The Canadian junior side opened their season with a solid victory over the visiting Romanians in a very stop-start encounter at scenic Shawnigan Lake. As this was their first official run-out together as a team it was always going to be a bit choppy, especially with a lot of nervous performers experiencing their first taste of international rugby. A spate of early penalties is not uncommon at this level, but they never seemed to subside throughout the 80 minutes, with the referee’s whistle a little more prominent than one might hope, especially considering the friendly nature of the match.
Despite a plethora of opportunities, it was a horror day for the respective kickers. Guiseppe du Toit was the better of the two in the end, but not by much. There’s no doubting his ability with a couple of his long-range efforts sailing well beyond the uprights, but he’ll need to tidy up his psychological approach ahead of the American matches, and with Dylan Horgan and Harjun Gill also in the picture he may well have put himself under pressure with that performance. Romanian centre Raoul Paxman was worse, squandering at least 15 points with a shockingly abject display. Had the two strikers been on song the scoreboard would have looked markedly different.
Two kicks that did go over had Canada up by 6 after the first quarter, but they lost their way and by half time Romania had caught up. Shortly after the break Paxman put his team into the lead, a worrying sign for coaches Jeff Williams and Kenny Goodland, but thankfully some ingenuity from sprightly halfback Dan Joyce put them back in the lead which they would not relinquish.
born (raised) scrumhalf, who plays his domestic rugby alongside Jack Fitzpatrick at Trinity College, was very impressive in his Canadian debut. He provided sharp service off both hands, directed his forwards well, and snuck in a few opportune breaks from the ruck including the one that resulted in his try. Dillon Goos had set the ball up with another barging run and Joyce caught the Romanian post defense napping. Canada has not been overly proactive in promoting their ‘import’ players from junior to senior level, but this lad might well be an exception.
Second row Goos was another standout. An imposing lad from Medway, Ontario, he came on at half time and made an immediate impression with a number of powerful hit-ups and some decent ball handling. Canada has struggled to find locks of genuine international size and gusto in recent years so it’s nice to see a potential candidate putting his hand up.
With a number of players injured or unavailable, Canada were forced to field several out of position, including Andrew Coe, but the fullback seemed right at home in the no13 jersey, showing plenty of gas and making several outside breaks. His midfield partner Mitch Santilli impressed with his stepping ability, though his decision making let him down at times.
Flankers Alex Colborne and captain Ollie Nott were prominent in support, though the back row balance didn’t seem quite right with the two openside specialists. Luke Bradley certainly enjoys running with the ball. The big Port Alberni no8 fended off tacklers at will, though he wasn’t quite as noticeable on the other side of the ball. Loosehead prop Brendan Blaikie also had a strong match in the loose, including one thumping tackle on a poor Romanian forward.
It’s a decent enough start for the side and will give them plenty to work on in the next couple days ahead of the second match on Saturday at Westhills Stadium. Maintaining intensity for 80 minutes will be one focus, certainly set piece accuracy – particularly at the lineout – will be another. More importantly, we’ll soon get a chance to see some more players take their first steps towards a senior international career.
CANADA u20 21 vs 9 ROMANIA u19
Tuesday, March 10, 18:30 EST, Shawnigan Lake
Canada u20 – G. du Toit 3p 1c, D. Joyce 1t, K. Leitner 1t
Romania u19 – R. Paxman 3p
Canada u20 – P. Ciulini yellow (73)
Romania u19 – V. Popa yellow (58), O. Popa yellow (62)
O. Brombal (T. Pomroy 73); T. Hart, A. Coe, M. Santilli, K. Leitner; G. du Toit, D. Joyce; B. Blaikie, J. Shaw (M. Rothman HT), M. Tierney (C. Martinez HT); P. Ciulini, A. Wadden (D. Goos HT); A. Colborne, O. Nott (capt.), L. Bradley.
Referee: D. Smortchevsky (RC)
Assistants: S. Trumbull (RC) & M. Jones (RC)