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Written By: Doug Crosse
So the Canada summer series has finished and unfortunately, predictions of a 1-2 finish have morphed into a 0-3 record. Scotland, Russia, and the USA all managed to score over 40 points against Canada – with the USA and Russia both getting 'three try games' from their respective No. 8's.
Saturday’s 42-17 loss to the USA was not a surprise as the Eagles are the in-form Tier 2 nation right now. 8-0 in 2018, and coach Gary Gold has a full complement of players; that said there are two other elements that need to be looked at when examining the success of the Americans this year:
First, they had a 12-day camp with almost full attendance, prior to the start of the series.
Second – and this might be the more important factor – most of the team had played nearly seven weeks of high-level games in Major League Rugby. This really showed through when in the dying minutes of the Scotland v USA game (the USA won 30-29), the team kept their shape and did not concede the game. They nearly did, but they held it together for an entire 80 minutes, when compared to years' past a game against a Tier 1 nation would usually go pear-shaped in the 65th minute as the subs rolled on. The fitness and skill level of all 23 players was evident and probably created a few pucker moments for Scotland coach Gregor Townsend.
On Saturday against Canada, there was a very calm air about the USA. They didn’t panic, played to their script, and within twenty minutes they were dictating play for long stretches.
Canada rarely got sustained go-forward, but managed to defend well near the line in a couple of instances.
Cam Dolan, the USA No. 8, was dynamic in his support and put himself into scoring position three times on the day, and was pretty impressive defensively as well.
The USA continued to disrupt any attempts at Canadian offence, making tackles behind the gain line and causing more than a few loose passes that needed to be cleaned up rather than being on the front foot.
Phil Mack did show the benefits of his time coaching and playing in Seattle, as his delivery from the breakdown and his fitness overall were impressive.
There was a bit of cohesion in the final two minutes. Had it happened even twenty minutes earlier might have changed the complexion of the game, but it was hollow solace at an otherwise great first-time test match rugby event in Halifax.
It is no coincidence that Canada’s fortunes in the fifteens game have taken a dip at the same time we diverted our sevens players solely to that program. I think Mr. Jones should buy Damian McGrath a nice bottle of wine and discuss who he might be able to borrow in what is a busy window for the sevens boys. Injecting a Connor Braid, Nate Hirayama or Harry Jones would provide some offensive spark and not disrupt proceedings too much.
Canadian Coach Kingsley Jones cannot be feeling pluckish about the task at hand, though we now know more about who his charges will be playing in November.
The winner between Germany and Samoa will be contestant number two at the Repechage.
Next to be invited will be the winner between Hong Kong (no 21) and the Cook Islands - ranked 54th. Finally the runner-up between the following at the Africa Gold Cup: No. 23 Namibia, No. 28 Kenya, No. 37 Uganda, No. 38 Morocco, No. 42 Tunisia and No. 44 Zimbabwe.
Namibia, with a 118-0 win over Tunisia, appears to be in the driver’s seat, with Kenya sitting six points back in second spot after beating Morocco 28-24.
So a likely repechage would see Canada, Germany, Hong Kong and Kenya. These are all teams Canada should be able to beat, but the Pablo Lemoine-coached Germans should make some folks nervous. They have gotten over the internal spat of the centrally owned, centrally trained squad, and will be well organized by November.