Entirely appropriate for the terrible weather conditions in Lille that day, Canada’s quarter-final appearance against New Zealand at RWC 1991 was something of a high-water mark for the Canucks in the game’s marquee competition.
With a big bruising pack and a steady hand on the tiller in fly-half Gareth Rees, Canada had qualified for the knockout phase – for the first and only time – after securing wins over Romania and Fiji before running France close in their final pool game.
While for New Zealand, unconvincing wins against England and Italy – either side of a more comfortable win against the USA – pointed to potential troubles ahead.
The All Blacks, however, looked in complete control against Canada as they surged into a 21-3 half-time lead on the rain-sodden Stade Lille Metropole pitch thanks to tries from full-back John Timu, centre Bernie McCahill and Zinzan Brooke.
John Kirwan splashed down for a fourth try in the 55th minute and everyone inside the ground expected the reigning champions to kick on from there. But Canada showed real resolve to fight back and score on the hour mark through Chris Tynan.
Timu’s second took New Zealand out to 29-7 before Canada had the last say with Al Charron’s try, converted by fellow World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Rees, to bring about a final scoreline of 29-13 to the All Blacks.
Canada did a lap of honour in what felt like a victory while New Zealand sat morosely in their changing room as if they’d been beaten.
“We played really badly in the quarter-final against New Zealand,” admitted All Blacks hooker Sean Fitzpatrick. “I still remember going back into the changing room and someone saying to me: ‘Australia has just beaten Ireland in the last minute.’
“Two months earlier the Wallabies had thumped us in Sydney and the momentum was certainly with them ahead of the semi-final. They had improved a lot, and we hadn’t.”
Fitzpatrick’s worst fears were confirmed a week later when their trans-Tasman rivals won 16-6 to end their hopes of retaining the Webb Ellis Cup.