Phil Mack scored a try in the opening minute as Canada went on to win the first of a two-game Rugby World Cup qualifying series with the U.S.A. by a score of 27-9 in Charleston, South Carolina on Saturday.
It gives the Canadians an 18-point lead in the aggregate scoring of the qualifier series going into the next game, Saturday (Aug. 24) at BMO Field in Toronto.
A win, or loss by less than 18 points, on Saturday will clinch a spot for Canada at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.
“The team is happy to have the 18-point advantage on home soil and we are preparing as if it is another game. Just looking for another win,” Mack said.
Mack’s opening tally came when he made a chip-kick behind the U.S.A. defence and rushed onto it at the try line to put Canada up 5-0 off the hop.
While his teammates congratulated him, Mack wore a serious look as he hurried back to midfield.
“I think it was a bit early in the game to celebrate. We try and have the mindset of ‘the next job,’ (whether or not it was) a good or bad play. Looking back on it now, it’s a play that I will always remember, but if you really examine the play there were a lot of players that contributed to it as well.”
Mack, an Oak Bay High graduate and Canadian international rugby sevens specialist, started the game at scrum half and was instrumental throughout, earning the coveted pro-wrestling belt as Canada’s Man of the Match.
“There were a lot of mistakes tonight for both teams,” said Canadian head coach Kieran Crowley. “Even though we scored three tries we’ve got to get our patterns going. We’ve got to have better ball security. Our defence was good but, we let them get too many easy yards and, at the end of the game we were happy playing defense which isn’t what we want.”
Also scoring tries for Canada were dangerous winger DTH van der Merwe, a former teammate of Mack’s on the James Bay Athletic Association who now plays pro for the Glasgow Warriors, and Capilano’s Harry Jones, who started at fly half.
Fullback James Pritchard kicked 12 points for Canada. The opponents were held from scoring a try as all nine of U.S.A.’s points came on penalty kicks by Chris Wyles.
Getting his chance with the XVs has been a long time coming for Mack. A broken jaw, among other injuries, and Rugby Canada’s decision to use Mack as a sevens specialist led him away from the 2011 Rugby World Cup. But the 27-year-old has had his sights set on both the RWC and Olympics since the it was first announced the sevens code would be returning to the Olympics for 2016.
“Both the RWC and Olympics are a long term goal, but as far as planning goes my main objective is to maintain a high work ethic to ensure I stay at the level required. There are a lot of really talented players in Canada right now so nothing is a given,” Mack said.
“I would say the biggest challenges would be finding the right balance between sevens and 15s and being able to switch mindsets from one code to the other. And of course staying healthy always helps.”
Being able to train and improve at Rugby Canada’s Centre of Excellence in Langford has been a huge help, he added.
It’s been a busy season for Mack, who was part of Canada’s strong debut in the Pacific Nations Cup 15s tournament this spring and was instrumental as Canada rebounded from an opening loss to win five straight and the Plate trophy at the Rugby Sevens World Cup in Moscow, June 28 to 30.
Fellow Oak Bay product and James Bay player Sean White is also part of the Canadian squad and may take over the scrum half duties in Toronto this weekend.
The squad features a long list of players who’ve played locally, including former UVic Vikes forwards Andrew Tiedemann, Ryan Hamilton and John Moonlight, and former James Bay player Aaron Carpenter, the current captain, as well as Castaway Wanderer Ciaran Hearn at centre.
Saturday’s game in Toronto will be aired live on TSN2 at 1 p.m. and replayed at 8 p.m.
Canada’s starting lineup vs. USA on Aug. 17:
1- Andrew Tiedemann, (Castaway Wanderers/Prairie Wolf Pack) St. Albert, AB2- Ryan Hamilton, (Capilano RFC/BC Bears) Vancouver, BC3- Jason Marshall, (Atlantique Stade Rochelais/BC Bears) Vancouver, BC4- Jebb Sinclair, (London Irish) Fredericton, NB5- Jamie Cudmore, (ASM Clermont Auvergne) Squamish, BC6- Tyler Ardron, (Ospreys/Ontario Blues) Lakefield, ON7- John Moonlight, (James Bay AA/Ontario Blues) Pickering, ON8- Aaron Carpenter, Captain, (Cornish Pirates) Brantford, ON9- Phil Mack, (Uvic Vikes/BC Bears) Victoria 10- Harry Jones, (Capilano RFC/BC Bears) West Vancouver, BC11- DTH Van Der Merwe, (Glasgow Warriors) Regina, SK12- Nick Blevins, (Calgary Hornets/Prairie Wolf Pack) Calgary, AB13- Ciaran Hearn, (Castaway Wanderers/Atlantic Rock) Conception Bay, NL14- Matt Evans, (Cornish Pirates) Maple Bay, BC15- James Pritchard, (Bedford Blues) Parkes, NSW, Australia
Reserves:16- Ray Barkwill, (Niagara Wasps RFC/Ontario Blues) Niagara Falls, ON17- Tom Dolezel, (London St. George’s/Ontario Blues) London, ON18- Doug Wooldridge, (Lindsay RFC/Ontario Blues) Lindsay, ON19- Tyler Hotson, (London Scottish) Vancouver, BC20- Nanyak Dala, (Castaway Wanderers RFC/Prairie Wolf Pack) Saskatoon, SK21- Sean White, (James Bay AA/BC Bears) Victoria, BC22- Nathan Hirayama, (UVIC Vikes/BC Bears) Richmond, BC23- Phil Mackenzie, (Sale Sharks) Oakville, ON