It’s all to play for in the second leg of the crucial Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifier between Canada and the USA as these fierce rivals drew 28-28 in Hamilton, Ontario, on Saturday afternoon.
Man of the match and Canada’s co-captain DTH van der Merwe, pictured above (Photo: Rugby Canada/Colin Watson), scored two tries as the home team dominated possession and territory for long periods of both halves, while Aaron Carpenter, winning a record 78th cap, also went over for what was his 17th test try. Fly-half Shane O'Leary kicked 13 points for the Canucks.
USA lived off scraps and their opponents’ mistakes but stuck to their task well and took their chances when they were presented. Two tries from speedster right-wing Mike Te’o, including a 90-metre intercept to break Canadian hearts, and two from the ebullient lock Nick Civetta, ensured the scores were tied when Ben Whitehouse’s whistle signalled full-time in the late afternoon sunshine.
But that doesn’t tell the full story. Had the pass that landed neatly in the arms of the intercepting Te’o reached its intended recipient on Canada’s wing, a home-team try would have been a formality, giving the whole incident an air of a 14-point swing. And had Andrew Coe not dropped the ball as he dived over in the right-hand corner for what would have been his first international try, the scoreline would have taken on a very different complexion as the teams turn their attentions to southern California seven days hence.
Need to be more clinical
Canada’s head coach Mark Anscombe said: "If we're going to do better next week, we've got to be more clinical than we were today. If you want to win these games you've got to make better decisions that what we did out there today… I'm pleased with the manner of coming back from 10 points down. That showed character but I am flat about a lot of other things."
Van der Merwe became Canada's all-time try-scoring leader as his brace pushed him past Winston Stanley's record that had stood since 2003. But don’t ask him about that now – he’s more interested in thinking about taking care business next week as his team strives to become the Americas 1 qualifier and join England, France, Argentina and Oceania 2 in Pool C at RWC 2019 in Japan.
"Breaking that record is great but I don't like the accolades that go with it. I'll look back at it when I'm older but right now I just want to do as much as I can to help my team."
Trailing 28-18 after 53 minutes, Anscombe's men fought back to tie things up at 28-28 as Carpenter's try got Canada back into the game before O'Leary's third penalty in the 78th minute tied the game.
Both sides had chances to win
But each side would each have a chance to win the game in the final two minutes. AJ MacGinty's drop kick sailed wide before Canada managed to win a penalty just inside the USA half but O'Leary pushed his penalty right, leaving the two sides deadlocked heading into next weekend's decisive encounter.
Canada had taken an early 7-0 lead as van der Merwe tied Stanley’s test try-scoring record in the seventh minute but the USA came roaring back immediately through Civetta, scoring off of the ensuing restart after the high ball was fumbled by Canada.
However, van der Merwe would make history in the 18th minute as he picked the ball up from the back of a ruck and ran free to secure his 25th test try. O’Leary’s penalty pushed Canada’s lead to 15-7 before the USA came back into life after tries from Civetta and Te’o gave the visitors a 21-15 lead at half time.
USA hooker James Hilderbrand was sin binned in the 45th minute for a high tackle on Phil Mack — O’Leary adding a penalty from the infraction — but despite playing a man down, it was the USA who would take advantage as the Te’o intercept gave the Eagles a 28-18 lead.
Afterwards, USA head coach John Mitchell was probably the more satisfied of the two. He said: “I guess it’s like we’re 0-0 now heading back to San Diego so both sides are very much in it. If either team had got a result today, it would change the game a little but now it’s just a straight game of rugby to see who goes to Japan in two years’ time.
“The isn’t much between the teams, as you saw today. The team that wins next week is the one that can hold their nerve under pressure. We lived off little bits of possession today, which meant we didn’t command enough field position. But we found other ways to keep in the game which was pleasing.”