Canada came back from a 12 point deficit in the final quarter to steal victory over the USA in the first leg of the Junior World Trophy qualifying series. While the score and finale might gives hints of being a barn burner, in actuality the match was anything but. Horrendous wet weather and swirling winds made for tough watching as both teams put expansive rugby on the shelf and instead looked for field position via the boot first and foremost. Any dreams of phase play were just as rapidly quelled by some infuriatingly bizarre officiating that left players and observers alike scratching their heads in frustration.
Loose handling was the cause of much anxiety, and though the conditions played the largest part, there were more than a few occasions where decision making and execution let the players down. Dan Joyce had a very forgettable match for Canada, struggling mightily to get a grip on the slick ball and watching several passes slide through his fingers onto the floor. Hanco Germishuys was a gift recipient of one such effort, pouncing on the loose ball to cross untouched and give his team an early lead.
Joyce got better later in the second half when he stopped rushing things, and his undoubted talent should see him remain in the starting side on Friday. Still, for a player of his caliber to perform at that level in an international match is unacceptable. He wasn’t the only one guilty of poor execution, but scrumhalves are front and centre and on a day like that mistakes are often amplified to the highest degree. It’s a harsh lesson, hopefully one he’ll take in stride.
While Ben Cima was busy chipping away at the uprights for the Junior All-Americans, some rare passing skill put Andrew Coe into space, and the fullback raced past all would-be tacklers to score a fine individual try in the corner. Coe’s scoring abilities have put him at the top of the future prospects list on this team. That he still has another year of eligibility at this level bodes well for Canadian rugby.
Guiseppe du Toit knocked over a penalty kick just after the break to bring Canada back into striking distance, but another unfortunate mishap swung any momentum back in the other direction. A Joyce clearance kick ricocheted off the head of Lucas Rumball straight into enemy hands, and Ian Kinsley celebrated with the easiest of run-ins to score another opportunistic try. If there is solace to be taken it’s that both American touchdowns were a direct result of Canadian errors. Cut them out and there was little to be frightened of.
The All-American attack was almost entirely crash ball either off the scrumhalf or through husky centre Fitou Fisiiahi. A highly regarded high school running back, the Hawaiian gave US Eagles fans a boost when he opted to pursue rugby instead, and he was meant to be one of the star performers on this team. While he certainly stood out, it was for his immense bulk rather than any exceptional talent. The lad has clearly put on a lot of weight since giving up gridiron, and not in a good way.
Similarly neither Valdemar Lee-Lo nor Maciu Koroi showed much for the All-Americans, and aside from the lineout it’s hard to remember any significant impact from either Ollie Drew or Christian Wiessing. That their big name players failed to make a difference will be worrisome, and perhaps indicative of the lack of preparation time that the Americans had leading into the game. Germishuys was named man-of-the-match and he was well deserving, while Cima was easily the pick of their backs. That both have recently seen professional academy action overseas is telling.
When Canada finally did hold onto the ball, their big runners made short work of some questionable defense. Luke Bradley was a standout once again, making numerous breaks and eventually contributing to Theo Sauder’s try. Bradley wasn’t free of scorn, throwing away possession on more than one occasion when safety first was the better option, but again it was a recurring theme throughout the side and one they will no doubt have heard plenty about in the debrief.
Up front there were strong games from Brendan Blaikie, Paul Ciulini, and Ollie Nott, with the latter a primary target in the lineout. Several reserves also made a positive impression. Hooker Paddy Finlay was keen to get his hands on the ball often; Conor Young showed an impressive set of hands for a prop; and Philip Berna made considerable headway with ball in hand at inside centre, bumping du Toit back inside to flyhalf.
du Toit’s game-winner on full time was a beauty. The young man has struggled to find consistency with his form but to come through under that kind of pressure was outstanding. It would not have been a catastrophe had he missed, given that points differential over both games is the deciding factor, but it was a giant boost for morale when it went over. To come back in awful conditions when it would have been easy to just pack it in early shows this group have character. In international rugby, that’s often the difference between winning and losing. Here’s hoping on Friday they show us a little more.
CANADA u20 24 vs 23 UNITED STATES u20
Monday, March 23, 16:30 EST, Shawnigan Lake
06 mins – H. Germishuys try 0-5
07 mins – B. Cima con 0-7
11 mins – G. du Toit pen 3-7
17 mins – B. Cima pen 3-10
19 mins – A. Coe try 8-10
40 mins – B. Cima pen 8-13
42 mins – G. du Toit pen 11-13
53 mins – I. Kinsley try 11-18
54 mins – B. Cima con 11-20
60 mins – B. Cima pen 11-23
69 mins – P. Ciulini try 16-23
72 mins – T. Sauder try 21-23
80 mins – G. du Toit pen 24-23
A. Coe; T. Sauder, M. Santilli, G. du Toit, K. Leitner; D. Horgan (P. Berna 55), D. Joyce (T. Pomroy 73); B. Blaikie, J. Shaw (P. Finlay 55), M. Tierney (C. Young 55); P. Ciulini, A. Wadden (R. O’Gorman HT); L. Rumball (capt.), O. Nott, L. Bradley
UNITED STATES u20
S. Dean; C. McRae, I. Kinsley, F. Fisiiahi, S. Halliman (B. Adejuyigbe 73); B. Cima (O. Brady 79), L. Mulholland; J. Gannon, L. Joseph, V. Lee-Lo (N. Kwasniewski 61); O. Drew, C. Wiessing (capt.); B. Hood, H. Germishuys, M. Koroi (B. Nault 73).