(LANGFORD, BC) – With Guiseppe du Toit slotting a penalty at the final whistle, Canada’s Men’s Rugby Under-20 team completed a late-match rally to knock off the USA Men’s Junior All-Americans 24-23 on a rainy Monday afternoon at Shawnigan Lake School.
Trailing 23-11 with just 20 minutes to play, Canada roared back with tries from Paul Cuilini and Theo Sauder just three minutes apart to set up du Toit’s match-winning kick.
With Canada down by two points and the clock waning, a long run by substitute Philip Berna put Canada into American territory and from there, the home side pushed its way down the pitch until it was eventually awarded a decisive penalty. Du Toit’s kick gave Canada the winning point and its first lead of the game.
Along with Cuilini and Sauder, Canada’s Andrew Coe also got in on the try-scoring action. Du Toit finished the afternoon with nine points on three penalties.
For the Junior All-Americans, Jacobus Germishuys and Ian Kinsley notched tries while Ben Cima added 13 points from the boot, including three penalties and both try conversions.
“That was obviously not the way we planned it, but it’s nice to get the win, knowing that we played a very good game in the second half,” said Canada U-20 coach Jeff Williams. “But I think we got rid of the nerves in the second half as well and made smarter decisions that led to putting them under a little bit more pressure.”
With a one-point lead for the home side, Canada and the USA will now play in the second leg of the two-match total points series Friday at Westhills Stadium at 7:00 pm. The winner of the series will advance to the Junior World Rugby Trophy 2015 as the North American representative.
Friday’s match will be streamed live.
The Junior All-Americans opened the scoring in the seventh minute when Germishuys capitalized on a Canadian passing miscue, snatching up a loose ball, and running 40 metres for the try and, after Cima’s conversion, a 7-0 lead.
Five minutes later, du Toit put Canada’s first points on the board, hitting a penalty from 40 metres out to make it 7-3.
The Junior All-Americans re-established their seven-point edge when, after earning a penalty off the scrum, Cima split the uprights from just outside 20 metres.
However, just a minute after Cima’s penalty, Coe broke through for Canada’s first try of the match. Shortly after a lineout, the Canadian fullback took a quick pass inside and, while evading numerous would-be tacklers, raced away for the try to get Canada within two points, at 10-8.
After a mucky 20 minutes of back-and-forth action, the USA eventually went up by five points at the break, as Cima hit his second penalty of the half at the whistle.
“Early on, we just forced too many passes,” Williams said. “We made a lot of very basic mistakes and that allowed them to have more possession than we would have liked and they were very good at using that possession.”
Just three minutes into the second half, Canada got back into the match with du Toit converting a penalty to make it 13-11.
Shortly after Canada closed the gap, the Junior All-Americans caught a break and made the Canadians pay. From deep in its own territory, Canada attempted to evade pressure with a boot up the middle. However, the attempt ricocheted off a fellow Canadian and chaos ensued. The bouncing ball eventually found the hands of Kinsley, who ran it across for the score and a 20-11 lead.
Then, with 20 minutes to play, Cima slotted another penalty and the visitors took a 12-point edge.
Nine minutes later, the Canadians cued their comeback.
With the pack doing much of the work, Canada bullied its way deep into USA territory before Cuilini eventually pushed it over the line in the 69th minute.
With momentum shifting, Canada figured out its passing game just in time. After struggling to link passes all afternoon, the Canadian backs suddenly found their rhythm and managed to send the ball to the speedy Sauder on the outside. The UBC Thunderbirds product did the rest of the work, getting around the corner and scoring.
That set the table for du Toit’s winning penalty and Canada’s late-match dramatics.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Williams said. “They played well in the first half and we played well in the second half. I’m sure it will make for an exciting game on Friday.”
Canada has now won all three of its March contests after also picking up victories in a pair of exhibition games against Romania earlier this month, winning 21-9 and 36-13. Canada finished seventh at last year’s Junior World Rugby Trophy while the USA was third.
The Junior World Rugby Trophy 2015 will be held in Lisbon and Jamor. The winner of this week’s qualifier will join already-confirmed sides from Fiji, Georgia, Hong Kong, Namibia, Portugal, Tonga, and Uruguay.
More information on Canada’s March Series is available online.