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Going 2-0 against their big rivals might conceal some serious issues in the set piece (especially the lineout) and in discipline. But there are also some good things to take from the games, especially the defense.
“Looking back last week we also basically defended the whole first half,” said captain and hooker Pat Riordan. “Last week it was turnovers this week it was penalties. But you also can’t discredit the other team. Too often we’re too quick to be hard on ourselves, but you’ve got to remember, there’s another team we’re playing against, right?”
Riordan said a year ago he doesn’t think Canada could have won these last two games. But the hiring of a full-time defensive coach, and a lot of time together has allowed them to play better team defense.
“Our scramble defense is good,” added No. 8 Aaron Carpenter. “We try to not let those breaks happen, but if they do, we have a great back three with Ciaran [Hearn}, Phil [MacKenzie] and James Pritchard. We know they will make plays and our job is to bust it back to help them. Those guys deserve a lot of recognition, and if we hadn’t defended like that it could have been a completely different game.”
Conversely, the USA struggled on their cover defense, and Carpenter took advantage of that in one instance, following up on a break stopped by Takudzwa Ngwenya.
“I was hoping I could get the ball on the fly and make it a bit easier, but they only got back with two guys, not the whole team, so I just had to pick it up and waltz right in,” he said. “That was the difference. The whole win was down to our defense.”
Both Carpenter and Riordan left the two-game series worried about penalties. Canada received two yellow cards in the first half and kept giving up penalties in the breakdown.
Riordan said he wants the players to be aggressive, but once the referee sends a message, they have to listen.
“It’s a tough one as a captain, because everybody knows you don’t take penalties,” Riordan said. “But you get down on your own goal line, and you feel you’ve got to make a play to save the day. You’ve got to slow the ball up but you have to say obviously he’s interpreting the game a certain way and he’s being tight. Get away and trust your defense.
“I kind of tore a strip off the guys and the coach did as well which is a bit unusual.”
Looking ahead, Canada knows they didn’t construct a lot of tries and will need to do so in a tough tour of Australia just before the World Cup. Their lineout needs a lot of work and their scrum could certainly be better. But defense and hard work have got them this far.