Friday, February 7, 2014

Retro Friday - Canada 27-27 Ireland in 2000

Winston Stanley v Tonga at RWC 03
One of the biggest upsets of the decade from 2000-2010 almost occurred at Fletcher´s Fields in Markham, Ontario in June 2000. The greater Toronto Area was treated to a quality game of  international rugby in which both teams scored twenty-seven points as Ireland saved itself from its first ever loss against Canada. 

Ireland was looking to start the new millennium in a positive manner after the 1990s had seen the Irish fail to produce the same level of rugby as others. Ireland lost tests against Italy, Samoa and even Namibia while Canada defeated notable teams including Argentina, Fiji, France and Wales during the same period. Canada started the decade off by reaching the Quarter Finals or Rugby World Cup 1991 while Ireland closed it by being eliminated before the Quarter Finals by Argentina.

The turn of the century was therefore a chance of a new beginning for Irish rugby and big wins over Scotland and Italy in the Six Nations combined with an away win over France indicated that Ireland may have turned the corner. Ireland´s tour of Argentina, Canada and the USA was less noteworthy as despite hammering the USA Ireland lost in Buenos Aires and very nearly lost in Toronto.

It was a match that Canada ought to have won. The North Americans held a 21-8 lead at the interval and was playing the better rugby. Canada opened the scoring very quickly with fullback Winston Stanley scoring a try under the posts after wrong-footing his opposite. Ireland responded with a penalty six minutes later before enterprising play saw Phil Murphy score in the left corner for Canada in the twentieth minute.

Shane Horgan scored Ireland´s first try in response which closed the gap to 14-8 but the first half belonged to Canada as Scott Stewart scored an individual try to put Canada in a dominant position at half time. The Canadians continued the pressure after the interval and threatened to score again only for a loose ball to be picked up by Keith Wood who fed winger Justin Bishop who ran clear. Ireland subsequently broke even with Ronan O´Gara impressing from the bench. The scores were 24-24 before Stewart kicked a late long-range penalty to return the Canadian lead. O´Gara then made it 27-27 in the final minute through a difficult penalty from the far right.

Although Ireland was not at full strength it, nonetheless, had a notable list of players with many returning from Rugby World Cup 1999 and there also being a contingent of players who would start in Rugby World Cup 2003. The side was led by hooker Keith Wood who was joined by John Hayes in the front-row. Hayes would go on to ean 107 test caps. Also starting were all of Simon Easterby, Anthony Foley, Shane Horgan, David Humphries and Peter Stringer.

The next time Canada and Ireland play a test match will be in Rugby World Cup 2015. Despite the tournament being known as England 2015 the match will be played on foreign soil at the home of Welsh rugby, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. England´s inability to host the tournament on its own led to Cardiff being allocated a staggering eight matches including two Quarter Finals. Canada faced Fiji at the same venue in Rugby World Cup 2007 after Wales offered support for a France hosted tournament on the condition that France would allocate matches to Cardiff.

The match is a strong indication of the subsequent maturity of the governing body of Canadian rugby, Rugby Canada. Canada is now able to host its biggest home test match every year at the BMO Field in Toronto and attract strong crowds approaching and succeeding 20,000. Canada faced Ireland at the BMO Field last June and will host Scotland at the same venue this coming June. 

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