Canada Selects defeated the USA Selects 23-3 Tuesday night in Round Two of the Americans Rugby Championship.
On a chilly night in front of a packed Westhills Stadium, with 99% Canadians, the USA players had their work cut out for them.
Urged by Coach Mike Tolkin to vary their attack and use their kicking game more effectively, they also were trying out a few new combinations in the tight five.
Both teams looked to get some good field position in the early going, and it was Canada who were a little more successful. They recycled well and while they didn’t really break the USA defense, they made enough ground to put the Americans under pressure. That led to an infraction right in front of the posts and, with Connor Braid’s kick, a 3-0 Canada lead at three minutes.
After that the American defense got better. They hit the Canadians hard and the physicality of those hits produced several knock-ons – some forced, and some unforced.
Twice Canada had big numbers on the outside, only for a back to drop the ball as he watched for American defenders. Another time, the Canadians had many, many hands waiting for the ball, and inexplicably ran a scissor move back into traffic.
The USA didn’t give up on defense. Wing Miles Craigwell was called on to make several tackles, and Jack Tracy, Dean Gericke, Cam Dolan, and John Quill all got their hits in.
The USA equalized after some good phase work put them around the Canada ten-meter-line, and Zach Pangelinan kicked a penalty. But after that it was the USA on defense most of the time. Unable to kick for distance out of their end, and unable to win clean scrum ball on their own put-in, the USA Selects tackled and tackled and held on desperately for a good 20 minutes.
Eventually, the dam broke. Taylor Mokate was sin-binned for being offside on a play that appeared to be OK; Braid made good on that kick. And moments later, a short-handed USA scrum buckled, and referee Juan Sylvestre awarded a penalty try.
Somehow, though, the USA stayed in it. They finally got some ball to run with and both Tracy and Gericke made impressive forays. Gericke looked to be going all the way but was just hauled down. Penalty to the USA, though; a penalty Pangelinan missed.
Minutes later he missed another makeable one, and the half ended 13-3.
In the second half, the Americans couldn’t seem to do anything right. They had an attacking platform set on lineouts, and messed them up. They kicked, but never seemed to recover the ball.
Their best sequence of the day, when all players got involved to push them into the Canadian 22 ended when Jack Tracy’s run was too far for his support.
After that, another blow, as Cam Dolan had to leave injured after making a tackle. The USA again found themselves spending a long period in and around their own 22, trying not to give up points.
This they did, usually with some huge tackles. Problem was, Canada had figured it out. If they drop the ball, the next guy should just fall on it, because a scrum with the USA’s put-in usually ended up with some good news for Canada.
Sixteen minutes into the second half, this is exactly what happened. The Americans got a scrum in front of their posts, but the shove by Canada forced a knock-on. USA wheels that scrum to get the put-in back, then loses the ball against the head. Ball spun out wide and Canadian wing Jordan Wilson-Ross is in at the corner. 18-3 midway through the second half.
The USA also needed some help from the referee. Sylvestre did not so much miss calls, as like the game to go a certain way. And his interpretation of holding onto the ball when tackled did the USA no favors, as he was loath to call any player for not releasing. A sequence of tackles by the USA in their own 22 highlighted this, as the Americans could not turn the ball over, despite isolating the ballcarrier.
As a result, Canada moved the ball comfortably right then left before wing Clayton Meeres scores despite Pangelinan’s attention.
Canada thus took the lead 23-3 with 15 minutes to go.
Things started to fall apart a little after that. Taylor Mokate was taken out in the air, prompting a small melee (and a penalty to the USA). Mokate quick-tapped and the ball was knocked from his hands by a player who had not retreated ten meters. Referee Sylvestre called a knock-on against the USA, but was forced to call a penalty for the Americans when one of his assistant referees pointed out that Meeres had done thrown a punch. Yellow card for Meeres.
