With Canada’s national men’s rugby team behind several of the other nations competing in next month’s Rugby World Cup in preparation time, games like Saturday’s match against Irish club Leinster are definitely a big help.
Canada was defeated 38-35 at Tim Hortons Field but despite being unable to hold off Leinster’s Hugo Keenan on the final play of the game, there were a lot of positives to be taken with Canada’s first World Cup match in Japan 32 days away.
“There are some things to build on and that’s a quality side we played,” captain Tyler Ardron said. “You take that first 20 (minutes) out and that was a good effort by us.”
“Going down 19-0 early, the guys are very happy we were able to fight back and make it a very close game,” Pat Parfrey added. “We’re very happy with the process and hope that we keep building on it going into the World Cup.”
Canada’s realistic goal in Japan is to be competitive against the likes of New Zealand, South Africa, and Italy, and probably take a win from Namibia. But a late start to training camp with several players committed to club teams plus the fact Canada was the last team to qualify for the tournament, only having done so in a repechage last fall meant they had to take every ounce of experience from this game.
Canada did struggle early, falling behind the two-time defending champions of the European Pro14 league. Max Deegan opened the scoring seven minutes in. Bryan Byrne scored a second try midway through the period. And Deegan scored again late in the half off a scrum five metres from the Canada line.
Then the home side came to life before a good crowd mainly dressed in red and white. Just before halftime, some good open field running and a key lineout takeaway deep in Leinster end led to a score by Evan Olmstead to cut Canada’s deficit to 19-7.
The home side then upped its game while Leinster sprinkled in some substitutions. After a scrum deep in Leinster territory, Ardron took the ball and dashed five metres for a score. A few minutes later, Peter Nelson fed Ben Lesage who in turn found Parfrey in the clear 10 metres from the Leinster goal. Nelson converted the try to put Canada ahead for the first time 21-19.
After Josh Murphy scored for Leicester, Kyle Baillie blocked a kick by Harry Byrne deep in Leinster end and had a short clear run to the line to restore the Canadian lead. They extended it when DTH Van der Merwe and Nick Blevins shared a couple of passes between them before feeding an open Blevins for his second try.
But showing its class, Leinster took back the game in the final minutes. After Caelan Doris scored to bring them back, a late surge that took the game past the 80-minute mark led to the score from Keenan.
Despite the loss, Canada found a few things it liked but also realized some of the areas it will have to improve on before heading to Japan.
“Our attack is going to have to improve a little,” Ardron said. “Our defense was full of commitment but if we can keep the ball a few more phases, we wouldn’t have to make so many tackles.”
“Our scrum was a bit of an issue,” he added. “It cost us a few penalties.”
Canada will play a B.C. all-star side and a warm-up game against the United States in Vancouver in the coming two weeks.