Canada coach Kingsley Jones had hoped the road to the Rugby World Cup would lie through the U.S. and Uruguay.
But, in the wake of a qualifying playoff loss to the U.S. Eagles that saw Canada blow a 13-point league after the first leg of the series, the route to France 2023 is longer and more convoluted.
Flanker Hanco Germishuys scored three tries Saturday night as the 16th-ranked Eagles rallied for a convincing 38-16 win on the night and 59-50 aggregate victory over Canada in the second leg in Glendale, Colo. The 21st-ranked Canadian men had impressed in winning the opening leg 34-21 the previous week in St. John’s, N.L.
“The boys have worked very hard the last four weeks. I’m pleased with what they’ve done,” said Jones. “But unfortunately tonight, under pressure with a young team, we’ve come up a long way short.
“Three steps forward last week, two steps back this week. We need to make (sure) we keep our confidence and we don’t make any excuses. We just fix what’s gone wrong tonight.”
The Eagles move on to face No. 17 Uruguay on Oct. 2 and Oct. 9 to determine who slots into Pool A at France 2023 as Americas 1 with No. 2 New Zealand, No. 5 France, No. 14 Italy and Africa 1.
The team that qualifies as Americas 1 has some two years to prepare for France 2023. Earning the right to join them will take Canada more time and effort.
The Canadians now must get past No. 28 Chile to progress to the Americas 2 playoff against the loser of the U.S.-Uruguay series. Canada will host the Chileans on Oct. 2 in Langford, B.C., with the rematch Oct. 9 in Chile.
“They’ll be formidable,” said Jones. “They’ve got a very good set piece. They’ve got an excellent coach (Uruguayan Pablo Lemoine). They’ll be fully committed. We know what they’re like, South American teams, particularly at home. We’ve got a big challenge.
“But if we played Uruguay, that would be a big challenge. Obviously we would have preferred that route. But the U.S.A. won’t have it easy against Uruguay.”
The Americas 2 playoff winner slots into Pool D at the World Cup alongside No. 3 England, No. 6 Argentina, No. 10 Japan and No. 13 Samoa. The Americas 2 playoff loser has one more chance to qualify via a repechage tournament.
Argentina, the powerhouse in the Americas, qualified for France by virtue of its top-12 performance at the 2019 World Cup in Japan. Uruguay won the SAR (Sudamerica Rugby) 3 Nations Tournament with Chile runner-up and Brazil third.
Rebounding from the first-leg loss, the U.S. ran in four first-half tries for a 25-9 lead and a three-point aggregate advantage. Canada paid for mistakes, squandered opportunities and were on the back foot most of the night as their set pieces faltered at a windy Infinity Park Stadium.
The Americans scored 13 more points in the second half. Canada added a penalty try in the dying seconds after laying siege to the U.S. try-line.
American pressure at the set piece, both scrum and lineout, took its toll.
“Under pressure, in these circumstances I think the players would be the first to admit, the execution of our kicking, our passing, our lineout throwing, lifting, it all came undone,” said Jones.
Peter Nelson kicked two penalties for Canada. Cooper Coats added another penalty.
“I think it came down to our individual errors, to be honest” said Canadian captain Lucas Rumball. “It’s really disappointing and frustrating.
“If you look across the team, I bet you every individual dropped the ball or made an error. It’s tough to win games at the international level when you’re doing that.”
Christian Dyer, Ruben de Haas and Joe Taufete’e also scored tries for the U.S. A.J. MacGinty kicked a conversion and penalty. De Haas added a drop goal.
The U.S. win ended a seven-game losing streak.
In St. John’s, the Eagles led 14-10 last week after a first half that saw Canadians Matt Heaton and Conor Keys sent to the sin-bin. Canada reeled off 24 straight points in the second half before U.S. debutante Tavite Lopeti scored a converted try under the posts in the 82nd minute to cut the lead to 34-21.
“We were humbled,” MacGinty, the U.S. fly half and captain, said of the first game.
“The training sessions (this week) were so much better. We were sharper, we were more competitive in everything we did.”
Jones named an unchanged starting lineup, a first for Canada in 153 tests dating back to 2000. The only change was among the replacements where veteran Kyle Baillie replaced Mason Flesch.
Canada’s matchday 23 featured 10 members of the Toronto Arrows, including six in the starting 15.
The U.S. made seven changes.
MacGinty, who plays in England for Sale Sharks, started after coming off the bench last week after arriving late due to travel complications. The U.S. also started an entirely new front row with overseas pros David Ainu’u (Toulouse, France), Kapeli Pifeleti (Saracens, England) and Taufete’e (Lyon, France) moving up from the bench.
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. The Americans have only failed to qualify once, in 1995.
Due to pandemic-related schedule interruptions, both teams had only played twice since the 2019 World Cup with the matches coming in July’s test window.
Canada lost 68-12 to No. 9 Wales and 70-14 to 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.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press