Canada has beaten the USA 28-25 in Kingston, Ont. in a game where both teams had periods where they tried their best to give the game away.
Clear scoring opportunities for the Eagles were missed by execution and decision errors, while Canada turned one or two USA mistakes, and some poor early tackling, to win.
Canada fullback James Pritchard was, as usual, superb with his goalkicking and notched three penalties and two conversions, including one from the touchline, for the difference.
Canada started much better than the USA. The Eagles were very aggressive with the ball in hand, but when they had attacking opportunities, Canada was clearly targeting debutant flyhalf Will Holder. The USA #10 was found out of position on a few players during the game, and on breaks early on the Americans fell off some tackles they needed to make. Flyhalf Matt Evans almost scored on such a player early, and a few minutes later did indeed touch down, pass through three tacklers on the way.
The Eagles, however, did look good in attack and after a couple of phases sent the ball through the hands. Outside center Paul Emerick made a half-break and then flung an audacious backhand pass to Chris Wyles. The fullback drew his man and set up debutant wing Luke Hume, who raced into the corner. Holder missed the difficult conversion, and Canada led 7-5.
Canada replied, testing the American tackling again. From a ruck where the USA had too many players on the weak side, it was a matter of numbers on the strong side – Ciaran Hearn put into the corner. Pritchard converted brilliantly and Canada led 14-5.
At this point it looked like the USA would not be able to hang with Canada, but they improved their defensive approach after this.
Hearn was used in the first channel by Canada off a lineout, but the Eagles hauled him in, and from there attacked downfield, eventually earning a penalty that Holder knocked over to make it 14-8.
Canada got a penalty back at 20 minutes to lead 17-8, but Holder replied to make it 17-11 at 25 minutes.
Canada looked to score more after that. An excellent restart by the hosts pushed Todd Clever and the ball into touch. But a prime attacking opportunity was lost as the American stole the lineout.
The Eagles lost the ball again, however, only to see Clever turn it back over, and start a possession that led to an excellent attacking chance. Clever made the big break, and fed lock Brian Doyle. Doyle gained many yards before passing back to Clever, who had to catch the ball off his bootlaces. Had he caught it on the run, he might have scored – certainly the could have kept things going forward.
Instead, he set up a ruck and when the ball was spun out wide, some iffy pass-to-catch connections turned the ball over. But feeling their confidence, the Eagles now realized they could run on Canada. Paul Emerick’s big tackle on the wing set up a lineout and the Eagles attacked up the left side from there. Holder sent a nicely-timed delayed pass to James Paterson coming in off the wing, and he pulled several defenders over with him. Holder hit the conversion for the USA’s first, and last, lead of the day 18-17.
Pritchard got those three points right back moments later. 20-18 Canada.
With a wild first half winding down, the Eagles almost scored again. Emerick turned the ball over and popped it back to Andrew Suiniula, who was ready to run in untouched from 40 meters. But Emerick was adjudged to have rolled onto the touchline before making the pass.
That was halftime, and the big issue for the USA seemed to be keeping their scrum steady, and working on their timing on an aggressive attack that used players coming at pace onto flat passes. And while the USA tackling improved after the first ten minutes, things weren’t quite clicking offensively.
The second half was a slower affair, filled with mistakes. Holder whacked the kickoff out on the full, and Canada attacked from the scrum center and got another penalty. Pritchard hit that one, too, and Canada led 23-18.
The Eagles spent most of the next 20 minutes in their own half. After giving up a long run to center Mike Scholz (Holder bit in on Evans at flyhalf), the USA just was trying not to give up the killer try. They didn’t, despite some excellent chances for Canada. Paul Emerick’s cover tackle stopped Scholtz, and then tackles by Todd Clever and Eric Fry pushed the Canadians back.
The USA had chances, too, but both Emerick and Suniula knocked on in contact as their team was building steam.
A penalty miss by Holder that couldn’t have missed by much kept the game at 23-18, and then a promising kick to the corner by Chris Wyles cruelly rolled dead.
But finally in the Canada half at around 65 minutes, the USA got another shot. Right on the Canada line Emerick was almost over, and then a flat pass to sub Shawn Pittman was spilled in contact. Canada had dodged a big, nasty bullet.
The killer blow came at about 72 minutes. Canada got a long-range penalty chance and Ciaran Hearn lined it up. His kick was wide, and short, and Hume collected it and kicked to touch.
