Sunday, August 18, 2013

Canada close in on Rugby World Cup 2015 birth

Photo: USA Rugby
Lou Stanfill carries in Charleston, SC. 
Canada has all but confirmed that it will be a part of Rugby World Cup 2015. The battle of North America was firmly and comprehensively won by Canada against the USA Eagles in Charleston, South Carolina on Saturday evening. As the visiting team Canada did, in fact, not need a win as it could expect to do well in the return match next Saturday in Toronto. But the manner of Canada´s 27-9 victory over the USA all but eliminated the possibility of Canada not finishing as the winner on aggregate. The eighteen points separating the sides means Canada goes into the remaining as the heavy favorite with the USA needing to make history by defeating Canada in Canada by the largest ever margin. 

Although the USA went into the match having not defeated Canada since 2009 the match ought to have, on paper, been close. Indeed the USA had impressed with an emphatic 34-3 victory over Romania in November 2012 but since then the USA is winless. Rather than capitalize on the result and compete well in the Pacific Nations Cup the USA, below full strength, was exposed by Fiji, Japan and Tonga while at full strength the Eagles competed well against Ireland in losing by three points in a tryless match. Canada, in contrast, were not able to perform as well against Ireland but defeated not only the USA in the Pacific Nations Cup, but also both Fiji and Tonga. Neither Canada nor the USA was able to win against Japan in the tournament. 

The USA entered the match ranked 18th in the world compared to Canada in 15th. In between the two were Georgia and Romania. IRB World Rankings combined with the matches against Ireland suggested that the USA had the players to win the match but a lack of attacking options and a por start cost the hosts significantly. From the kick-off Canada was leading 7-0 after scrumhalf Phil Mack scored from the first play of the match. Mack recieved a pass from Glasgow Warriors´ DTH van der Merwe who had gathered the opening kick and passed to Mack. van der Merwe´s opponent, Taku Ngwenya, had chased the kick leaving nobody at home on the wing and Mack took full advantage in scoring a solo try. 

The worst possible start for the home side was compounded by James Pritchard landing the sideline conversion to give Canada a dream 7-0 lead in the first minute. The USA could have made it 7-0 and, arguably ought to have, but without a specialist goalkicker Saracens fullback Chris Wyles was charged with the duties and was off target with his opening penalty attempt. Pritchard then landed his first penalty of the match before Wyles was off target for a second time which handed the visitors an early 10-0 lead. 

Rather than looking to protect the lead Canada played attacking rugby  and set about scoring further points. The USA, in contrast, was guilty of offering far less in attack and was looking like being defeated at half time when Canada held a 13-0 lead. The lead could have been more but Canada were denied a second try by the video referee. Wyles was on target to open the second half in the 42nd minute but the Eagles were not looking like scoring tries as Canada continued to have the better of play. Tries to flyhalf Harry Jones and van der Merwe saw Canada go clear to a 27-6 lead in the 64th minute. The tries were examples of the differences between the sides on the day with one being about forwards laying the platform and the other about the backs combining in a pre-meditated move to send van der Merwe over. 

The USA hit back with a consolation penalty to Wyles that meant little in the overall picture as the USA Eagles now need to make history in Toronto. Questions will be asked over the future of headcoach Mike Tolkin with the USA Eagles arguably needing a moer experienced and proven coach to guide the team into Rugby World Cup 2015. Unless the USA Eagles can win on aggregate they will face Uruguay in March and April next year with the winner qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2015 as Americas 2. That team will play in Pool B against South Africa, Scotland, Samoa and Asia 1 (possibly Japan) while Canada is now all but certain to be Americas 1 and therefore face France, Ireland, Italy and Europe 2 (possibly Romania) in Pool D. 

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