The 2013 Pacific Nations Cup kicked off on Saturday, with two fiercely contested matches between some of the world's more promising rugby nations.
By noon on North America's East Coast, Tonga had already defeated a proud Japanese team by a score of 27-17. The scene then shifted to a wet and rainy Edmonton, Alberta for a North American grudge match between Canada and the United States.
The 14th-ranked Canadians had little to gain in terms of IRB ranking points in this match but knew that a home loss to the Americans could severely damage their hope for closing in on the world's top 10.
If they were to be successful, both Canada and the USA knew they would have to do so without many of their overseas stars. Both coaching staffs had decided to rest some of their top players, following a long European campaign. Professional Canadian speedsters DTH Van der Merwe, Phil Mackenzie, Matt Evans and James Pritchard were all out of action for this encounter, as was injured international sevens star Conor Trainor.
All of the youth and inexperience in the mix heralded the coming of a sloppy and disorganized first half of rugby, which is something we eluded to in our exclusive Bleacher Report preview.
The first half was indeed an energetic but error-strewen affair, with both teams struggling to maintain a fluid attack.
Canada looked the more ambitious with Glasgow Warriors wing Taylor Paris making several impressive breaks.
A series of tactical kicks, by young Canadian fly-half Harry Jones, pinned the Americans deep in their own end for the majority of the first 40 minutes. The pressure finally yielded reward, as flanker John Moonlight snatched a fumbled USA line-out and spun his way over his opponent's try-line.
A Connor Braid penalty was added to take Canada into half-time with a 10-3 lead over the visiting American squad.
When the teams re-emerged from the dressing rooms, it was the Americans who struck first and kept the pressure on. Two straight USA penalty kicks closed the gap to a narrow 10-9 scoreline heading into the last 15 minutes of play.
In a game that became ever more broken and disjointed, Canada eventually worked their way back into American territory through superior tactical kicking, where the USA gave away—what can only be described as—immature and undisciplined penalties.
Connor Braid once again stepped up to notch two more kicks for Canada and win his team back a 16-9 lead with only moments left to play.
From nowhere, the USA Eagles seemed to find the composure to sustain a final well-coordinated attack.
Wave after wave of American charges battered an increasingly tired and desperate Canadian defence. Multiple Canadian penalties saw the USA only meters away from potentially tying the match, but in the end, careless errors returned to haunt the Eagles.
A knock-on from an American forward run saw the final USA hopes flicker away and saw Canada through to the narrow home victory.
In a game where physicality and defence were the all-important factors, the play of Canadian blindside flanker Tyler Ardron was a highlight. The young Ontario native will likely be catching the eye of overseas professional clubs in the coming months; certainly, this tournament represents an excellent platform for him to make his talents known.
Ardron was named Man of the Match for for his efforts.
For Rugby Canada head coach Kerian Crowley, he will be pleased to have escaped Edmonton with a win. It could certainly be argued that the USA outplayed his squad in the second half. Canada will count itself lucky if it can move on to its next Pacific Nations Cup match, on June 1, without any additional serious injuries.
Crowley spoke to reporters after the match and the following comments were recorded in the Times Colonist:
We haven't been together for very long but hopefully now we have a line in the sand as far as our performance. We've got some time before we next take on Fiji and hopefully we can get in some good training now and come out a little more polished in our next game.
Click here to see the complete Pacific Nations Cup schedule.
For the USA, the next few weeks will look very different. It does not meet its next opponent until June 8; after which it will be forced to play the remaining four tournament matches in a span of two weeks.
The Eagles management will almost certainly be able field more of their professional talent by then, and they will need all the help they can get.
Head Coach Mike Tolkin had these comments, which were also recorded in the Times Colonist after the match.
I'm disappointed. I thought we were on our heels a bit in the first half. We didn't apply enough pressure. You can't spot a team 10 points and look to fight back from there. We can't wait until the end of the game to apply the pressure.
As they continue their tournament schedule, both Canada and the United States must soon face the wrath of two more highly ranked Pacific Island nations, in the forms of Fiji and the now-undefeated Tongans.
