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Canada defeated the USA 16-9 in the opening match for both teams of the Pacific Nations Cup in a game that the Eagles could well have won if they had executed better.
The Eagles had several prime try-scoring opportunities, but execution breakdowns hurt them at crucial moments.
The game began with budding Canada star Tyler Ardron slamming into a USA player at the kickoff. That set the tone for much of the game as Ardron and his teammates were very strong on defense. In the rain and cold at Ellerslie Rugby Park in Edmonton, Alb., Canada looked to kick to the corners and test debutant fullback Adam Siddall, rather than work too much with the ball in hand, and the tactic worked.
The USA defended well also, led by Lou Stanfill and Todd Clever. But an
early penalty for offside allowed Canada fullback Connor Braid a kicking
opportunity and he easily slotted the kick for a 3-0 lead.
The USA had a few unlucky moments – they were pinged for an early engagement in the scrum when it was clear Canada were the culprits. Later Eric Fry was tackled without the ball, but he instead called for a knock-on.
The Eagles opted against kicking too much, and did get into the Canadian 22 thanks to a nice break from Andrew Suniula. But Canada marshaled their defense, and clogged the line when USA flyhalf Toby L’Estrange tried to grubber through.
After that, the Eagles had a scrum right under the Canadian posts, but the
exchange from Clever to Robbie Shaw to L’Estrange ended with the ball on
the ground. A simple Clever pick and run might have produced something more
Canada earned a turnover later on an excellent blitz tackle from captain Aaron Carpenter, and after that pinned the USA in their 22 for a long period. All the Eagles wanted was to reset a ruck and kick free, but Canada made it very difficult to do so. It took several phases and attempts and scary moments for Shaw to finally kick free.
Canada continued to ride the kick-to-the-corner train, and it finally paid off. A lineout miscue saw the ball loose at the back. Canada flanker John Moonlight grabbed the ball and rumbled over. Try, and with Braid’s excellent conversion, a 10-0 lead.
The Eagles had a long talk in their own in-goal after that and came out a little smarter. But still little execution errors haunted them. Luke Hume made a big run, but the USA couldn’t keep the ball.
They caught a break when a Harry Jones kick went out on the full, but then Shaw did the same.
Only outstanding defense kept the USA in the game during this period.
The Americans then decided to kick to the corner, and that eventually produced an attacking opportunity for them. Canada was penalized for not releasing the tackled player, and Siddall knocked the ball over to make it 10-3.
Then a critical play. Canada got a penalty and kicked to the corner again. This time, they had the throw-in, and a prime try-scoring chance. But USA lock Brian Doyle made a superb play (as did his lifters) to steal the ball and keep it 10-3 at halftime.
The USA showed flashes of ability running out wide, but those extra offloads out of the tackle weren’t working. As a result, with the ball coming out of the rucks relatively slowly, those attacks faltered.
In the second half, the Eagles looked much better. Their rucking improved and their defense continued to be strong.
After Todd Clever forced a turnover midfield, the Eagles broke through thanks to a darting run from Troy Hall. More phases, but only a few inches closer, and finally the ball came out of the ruck with no one to claim it, and Canada recovered and cleared.
The USA continued to have the run of play in the second half, and after an egregious offside play by Canada (a lazy runner waited in an offside position to make a tackle, usually a yellow card offense), Siddall hit a tough kick to make it 10-6.
The USA attacked again. Their best moment of the day saw Clever link with Shawn Pittman and John Quill to almost send the flanker in for a try. Quill was caught, and injured, in the play, but Canada were guilty of killing the ball – another play often given a yellow – and Siddall hit the easy kick from in front of the posts. 10-9.
But another penalty by the USA gave Braid a long-range change from a tough angle – he hit it beautifully, and Canada led 13-9.
Two more scoring chances for the Eagles. A nifty run from Shaw could have been really something had he offloaded early, and eventually Canada stole the ball back and kicked deep. From there, they mauled and Clever was penalized for a punch (no card here, either), and Braid made no mistake.
With time winding down, the USA got into the Canadian 22 once more. Sub flanker Liam Murphy galloped through but was hauled down just short of the line. The Eagles bashed away, but couldn’t breach the Canadian defense. Finally, one more scrum under the posts. Again, it seemed prime eightman pick territory, and again their fancy 8-9-10 move left the ball on the deck.
Two more dropped balls and that was essentially the game. Canada 16 USA 9.
The USA had chances to come close to scoring on several occasions, and
clearly the onrushing forward coming in for the offload was part of that.
But whether it was Canada’s excellent tackling, or just poor timing, the
USA ballcarriers could not make those passes.
On the officiating side, referee Francisco Pestrana could have issued Canada yellows for ball-killing, professional fouls, and two late hits on kicks, as well as Clever’s angry outburst, but opted not to.
The Eagles got strong games from Luke Hume, Clever, Stanfill, and Doyle.
Shawn Pittman and Eric Fry had strong moments. But the outside backs were
rarely in the game and didn't have room when they were, and they needed
those two attacking scrums to produce tries, which they didn't.
In the end, the Americans came away on the losing side because Canada’s defense, led by the back row of Carpenter, Ardron and Moonlight, and the superb tactical kicking of Harry Jones and excellent goalkicking of Connor Braid, foiled them.
Pens: Siddall 3
Pens: Braid 3
Ryan Hamilton - on for Buydens
Doug Wooldridge - on for Barkwill
|19||Graham Harriman||19||Jon Phelan|
Liam Murphy - on for Quill
Nanyak Dala - on for Moonlight
Seamus Kelly - on for Hall
Phil Mack - on for White
Blaine Scully - on for Siddall