The USA muffed the lineout from that penalty – a prime chance for them – and Canada’s counter-attack led to a high tackle from John Quill. Almost the entire Canadian team goes in to be policemen in what could have become a supremely ugly event.
Instead, Referee Sylvestre saw the chance to even up teams and showed a red card to Quill for tackling a player by the hair.
All of that would have been moot if the USA could have executed. But dropped balls in the backline, and frustrating problems in the lineouts undercut their precious few scoring opportunities.
At 34 minutes the USA Selects were right on the doorstep. A good lineout take (Mokate tackled before he hits the ground, but no matter), and quick ball set them up. Canada was clearly in from the side on the ruck, but Sylvestre called his first holding-on penalty of the evening.
But the USA kept the pressure on, and got a penalty right in front of the posts 22 meters out. Surprisingly, given how the game had gone so far, they called for a scrum, and then ran a nifty mis-direction move that almost set up wing Chris Chapman. Chapman was tackled into touch, but it was interesting while it lasted.
Still under pressure Canada committed a lineout infringement for a free kick to the USA. Shaun Davies tapped and passed to a teammate, who promptly coughed up the ball in contact. It was that kind of night.
For Canada, this was what they wanted. They got to play some rugby and score tries, and their scrum showed improvement over Friday. For the USA, this is what was to be expected: a young team of players that don’t know each other played well as individuals and well when the pattern and rhythm were flowing. But too many mistakes, and too many errors in execution meant they left the field with only three points on the board.
The game ended with the Americans once again breaking the line and setting up a chance for a try. But it was not to be, and Canada held on.
USA Selects 3
Canada Selects 23
Tries: Penalty Try, Wilson-Ross, Meeres
Pens: Braid 2
1. CREAG JOHNSTON, Ontario Blues
2. RAY BARKWILL, Ontario Blues
3. DOUG WOOLDRIDGE, Ontario Blues
4. AARON FLAGG, Pacific Tyee
5. JON PHELAN, The Rock
6. TONI WODZICKI, The Rock
7. ALISTAIR CLARK, Ontario Blues
8. TYLER ARDRON, Ontario Blues (C)
9. KYLE ARMSTRONG, Ontario Blues
10. LIAM UNDERWOOD, Ontario Blues
11. CLAYTON MEERES, Pacific Tyee
12. PATRICK PARFREY, The Rock
13. NICK BLEVINS, Prairie Wolfpack
14. JORDAN WILSON-ROSS, Ontario Blues
15. CONNOR BRAID, Pacific Tyee
16. OWEN PARFREY, The Rock
17. HUBERT BUYDENS, Praire Wolfpack
18. JACOB RUMBALL, Ontario Blues
19. CHRIS LONG, Prairie Wolfpack
20. SEB PEARSON, Ontario Blues
21. ZAC COUGHLIN, The Rock
22. PAT KAY, Pacific Tyee
23. JOSH HART, Prairie Wolfpack
1. NICHOLAS WALLACE
2. STAN MOAALII
3. TONY PURPURA
4. NICHOLAS CIVETTA
5. GRAHAM HARRIMAN
6. TAYLOR MOKATE
7. JOHN QUILL
8. CAM DOLAN (C)
9. SHAUN DAVIES
10. GEAROID MCDONALD
11. CHRIS CHAPMAN
12. JACK TRACY
13. DEAN GERICKE
14. MILES CRAIGWELL
15. ZACHARY PANGELINAN
16. ZACHARY FENOGLIO
17. TIM PAULSEN
18. NOT SELECTED
19. KRIS HEADLEE
20. ERIC DUECHLE
21. BENNY MATEIALONA
22. CASEY CLARK
23. JOE COWLEY
Referee: Juan Sylvestre (Argentina)
Assistant Referee: Joaquin Montes (Uruguay)
Assistant Referee: Chris Assmus (Canada)
#4 Match Official: Karen Lozada (Canada)
#5 Match Official: Kai Taylor (Canada)
#6 Match Official/Scorer: George Van (Canada)