Apparently the Americans didn’t get the memo, Canada’s supposed to win on Canada Day.
For the first 20 minutes a perfect Canada Day script was being written in the second leg of the Women’s Rugby Super Series at Titans Park, but then the American roared back from two scores down to win 36-28 in front of 1,425 maple leaf waving fans.
“It was a tough one, not the result we wanted,” said Team Canada captain Laura Russell. “To lose any game is tough, but to day was a bit special, We’re just looking to regroup and focus on Sunday.”
Andrea Burk had one try and two converts for Team Canada while Latoya Blackwood, Lisa Gauthier and Julianne Zussman added one try each. Alex Tessier added two converts and Zussman one.
Jessica Wooden had two tries for the Americans while Jane Paar, Joanna Kitlinski and Lauren Rhode had one each. Kimber Rozier had one penalty kick and was good on four of five converts.
“Canada are a great rival and also a great friend, we’re kind of like the neighbours that get to play, but with that rivalry it’s always great to win. But what we’re most proud of is our performance,” said U.S.A. head coach Pete Steinberg. “We have such a young team … and to see them grow over the last week is really, really great.”
Canada came out strong, feeding off the raucous crowd and Blackwood scored in the first minute of the game on the opening possession, finishing off a nice passing play.
The U.S. answered back five minutes later with Rozier’s penalty kick from just outside the 22-metre mark to make it 7-3.
Canada marched the ball back down the field on their next possession with Gauthier finishing off the drive and the converted try to go up 14-3, 10 minutes into the contest. Again the Americans answered right back with Paar scoring an unconverted try to close the gap to 14-8.
At the 20-minute mark Burk broke free from mid-field and scored, finishing off the run with a stiff arm to an American defender, to make the score 21-8.
Canada was in complete control and scoring at will.
The problem was, they couldn’t stop their arch rivals, who scored twice more to go up 22-21 at the half.
The final 45 minutes were much more controlled.
Canada appeared to open the scoring 20-minutes into the half with what would have been Gauthier’s second try, but she was called for a knock on, negating the score and giving the ball to the U.S.
Wooden broke free with the ball, chipping it ahead and collecting it on the fly to go the length of the field to put U.S.A. up 29-21, and they never looked back. Wooden scored once more in the 75th minute to seal the game and Zussman scored once more for Canada in the 87th minute.
“For us to show that character and to come back when Canada was up says a lot, we’re really excited about this group,” said Steinberg. “We knew we had to change, we had a good core group that went to the 2014 World Cup but we really needed a different level of athleticism and that’s what we went out and got.”
Wooden was one of those new players who made the jump up from their development program.
This series is a rare opportunity for Canada to play the top teams in the world at home and they appeared to take advantage of that partisan crowd early on Wednesday.
“It was absolutely amazing to hear them cheering you,” said Russell. “It gives you a little extra oomph, it makes a difference and it definitely makes you feel at home. We don’t very often get to play at home, so it makes it feel so special to us.”
Canada was their own worst enemy in the game. They struggled to wrap up in their tackling and their passing was off for most of the game, not by much but enough to slow drives and allow their opposition to swarm.
However, this was just their second game since falling to England in the final of the World Cup on Aug. 17, 2014. They lost their first game as well, 40-22 on Sunday to New Zealand.
“The momentum switched for us when we were missing our tackles, tackling is 50 per cent of the game in the skills,” said Canadian head coach Francois Ratier. “We have tried to work on it the last two days, but tackling technique is not something you can fix in two days.”
The Canadians now face England on Sunday in Edmonton to wrap up the Super Series while U.S.A. takes on the New Zealand Black Ferns. New Zealand beat England 26-7 in the early game at Titans Park in Red Deer on Wednesday.
Ultimately, this series is to lay the foundation for Canada’s next World Cup push in Ireland in 2017.
“This is to give some new players a chance to play for Canada and to make sure if we call them back in one or two years that they know what we’re talking about,” said Ratier. “They can go back home with some homework to do in their passing, tackling and contact.”