Written by Joe Harvey | Photos by Jeff Parsons
For the first time since 2013, Canada have ended as the victors against the USA.
The first of two-legs that will be influential in the hunt for Rugby World Cup qualification, tries from Lucas Rumball, Corey Thomas, Ben LeSage and Brock Webster mean that Kingsley Jones’ side will have a 13-point lead heading into the second game in Denver, Colorado.
Early in the game it felt as though it may have been the same old story of the past eight years when Canada conceded a penalty try as a results of the USA’s maul, with Rugby ATL’s Matt Heaton shown a yellow card for bringing the set-piece down.
Without much hesitation at all, Canada leveled the scores with a powerful burst from Thomas, the Giltinis forward’s score letting his fly-half, Peter Nelson, get off the mark with the conversion. Will Magie’s high challenge meant that Nelson could give Canada the lead not long after, the 28-year-old making no mistakes from the kicking tee.
In the period that followed, Canada were reduced a man again. This time it was Conor Keys sent to the sidelines, the ATL lock making a dangerous tackle on LA’s Luke Carty.
At the close of the first half, there would have been mixed feelings in the USA camp. Going back to the maul, the set-piece that had yielded their first points, Jamason Fanana-Schultz was able to dot down, however injury to the talismanic No.8, Cam Dolan, meant that the visitors lost out on plenty of experience in their forward pack.
He was replaced by his NOLA Gold teammate, Andrew Guerra, who played the rest of the fixture.
Following the 15-minute break, Canada registered two powerful tries. Both came from Toronto Arrows players, with Rumball and LeSage dotting down to give their team the lead.
A penalty from Nelson and a try for debutant Webster finished the Canadians’ scoring for the day. USA’s final points of the day came from a new face in MLR. Picked third overall just two weeks ago, Tavite Lopeti went over the whitewash on debut, showing both Seattle Seawolves’ fans and rugby fans what he has to offer.
“Pretty much at a loss for words,” Eagles head coach, Gary Gold, said. “Completely and totally unacceptable performance. Very disappointing considering we had a very good start.
“We were dominant, at the set piece against these guys and ultimately we were the masters of our own destiny. This was 100% our own doing.
“We had an opportunity to close a team like Canada out with a strong set piece. Our scrum went well in the beginning, our maul went well in the beginning and we didn’t capitalize on it.”
Canada will be extremely pleased with their result, having broken a duck of eight years against their bitterest of rivals. Should they stick to the same model of a high intensity and dominant game plan then a place in the next round of qualification will surely be theirs.
“We’ll celebrate the win because it’s important but we need some humility looking forward to next week,” Canada’s head coach, Kingsley Jones, said. “We’ve got a 13-point lead at the moment and we’ve got 80 minutes to play. We know it’ll be a different challenge next week, a big challenge but as they say, we need to make sure we enjoy the win.”
Whoever wins the second leg will come face to face with Uruguay in the Americas 1 decider. Another two-legged affair, a victory over the South Americans will mean qualification for the big dance in two years’ time.
As for the loser of next weeks game, they will play Chile in the Americas 2 repechage. Played in the same format, the only difference that the winner will play in an Americas 2 qualifier, with a win in those games resulting in qualification for the World Cup, whilst a loss will mean going to a Final Qualification Tournament, just as Canada did ahead of Japan.
With 13 points between the two teams heading into next weekend’s game at Infinity Park, Gary Gold and his staff will be hoping that a home crowd and familiar surroundings will inspire his team to turn around their disappointment of Saturday afternoon.