. "There was a little pressure because this is test match rugby. Their execution wasn't as good as it should be in the lineout."
"We put a lot of work into attack and maybe not so much into that area," Canada captain Pat Riordan said. "As the hooker I have to take responsibility for the lineout not going too well. In the end we won some key ones, but those ones we lost were probably momentum killers and that puts us back a little bit."
Despite the snags in the road, Canada earned a hard-fought victory, look like a solid squad and credit home-field advantage as having helped the team bounce back for the win.
"I think definitely the crowd in the second half helped us," Mackenzie said. "I think we paid more attention to the little things in the second half and made less little errors that killed us."
The USA will try to bounce back when the two teams meet again in Colorado on August 16.
Tries: Sinclair, Mackenzie, Fairhurst
Convs: Pritchard 2
Pens: Pritchard 3
Tries: Clever 2, Ngwenya
Convs: Malifa, Enosa