It was heartbreak for Canada in their second pool game at the 2015 Rugby World Cup as they lost out to Italy, going down 23-18 at Elland Road.
Saturday’s performance was a substantial improvement from last week as Canada thrilled the crowd in Leeds with an exciting brand of rugby that unfortunately did not get the reward it deserved, with tries from Man of the Match winner DTH van der Merwe and Matt Evans not enough to prevail over a nuggety Italy.
“We’re pretty disappointed to be honest,” Canada head coach Kieran Crowley said. “I thought out guys gave it everything they could. They played with some real emotion, some real energy but in the end it wasn’t quite good enough.”
Italy’s try-scorers were Michele Rizzo and Gonzalo Garcia but the boot of Tommaso Allan secured them victory. They were mighty relieved with it.
On top for large periods and despite going in at the break 10-13 down, Canada were very much in an end-to-end pool game played in good spirit.
“It’s pretty emotional after a game like that,” captain Tyler Ardron said. “We need the emotion. I don’t think anyone can play at this level without the emotion for 80 minutes. We’re going to have to use this to move forward.”
Boosted by the return of Ardron and with Nathan Hirayama once again directing matters with class at number ten, Canada took the lead on thirteen minutes when Italy came offside. Richmond, BC’s Hirayama did the rest from the kicking tee as Kieran Crowley’s side went ahead.
That penalty was swiftly followed by an electric try from the Canadians and in-form left wing Van der Merwe, whose breakout down the touchline led to an interchange with outside centre Ciaran Hearn. The former Glasgow and now Scarlets finisher hurdled the last man en route to the try-line and with Hirayama’s conversion, suddenly Canada were 10-0 to the good and looking supremely confident in front of vocal fans wearing red.
“It was maybe one of the most special ones, doing it here on the world stage,” van der Merwe said. “I listen to the World in Union song before each game and it brings a tear to my eye.”
Unfortunately the Italians would respond and quickly. After a bust through the middle it was loosehead prop Rizzo who finished off the try as the Azzurri got back to within three. At this point Canada had lost inside centre Connor Braid to an injury, being replaced by Conor Trainor.
The game was very much in the balance as Canada were combative in defence and also in the set-piece, with a loud cheer going up when the pack won a scrum penalty against an all English Premiership front-row of Italy. It was yet another sign that Canada were confident of victory.
Unfortunately side entry from Canada resulted in fly-half Allan slotting a penalty goal just before the half-time break as Italy went in ahead.
Still the Canadians played with real confidence and retook the lead on 45 minutes when full-back Evans split the Italian defence to make it a 15-13 buffer. The 33,120 supporters in Elland Road at this point were craving an upset win and credit to Canada who failed to show any nerves.
Playing against the likes of former Leicester stalwart Martin Castrogiovanni and experienced internationals such as Mauro Bergmasco coming off the bench, Canada were sticking to their task and might have gone further in front but for wing Phil Mackenzie having a try disallowed for an earlier forward pass. Had that score been awarded, it would have taken something special for the Italians to recover being at least 20-13 down.
As it was though the Azzurri were within touching distance and scored on 58 minutes through centre Garcia, with Allan adding the two points for 15-20.
Still Canada kept fighting though as replacement scrum-half Phil Mack tried his best to unlock the defence in a sustained period of pressure in Italy’s 22. Eventually Hirayama and Canada settled for three points off the tee and so began a final eight minutes with the result up for grabs.
“We were tempted to run it [instead of kick the penalty],” Crowley said. “But we looked at the clock and saw there was about 10 minutes to go so we thought we would take the three there and then you’re still within a penalty with 10 minutes to go. We decided to go for the posts and we certainly believe that was the right call at the time.”
Try as they might Canada could not find the match-winning score and it was Italy who made sure of the win with an Allan penalty sealing victory.
“We put in a hell of an effort and the boys are sore,” van der Merwe said, “We came close, the game was there for the taking but we made some key decisions that resulted in us not winning, making poor passes and not taking extra rucks.”
Canada must now regroup before travelling to Leicester on Sunday ahead of facing France in Milton Keynes next Thursday. They will round out the pool against Romania in Leicester on the following Tuesday and will no doubt be boosted by this fine performance against the Six Nations outfit.
Thursday’s game can be seen LIVE on TSN. Kickoff is 3pm ET / 12pm PT.
(Rugby Canada Release)