Vancouver, BC – Sept. 7, 2019: A spirited BC Place crowd met the first-half kickoff with excitement and noise aplenty as the Canadian and American men’s national sides got set to play their final match before setting off for the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The Canadians were impressive right from the off, taking less than a minute to get themselves deep into American territory and scoring not long after.
After getting just past the halfway line, the Canadians opted to kick for field position, but almost immediately turned the ball back over. With possession just outside the five-metre line, Gordon McRorie received an offload out of the ruck and darted for the try-line, with Peter Nelson making no mistake on the conversion to take a 7-0 lead.
The crowd bristled as the two sides traded kicks back and forth, but volume soon picked up again as the Canadians were once again able to make forays into opposition territory. The strong stretch of Canadian play was stopped short as they conceded a scrum to the Americans, but Canada’s resilient defence stopped an American onslaught right at the try-line, and before long the Canadians were right back on the USA’s half of the pitch.
A hush fell over the audience as Canadian star Justin Blanchet went down less than 10 minutes into the match with an apparent head injury. Blanchet had been the man of the match in Canada’s previous fixture against the BC All-Stars. He would return to the bench after an assessment, but did not re-enter the game.
Canada kept up their fantastic pressure even with Blanchet on the sideline. After getting to the 22 and conceding a lineout, the hosts stole the ball away from the Americans and won a penalty, allowing Nelson to kick for touch and put his team right on the five-metre line. Nothing came directly of the lineout, but Canada continued to relentlessly attack the American backline. Another deep lineout led to an American penalty that Nelson took quickly and sprinted for the try line. The try was initially not given, but a TMO review awarded the try to Canada as the hosts took a 12-0 lead. Nelson and McRorie traded kicking duties, but the tough angle made for an unsuccessful conversion.
The Americans were awarded a penalty in the 20th minute, and opted to kick for goal wanting to break the goose-egg, with Will Magie making no mistake from dead centre. A Canadian miscommunication shortly afterwards nearly led to a score from Nick Augspurger, but a last-minute try-saving tackle put a stop to the American effort. The USA retained possession of the ball, but Canada’s defence was more than up to the task, pushing the visitors outside the 22 and keeping them there, eventually forcing an American penalty and allowing the hosts to go back on the offensive once again. Canada retained possession for the better part of the ensuing 10-minute stretch, but a botched lineout gave the Americans possession of the ball just outside the 22. McRorie nearly stole an offload which would have led to a sure try, but knocked the ball on. The error resulted in the first try of the match for the USA as Cam Nolan punched through to score. Magie made no mistake on the conversion as the Americans drew to within two points of the Canadians as the first half drew to a close.
During halftime, dozens of mini and junior players from local rugby clubs took to the field. Playing in two entertaining games of Rookie Rugby, they gave the crowd a great display of speed, skills and smiles. The players represented ten different clubs from across the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley, and put on a great show. The Mini and Junior Club Leagues are set to kick off next weekend, September 15, with registration still open. Any children keen to give rugby a go should get in touch with their local rugby club – check out bcrugby.com/findaclub for more information.
Less than two minutes into the second half, Canada were awarded a penalty on the halfway line. The hosts opted to kick, and Peter Nelson booted the ball half the length of the pitch to increase the Canadian lead to five.
A blocked Canadian kick in the 50th minute pinned the hosts inside their own five, and the USA mauled for their second try of the night and tied the game. The Americans began their first real consistent bit of pressure after the try, once again getting inside the Canadian five-metre line. Just as the atmosphere inside BC Place seemed to lull Canada’s captain Tyler Ardron dove in front of a USA kick, electrifying the home fans and inciting chants throughout the stadium. The pace of play quickened as the clock ticked to 60:00 with both sides trying to take a late lead. Canada kicked for touch following a penalty and found themselves inside the USA 22 for the first time all half, but quickly conceded a scrum and allowed the visitors to kick for touch themselves.
A failed Canadian offload in the 70th minute was quickly recovered by the Americans, who quickly got the ball to wing Martin Iosefo, who beat two defenders to score and give the USA their first lead of the match.
In the 75th minute, Jeff Hassler went flying through the USA backline to win a scrum and give the Canadians prime field position with just a few minutes remaining in the match. An injury stoppage gave the crowd time to build up the moment, and the stadium shook with excitement as the scrum began, but it was restarted three times by the official and the excitement deadened. Nevertheless, the Canadians made a good go of it, getting the ball out to Hassler once again who broke for the try-line before being stopped at the five. Canada won a penalty with a minute remaining and kicked for touch, allowing for one final push as the crowd atmosphere reached a fever pitch, but the Canadians were unable to get past the five and the match ended with a final score of Canada 15, USA 20.
North Vancouver’s Evan Olmstead praised the spirited home support during the match. “Amazing crowd, always is when we play at BC Place, and that volume really lifts you up, especially in those crucial moments where the crowd really gets behind you.”
“Our attacking structure, our defence, those sorts of things look a lot sharper now,” Olmstead added. “It’s just those finer details we need to work on, but we’re definitely a lot better than we were.”
Canadian captain Tyler Ardron also noticed a significant improvement from the earlier meeting with the USA in July, but believes the team has some work to do ahead of the World Cup. “There’s no doubt we’re better – holding them to 20 points is a big step up from [the earlier match],” said Ardron. “We’re not quite happy with the points we’re scoring, and if we can put a couple more over, we’ll put a lot of teams away.
Canada’s World Cup campaign begins on September 26th against Italy. The match kicks off at 4:45 PM local time in Japan, 12:45 AM PST.