USA spoiled the away team’s Canada Day celebrations in sunny San Diego on Saturday with an emphatic second-half performance that left the Canucks with nowhere to hide. It may have been 1 July and the 150th anniversary of modern-day Canada, but the Eagles were in no mood to be generous to their northern cousins, running in eight tries to one and reaching the finishing post at a canter, 52-16.
It’s the biggest margin of victory by USA over Canada in their long, 58-game rivalry and means that the Eagles will qualify for Japan as Americas 1. They join Pool C and so will face England, France, Argentina and the Oceania 2 qualifier.
The first leg in Hamilton, Ontario, was unable to separate these two fierce rivals as this great North American derby ended in a 28-28 draw for only the second time in history. So they came to Southern California knowing it was a simple equation – the winner would qualify for RWC 2019 and the loser would face a tricky two-leg play-off against Uruguay for the right to qualify as Americas 2.
In the event, in front of typically vociferous American crowd, the USA broke out of the blocks quickly with two tries from No.8 Cam Dolan before 16 minutes were on the clock and a third coming from Nate Brakeley to leave Canada reeling, 19-3 down, with only a Gord McRorie penalty to show for the first quarter.
Clinical kicking from Gord McRorie
But, to be fair, without inspirational co-captain DTH van der Merwe, who failed a late fitness test after picking up a knee injury during his man-of-the-match performance last week, Canada stuck to their guns as best they could. Ill-discipline from the Eagles and a clinical kicking display from McRorie meant they went to the break with the score on 19-9 and US flanker Tony Lamborn in the sin-bin.
Making the most of that advantage, Canada emerged after the break and immediately scored courtesy of blindside flanker Admir Cejvanovic following a searing break by left-wing Dan Moor. But 19-16 was the closest they would get to their opponents as USA found another gear, courtesy of their powerful bench, and put the foot to the floor.
Two tries from replacement hooker Joe Taufete’e as well as scores from scrum-half Nate Auspurger, replacement prop Dino Waldren and replacement lock David Tameilau took a rampaging USA out of sight.
USA’s captain Todd Clever was playing his 76th and final test and he couldn’t have finished on a bigger high for the team. The significance of his retirement was not lost on the home crowd, who kept him going on a number of post-match victory laps long after the final whistle, signing flags and being photographed.
Clever retires on a high
For the man himself, it is the perfect end to a career that has taken him all over the world. He said: “I’m just extremely proud to be an American Eagle and it’s great that we managed to qualify in front of our home crowd. We did what we came here to do and we were pretty confident all week so I’m really proud of the boys and I’m so proud to be part of this great day.”
So in the heat and passion of the moment, did he have any regrets about retiring? Would he be open to a comeback for Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan, a country he knows well having played several seasons in the Top League for Suntory.
He said: “Japan is like my third or fourth home so I’ll definitely be at the Rugby World Cup in 2019 but I’ll be in the crowd cheering them on, not on the pitch. I’ll be the biggest fan. I’m going to have some more family time, spend time with my daughter and get out on the ocean more and take a breather.”
Stalwart for America
Meanwhile, two-try hero Dolan was quick to shower his captain with praise after the game.
He said: “Todd Clever has been a stalwart for America over the years so to go out like this in his last game is great for him but it’s bitter-sweet for us. He is an inspiration to us, the boys look up to him and he has been a great leader for us.
“Today is what we wanted from the start, it's what we've been working for. It’s the first time we’ve ever qualified as Americas 1 so to do it on home turf in front of a great crowd is amazing. We’re going to enjoy this moment and then we can look forward to Rugby World Cup in two years’ time.”
For Canada, they will have the daunting task of a two-leg play-off against Uruguay with Montevideo never being an easy place to play given the passionate home support and tough Teros that stand in the way.
Naturally, head coach Mark Anscombe was disappointed afterwards. He said: “We started off poorly and let in some tries. But we clawed our way back, like we did last week, and got back to a position of 19-16. There were a couple of reversed penalties at crucial times and then they released some big guys off the bench and we couldn’t contain them. They were too big, too strong and too powerful, and in the last 20 minutes they just ran all over us.
“It’s all well and good having dominance in the scrum but we had 19 set pieces and we got the ball away three times so unless we learn to use it more smartly, then it won’t be much good us. You won’t win a game if all you have is a strong scrum.”
Before the game, a moment’s silence was observed in memory of former Canada coach Ric Suggitt, who passed away suddenly during the week. During his illustrious career, Suggitt coached the Canada men’s and women’s senior teams as well as the men’s sevens team. He also coached the USA women’s sevens team for several years, meaning he will be sadly missed by players and supporters on both sides of the border as well as by countless friends and admirers he made throughout the global rugby family.