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The Junior All Americans lost the first leg of a two-game series against Canada in heartbreaking fashion Monday in Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia. The Americans led until the death, but they surrendered a 12-point second half lead to fall 24-23.
With spitting rain causing sloppy play, most every score seemed to be one team capitalizing on an unusual mistake by the other instead of as a result of attractive rugby. Exhibit A – Canada won a lineout just inside its own end, but the scrumhalf lost control of the ball while making the out pass and it sputtered to the ground. American openside flanker Hanco Germishuys scooped up the loose ball and ran in cleanly for the try. Ben Cima converted, giving the USA a 7-0 lead.
Canada cut into that lead a few minutes later when the Americans were called for an infringement in the scrum near midfield. Guiseppe du Toit lined up the kick and slotted it to make the score 7-3. Cima rebutted with a successful penalty right around the 20-minute mark, restoring seven-point lead.
Not a minute later Canada sapped the difference to two. Fullback Andrew Coe ran broke one arm tackle and ran in off a set move from an attacking lineout. Du Toit’s conversion attempt missed the mark, leaving Canada two points adrift.
Both teams had quality attacking opportunities throughout the second quarter of the match, but a slippery ball made converting on those chances difficult. The Junior All Americans were able to stretch the lead right on halftime, as Cima slotted a penalty just shy of 50 meters from the posts. Canada’s du Toit missed his other shot at goal, so the USA led 13-8 at the break.
The kicking battle continued through the intermission, with du Toit slotting three points just minutes into the second stanza and Cima had two shots at goal shortly thereafter, but he missed both, leaving the score at 13-11.
The Junior All Americans caught a break which led to their second try of the game. Canada had the ball on its own five-meter line, as USA was able to sustain a territorial advantage most of the early second half.
An attempted clearance kick bounced off the head of a Canadian forward, American lock Oliver Drew got to the loose ball first and tossed it wide with one hand. Seth Halliman won the race to the pill and passed back inside to Ian Kinsly, who carried the ball in for the fluke score. Cima slotted the conversion, extending the lead to 20-11.
That lead grew by three points just a couple of moments later when Cima slotted a penalty after Canada was called for being offside at a breakdown. Canada could have nullified the kick with a makeable penalty of its own right after the restart, but down 12 opted for an attacking scrum about 15 meters from pay dirt.
The Canadians put the American scrum on skates and USA was called for a penalty. Canada opted for another scrum, this time about seven meters from the try line. Again the Canadian scrum was moving forward, but this time the ball squirted out the back and was flyhacked down the field, ending the immediate threat.
The United States returned Canada’s favor which led to the MJAAs’ second-half try when Ben Cima sliced a clearance kick, giving the Canadians an attacking lineout about 10 meters from the try zone. The lineout was won cleanly and Canada quickly rumbled across the line for a score. The conversion was missed, leaving the USA with a 23-17 lead.
The scored seemed to light a fire under the Canadians, as some impressively quick phase play was strung together on the next possession. The USA couldn’t keep shape under pressure and wing Theo Saudet found space around the edge for another try. The all-important conversion attempt failed, so the USA clung to a 23-21 advantage.
With time melting off the clock and the Americans up by less than a penalty, Cima was subbed out for Oisin Brady. Canada committed a penalty, and the MJAAs decided to take a shot at goal. Brady, who’d spent roughly 79 minutes on the bench, saw his kick land short of the crossbar. Canada fielded the kick and charged deep into the American half, eventually earning a shot at goal at the death. After it sailed through the uprights, the game was blown dead.
The decision to sub the team's best kicker, who'd already accounted for 13 points on the day, when the game still hung so delicately in the balance will likely be fresh on the mind of the MJAA coaching staff until Friday's rematch at Westhills Stadium.