Only Hume tried to be too perfect. His kick did not go to touch and Canada attacked down the wing he had vacated. The chase by the USA was mediocre, and No. 8 Aaron Carpenter was there in the corner on a try where the Americans just didn’t show enough urgency.
Now down 28-18 with seven minutes to go the Eagles had to score twice to win. They immediately pushed into the Canada end, and took the lineout on a penalty. The drive and several phases got close, but not in. But another penalty saw scrumhalf Mike Petri set up Pittman, then Fry, and finally Scott LaValla for runs – the last one good for a try. Holder hit the conversion, and there was time for one more.
The Eagles retained the restarted and kept running, but Canada knows how to close out a game on defense. They knew the Eagles weren’t going to kick and made their tackles. After a knock-on in the backs, the game was called.
In the end, Canada exposed the USA on inside channel cutbacks among the backs, and kicked their goals. The USA looked much more exciting than in recent years, and scored three tries, all nicely-worked. But too many good runs ended with losing the ball in contact. The Americans had trouble containing Carpenter off the back of the scrum, but were excellent in the lineout.
It was a good debut under much pressure for Holder, but he also learned a lot about being in the right place on defense. The backs could have moved the ball a little more smoothly, but scrumhalf Mike Petri did an excellent job playing the quick-ball game Head Coach Mike Tolkin wants.
A loss for the USA, but one tinged with hope. A win for Canada, but one tinged with worry.
Tries: Evans, Hearn, Carpenter
Convs: Pritchard 2
Pens: Pritchard 3
Tries: Hume, Paterson, LaValla
Convs: Holder 2
Pens: Holder 2
15 Chris Wyles (Saracens)
14 James Paterson (Glendale Raptors)
13 Paul Emerick (London Wasps)
12 Andrew Suniula (Cornish Pirates)
11 Luke Hume (Old Blue)
10 Will Holder (Army)
9 Mike Petri (NYAC)
1 Mike MacDonald (At Large)
2 Chris Biller (Northampton Saints)
3 Eric Fry (Wellington Old Boys RFC, New Zealand)
4 Louis Stanfill (NYAC)
5 Brian Doyle (NYAC)
6 Scott Lavalla (Stade Francais)
7 Andrew Durutalo (USA Rugby Sevens/Old Puget Sound Beach)
8 Todd Clever* (NTT Shining Arc)
16 Derek Asbun (Oxford University – England)
17 Shawn Pittman (London Welsh)
18 Tom Katzfey (Life University)
19 Taylor Mokate (Wellington Old Boys RFC – New Zealand)
20 Shaun Davies (BYU)
21 Roland Suniula (Chicago Griffins)
22 Colin Hawley (USA Rugby Sevens)
1 Hubert Buydens – Prairie Wolf Pack (Saskatoon, SK)
2 Ryan Hamilton – BC CRC Team (West Vancouver, BC)
3 Andrew Tiedemann – Prairie Wolf Pack (St.Albert, AB)
4 Brett Beukeboom – Ontario Blues (Lindsay, ON)
5 Tyler Hotson – London Scottish RFC (Vancouver, BC)
6 Nanyak Dala - Prairie Wolf Pack (Saskatoon, SK)
7 Chauncey O'Toole – The Rock (Belleisle, NB)
8 Aaron Carpenter (C) - Plymouth Albion (Brantford, ON)
9 Sean White – Unattached (Victoria, BC)
10 Matt Evans - Cornish Pirates (Duncan, BC)
11 Ciaran Hearn - The Rock (Conception Bay South, NL)
12 Mike Scholz - Ontario Blues (Oakville, ON)
13 DTH Van der Merwe - Glasgow Warriors (Victoria, BC)
14 Sean Duke - BC CRC Team (Vancouver, BC)
15 James Pritchard - Bedford Blues (Parkes, Australia, NSW)
Jason Marshall - Stade Aurillacois (North Vancouver, BC)
Tom Dolezels - Ontario Blues (London, ON)
Jebb Sinclair - London Irish /DHL Stormers (Charters Settlement, NB)
Tyler Ardron - Ontario Blues (Lakefield ON)
Kyle Armstrong - Ontario Blues (Whitby, ON)
Phil Mackenzie - London Welsh RFC (Oakville, Ontario)
Jeff Hassler - Prairie Wolf Pack (Okotoks, AB)
Referee: Marius Jonker