ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Canada will take a healthy 13-point lead into the second leg of its Rugby World Cup qualifying series against the U.S. Eagles when the two teams meet next Saturday in Glendale, Colo.
But Canadian coach Kingsley Jones, while happy with the performance of his 22nd-ranked team in a 34-21 win Saturday, isn't taking anything for granted in the two-legged series against the 16th-ranked Americans
"It's halftime," he said. "We've got a 13-point buffer … We've got to build on that.
"It's about us going there and being ready. And being humble … It's going to be a totally different thing next week," he added. "A totally different environment and a totally different challenge. The U.S.A. are going to be a lot better. So we need to be a lot better."
The aggregate winner moves on to face No. 17 Uruguay in early October to determine who slots into Pool A at France 2023 with No. 2 New Zealand, No. 5 France, No. 14 Italy and Africa 1. The loser will meet No. 28 Chile to determine who progresses to the Americas 2 playoff against the loser of the Americas 1 battle.
The Canadian men have never missed a World Cup, although they had to qualify the hard way last time out — winning a four-team repechage to make the 2019 tournament in Japan. The Americans have only failed to qualify once, in 1995.
Canada rallied from a 14-10 halftime deficit, reeling off 24 straight points to take control of the match on a sunny, very windy afternoon at Swilers Rugby Park.
"The most positive thing is the way we improved through the game and the growth in the players," said Jones.
Wing Brock Webster, a product of the Canadian sevens program making his 15s debut, went the length of the pitch for an intercept try in the 68th minute as the home side padded its lead to 20 points. A late U.S. try was called back due to an infraction but Tavite Lopeti, also on his debut, scored a converted try under the posts in the 82nd minute to cut the lead to 34-21.
Corey Thomas, Lucas Rumball and Ben LeSage also scored tries for Canada. Peter Nelson added four conversions and two penalties.
Jamason Faʻanana-Schultz added a converted try for the Americans, who were also awarded a penalty try.
The Canadians had two men sent to the sin-bin in the first 20 minutes but still managed to outscore the Americans 3-0 while down a man.
The Americans will likely be able to field a stronger lineup next time out. Captain A.J. MacGinty, who plays for England's Sale Sharks, didn't start Saturday after arriving late in St. John's due to travel difficulties. Several other overseas pros also came off the Eagles bench.
U.S. coach Gary Gold lost veteran No. 8 Cam Dolan in the first half when he failed a head injury assessment. The American lineout was never the same after.
Canada had a nightmarish start, pinned deep in its own end after a kicking error by Ross Braude and subsequent penalty. Scottish referee Mike Adamson awarded a penalty try to the Americans for another infraction in the third minute, sending Canadian flanker Matt Heaton to the sin-bin in the process.
Despite being a man down, Canada answered quickly with the six-foot-four, 254-pound Thomas bulling his way over in the sixth minute after a well-orchestrated attack. Nelson's conversion tied it 7-7 and the Canadians managed to hold the Americans off while Heaton served his 10-minute sentence.
The Canadians began to make inroads on the American defence, winning penalties. Nelson made it 10-7 in the 19th minute, launching a penalty kick through the swirling wind after the Americans were penalized for a high tackle.
Canadian lock Conor Keys was sin-binned in the 20th minute for a high tackle on Luke Carty, the American fullback. Seconds later, after another penalty, Adamson warned Canada about too many infractions.
The Canadians resisted a U.S. rolling maul on their goal-line. Nelson then missed a long-distance penalty attempt in the wind in the 25th minute.
The Americans threatened again after Carty earned good field position with a 50-20 kick, one of the new laws under trial that allows a team to get the lineout if it kicks the ball from within its 50-yard line into touch inside the opposition 20. But the Canadians stymied another American maul to end the threat.
Faʻanana-Schultz put the U.S. ahead 14-10 in the 35th minute, crossing the line on a set play from a lineout.
Taking advantage of an American error on the second-half kickoff, Rumball's converted try gave Canada a 17-14 lead in the 43rd minute.
Canada began to attack the U.S. lineout and, after Heaton stole a lineout and chipped the ball into U.S. territory, extended its lead after LeSage went over in the 52nd for a 24-14 advantage. A Nelson penalty in the 63rd minute, after a U.S. high tackle, made it 27-14.
Canada's matchday 23 featured 11 Toronto Arrows, including captain Rumball and vice-captain LeSage. There were three Toronto players in the forward pack and three in the backline, not counting wing Kainoa Lloyd who is a former Arrow. Five others were on the bench.
Three Arrows earned their first caps. Centre Spencer Jones started while forward Mason Flesch and scrum half Jason Higgins came off the bench.
The win will move the Canadians up to No. 21 in the rankings while the Americans will go the other way.
Due to pandemic-related schedule interruptions, both teams had only played twice since the Japan World Cup with all the matches coming in July's test window.
Canada lost 68-12 to No. 9 Wales and 70-14 to No. 3 England in its lone action since falling 66-7 to eventual World Cup champion South Africa on Oct. 8, 2019.
The Americans were beaten 43-29 by England and 71-10 by No. 4 Ireland in July.
Both teams came into Saturday's match mired in lengthy losing runs.
The victory snapped a 10-game losing streak for the Canadians, whose last win was a 56-0 decision over Chile in February 2019. It also ended the Americans' six-game win streak and 12-match unbeaten run (11-0-1) against the Canadians.
The U.S. losing streak now stands at seven straight matches.
A moment of silence was observed before the anthems in memory of Robin Short, the longtime sports editor of the St. John's Telegram who passed away last week after a two-year battle with cancer.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 4, 2021.
The Canadian Press