Canada Hits The Wall

James Smith Canada Argentina Jaguars Americas Rugby Championship ARCCanada put in a very creditable first half performance against Argentina before running out of petrol in the closing chapter of their doomed 2014 ARC entry. It was imperative that they restored some confidence in the fans, and themselves, following the American debacle and whatever was said before the match worked a charm as they came firing out of the gate. Two thunderous tackles from Aaron Flagg set the tone and the restoration of Gordon McRorie to his preferred scrumhalf position had a noticible affect on the pace of the attack.

McRorie notched an early penalty but after 10 minutes of pressure a loose kick-chase allowed Dan Isaack to counter and the space opened for a breakout try against the run of play to Joaquin Paz. Canada regrouped and got back into Jaguar territory but were turned over again and this time Facundo Barrea scorched Nick Blevins on the outside to set up a penalty goal for Patricio Fernández. For every Canadian positive the little mistakes allowed Argentina to stay in the game with next to no possession.

The game tightened up a bit after that and McRorie clawed his side back with two more successful kicks. Things got a bit stagnant as referee Akihisa Aso started to make his presence known a little too frequently. Doug Wooldridge was deemed a serial offender in the scrum and then a wheeled scrum was adjudged to have been caused by James Smith. It wasn’t so much that Canada were penalised on that particular contest, but assigning blame to Smith was guesswork at best. Fernández took the points and it was a four point gap at the break.

A bizarre play kicked off a second half that could not have gone worse for Canada. Juan Ignacio Brex jogged past an indifferent Nanyak Dala and then Ray Barkwill bobbled an intercept attempt straight into the hands of Rodrigo Báez. For whatever reason Sean Ferguson assumed the play would be whistled dead and instead of tackling he throw his shrugged his shoulder and watched as the Argentine captain strolled to the line. What on earth prompted Ferguson’s reaction would only be known to the fullback himself but within two minutes it was Wednesday night all over again.

If the wind came out of the sails with that, the hull sprung a leak two minutes later in the first scrum of the half. Tom Dolezel had replaced Wooldridge at halftime with Smith switching to the tighthead side. It’s hard to say whether Aso recognized that he was a different player, or why he thought Smith would try and collapse his own put-in on Argentina’s 22m line, or why he failed to see Lucas Noguera Paz clearly twisting his outside shoulder inwards directly in front of his eyes, but whatever thought process occurred ended with Smith on the sidelines and Canada down a man.

With the port listing badly and the sailors starting to panic, assistant referee Chris Assmus determined that Jordan Wilson-Ross had heinously assaulted the biggest man on the field, Matias Alemanno, and as the yellow card flashed the bow went under. Since nothing much appeared to happen on camera, it can only be assumed that in the brief moments that the action panned right the Canadian centre had taken the law into his own hands. Whether it was justifiable or not was irrelevant to the fact that the game was effectively over right then and there.

In retrospect the decision to start virtually the same pack for three matches in 8 days was probably a mistake. At the very least the reserves bench might have been called upon at much earlier stages. The Jaguars had rested most of their first choice forwards on Wednesday and while they were slow to start they had more legs when it mattered. When Flagg came off near 60 minutes in he looked out on his feet, which explains why he slid off a rampaging Facundo Isa so haplessly only moments before.

The scoreline was bad, there’s no way around that, but the effort was there for the most part. Strange referee interpretations exacerbated the momentary lapses in concentration, and once the wheels came off there was no way to recover. Barkwill never quit and epitomized the Canadian spirit that had been missing, Evan Olmstead was right behind him. Smith put in an energetic shift around the park when he was allowed on it.

Not the greatest way to end a disappointing tournament for Canada, though a damn sight better than the rubbish served up on Wednesday. Nearly every aspect of play improved and it’s no surprise that some key selection decisions played a big part in that. Why those decisions weren’t made before the tournament is known only by Kieran Crowley and of course hindsight is 20/20. That being said there’s a crucial overseas tour to look forward to, which happily starts early enough to put the memories of missed opportunities well and truly behind us.

Sunday, October 19, 16:30 PST, Langford

01 mins – G. McRorie pen 3-0
10 mins – J. Paz try 3-5
11 mins – P. Fernández con 3-7
14 mins – P. Fernández pen 3-10
17 mins – G. McRorie pen 6-10
23 mins – G. McRorie pen 9-10
40 mins – P. Fernández pen 9-13
42 mins – R. Báez try 9-18
43 mins – P. Fernández con 9-20
53 mins – M. Cortese try 9-25
59 mins – J. Paz try 9-30
60 mins – P. Fernández con 9-32
76 mins – J. Montoya try 9-37
77 mins – P. Fernández con 9-39

45 mins – J. Smith yellow (team infringements)
48 mins – J. Wilson-Ross yellow (foul play)

S. Ferguson; S. Duke, J. Wilson-Ross, D. Daypuck, N. Blevins (P. Kay 19-25); P. Parfrey, G. McRorie; J. Smith, R. Barkwill (R. Hamilton 66), D. Wooldridge (T. Dolezel HT); A. Flagg (K. Baillie 58), E. Olmstead; K. Gilmour (capt.), N. Dala, S. Pearson (D. Wooldridge 46-55) (A. Cejvanovic 55).

P. Fernández (I. Albornoz 77); F. Barrea, J.I. Brex (R. Miralles 66), J. Paz, D. Isaack; B. Ormson, F. Ezcurra (G. Bertranou 77); L. Noguera Paz (R. Tejerizo 54), M. Cortese (J. Montoya 58), M. Díaz (L. Martínez 66); J.C. Guillemaín (T. Lezana 45), M. Alemanno; R. Báez (F. Panessi 66), J. Ortega Desio, F. Isa.

Referee: A. Aso (JRFU)
Assistants: C. Assmus (RC) & A. McMaster (RC)

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