From the start of the the 2011 Rugby World Cup, Canada’s only realistic goal was a third-place finish. After a 23-23 tie with Japan on Monday that goal is now within reach.
The Eh Blacks, as Canada’s (1-1-1) come to be known on home soil, plays the New Zealand All Blacks (3-0) on Saturday (Oct. 1). The game will be aired locally at 7:30 p.m. on TSN.
With the draw against Japan, Canada earned two points and have six overall, one ahead of Tonga. The top two teams from each pool move on to the playoff rounds, which in Canada’s pool will almost certainly be New Zealand and France.
The gift bag for finishing third, however, is something Canada would love to bring home.
Up for grabs is automatic qualification to the 2015 RWC in England, saving Rugby Canada several hundred thousand in costs for qualifying games. It also gains Rugby Canada access to the International Rugby Board wallet, to the tune of increased funding by several million dollars. Lastly, Canada can expect big-name visitors next June as part of the IRB Test window – meaning top ten nations will do outbound tours in June to North America and accept in-bound tours from Canada in November. Recently Canada hasn’t been on that schedule - instead playing Tier II nations such as Belgium, Spain and Portugal.
However, Canada can still slip to fourth. Tonga plays France today (Sept. 30) and it’s possible Tonga can earn two bonus points and push past Canada if the latter comes up empty against the All Blacks.
Against Japan on Monday the Canadians had all the chances they needed to win but had troubles executing.
Coach Kieran Crowley pointed to handling errors, while the injury to goal-kicking fullback James Pritchard didn’t help either. Kicking in place of Pritchard, fly half Ander Monro, who is usually lights out when kicking for the Castaway-Wanders in the B.C. Premier league, hit the post on a much-needed penalty in the first half.
“The guys are pretty glum right now” captain Pat Riordan said on Rugby Canada’s website. “Both teams felt like they could have won it, so there's obvious disappointment.”
Riordan was visibly disappointed when he was subbed in the 60th minute for fellow UVic Vikes hooker Ryan Hamilton. But Riordan was one of four subs made in the forward pack that gave the Canadians energy. Despite being winning a lot of rucks the forwards were responsible for most of the missed chances and penalties which kept Canada from taking the lead.
Down 17-7 at the half, coach Kiearn Crowley renewed Canada’s energy from the little-used bench. Jeremy Kyne replaced Chauncey O’Toole at No. 7 in the 64th minute, Scott Franklin replaced Jason Marshall at No. 3 (67), Oak Bay High graduate Sean White replaced St. Michaels’ University School grad Ed Fairhurst at scrum half (71) and Tyler Hotson replaced Jamie Cudmore (73) in at No. 5.
Fullback James Pritchard tried to return from a concussion suffered in the first half but was permanently replaced by Connor Trainor to start the second half.
With the subs Canada controlled the momentum and Japan’s defence did little to stop them, surrendering a penalty at the 22 yard line with 17 minutes left. Monro elected to kick over a scrum, a decision some feel could have resulted in a try for Canada, given their new-found energy and execution.
Regardless, Monro played the percentages and made a safe choice, kicking the goal for a 23-23 tie, and third spot in Pool A.