Final Score: Canada 16-USA 9
Canada Tries: Moonlight
Canada Conversions: Braid
Canada Penalties: Braid (3)
USA Penalties: Siddall (3)
Canada’s Roster for USA: Name, (Club/CRC Team) Hometown
1. Hubert Buydens, (Saskatoon Wild Oats/ Prairie Wolf Pack) Saskatoon, SK
2. Ray Barkwill, (Niagara Wasps/ Ontario Blues) Niagara Falls, ON
3. Jason Marshall, (Atlantique Stade Rochelais/BC Bears) Vancouver, BC
4. Brett Beukeboom, (Plymouth Albion RFC) Lindsay, ON
5. Tyler Hotson, (London Scottish FC) Vancouver, BC
6. Tyler Ardron, (Brantford Harlequins/ Ontario Blues) Lakefield, ON
7. John Moonlight, (James Bay AA/Ontario Blues) Pickering, ON
8. Aaron Carpenter, Captain, (Cornish Pirates) Brantford, ON
9. Sean White, (James Bay AA/Pacific Tyee) Victoria, BC
10. Harry Jones, (Capilano RFC/BC Bears) Vancouver, BC
11. Taylor Paris, (Glasgow Warriors) Barrie, ON
12. Pat Parfrey, (Swilers RFC/Atlantic Rock) St. John’s, NL
13. Nick Blevins, (Calgary Hornets/ Prairie Wolf Pack) Calgary, AB
14. Ciaran Hearn, (Castaway Wanderers/Atlantic Rock) Conception Bay, NL
15. Connor Braid, (Doncaster Knights/ Pacific Tyee) Victoria, BC
16. Ryan Hamilton, (Capilano RFC/Pacific Tyee) Vancouver, BC
17. Andrew Tiedemann, (FC Auch Gers/Prairie Wolf Pack) St. Albert, AB
18. Doug Wooldridge, (Lindsay RFC/Ontario Blues) Lindsay, ON
19. Jon Phelan, (Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue/Atlantic Rock) Montreal, QC
20. Cameron Pierce, (Kelowna Crows RFC) Coldstream, BC
21. Nanyak Dala, (Castaway Wanderers/Prairie Wolf Pack) Saskatoon, SK
22. Phil Mack, (UVIC Vikes/Pacific Tyee) Victoria, BC
23. Liam Underwood, (Queens University/Ontario Blues) Toronto, ON
Rugby Canada Summer Team Staff
Head Coach: Kieran Crowley
Assistant Coaches: Geraint John, Neil Barnes, Clive Griffiths
Strength and Conditioning: Andy Evans
Medical Support: Isabel Grondin, Carrie Smith, Nicole Ainsworth, Rebecca Spiers, Danielle Mah, Michael Cook, Carla Brash,
Doctor: Dr. Paul Watson, Dr. Andrew Everett, Dr. Shelby Karpman, Dr. Peet Du Toit
Performance Analyst: Calum Ramsay
Manager: Gareth Rees
Media Coordinator: Bryan Kelly
Men’s Eagles | Pacific Nations Cup vs. Canada
1. Shawn Pittman
2. Zach Fenoglio
3. Eric Fry
4. Brian Doyle
5. Louis Stanfill
6. John Quill
7. Peter Dahl
8. Todd Clever
9. Robbie Shaw
10. Toby L’Estrange
11. James Paterson
12. Andrew Suniula
13. Troy Hall
14. Luke Hume
15. Adam Siddall
16. Tom Coolican
17. Phil Thiel
18. Nick Wallace
19. Graham Harriman
20. Liam Murphy
21. Chris Saint
22. Seamus Kelly
23. Blaine Scully
Mike Tolkin, head coach
Tristan Lewis, manager
David Schneider, doctor
Dan Payne, assistant coach
Tony Smeeth, assistant coach
Derek Dowling, assistant coach
Dave Williams, strength and conditioning coach
Paul Goulding, video analyst
Kristen Douhan, physiotherapist
Zach Vyhnanek, physiotherapist
Jeff Hull is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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