Eagles' wings clipped by Canada in Edmonton
By Jon Newcombe
Canada struck a psychological blow ahead of their back-to-back Rugby World Cup 2015 qualifiers against the USA in August with a hard-fought 16-9 victory over their North American rivals in Saturday’s Pacific Nations Cup opener.
Conditions at a wet and windy Ellerslie Rugby Park in Edmonton were not conducive to either side producing their best attacking rugby, the greasy ball resulting in numerous handling errors and a high turnover rate.
Braid - the pick of the bunch
However it proved to be a triumphant return to international duty for Canada’s Connor Braid, who suffered the disappointment of relegation with club side Doncaster Knights only a month ago.
The flame-haired full back kicked three penalties and converted John Moonlight’s 17th-minute try, his only miss being an ambitious attempt from 45 metres from wide on the right in the second half, for a personal haul of 11 points.
It was also a good day for Clive Griffiths, Braid’s coach for both club and country, in his role as Canada’s defence coach.
USA had gone into the game with a much-improved strike rate under head coach Mike Tolkin, scoring tries in each of their previous 21 matches.
But the host side’s determination in the tackle area - typified by Man of the Match Tyler Ardron - coupled with the USA’s inability to go through the phases and build any momentum, condemned the Eagles to their first shut-out since Canada kept them try-less in 2009 – a run of 21 consecutive games.
“We had a couple of line breaks go against us, but overall I think we were pretty comfortable in defence and held firm,” said Griffiths.
“A few of the boys hadn’t played for quite a while but we stuck to our guns and we’re delighted to get the win and to prevent them from scoring.
“Even though we won, the last two times we played them we conceded five or six tries which we weren’t happy about. So to do this was massive.”
Griffiths flies back to the United Kingdom on Tuesday to resume his dual role in charge of both Doncaster and Rugby League side North Wales Crusaders. But he hopes to be back in time for the lead-up to the two qualifiers against USA (August 17 & 24).
By then USA will hope for much better conditions as Canada played the smarter ‘wet weather rugby’, particularly in the first half.
With the forwards dominant at scrum-time and in general play, Canada were able to establish a 10-0 lead, which, given the wind and rain, was always going to be difficult for the USA to surmount.
Braid got the first points on the board with a 15th-minute penalty before Moonlight blasted through two tackles to score what proved to be the only try of the game – and his second in four internationals. Braid added the extras.
Eagles’ debutant Adam Siddall atoned for an earlier penalty miss to finally open the visitors’ account after 31 minutes and the score remained at 10-3 to Canada at half time.
'Game of two halves'
USA were much improved after the break, superior work at the breakdown enabling scrum half Robbie Shaw to impose himself on the match. A couple of darting runs from the London-based player gave USA some go-forward, however they were unable to convert the pressure into tries and had to rely on two more kicks from Siddall to close the gap to just a single point.
But, against the run of play, Braid kicked two more penalties, the second coming after USA skipper Todd Clever was spotted throwing punches in the direction of an opponent.
Needing a converted score to tie the game USA poured forward and forced an attacking scrum six metres short of the Canada line. However Tolkin’s men were unable to control possession properly, eventually leading to a knock-on from hooker Zachary Penoglio, which referee Francisco Pastrana deemed the last act of the match.
Canada’s next match in the Pacific Nations Cup 2013 will take place at Twin Elms Rugby Park in Ottawa against Fiji on Wednesday, June 5. Up next for the USA is their first home game as they host Tonga on June 14 in California.