Veteran forward Laura Russell, shown in this undated handout photo, and the third-ranked Canadian women's rugby team return to action for the first time in almost two years when they take on the sixth-ranked U.S., in Glendale, Colo., on Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO — Rugby Canada

Canadian women hang on to defeat U.S. in first rugby test match in almost two years

Canadian women hang on to defeat U.S. in first rugby test match in almost two years

GLENDALE, COLORADO — Canada marked its return to international women’s test rugby with a hard-fought 15-9 victory over the U.S. on Monday.

It was the first test for the third-ranked Canadians and sixth-ranked Americans since they met Nov. 20 and 24, 2019, at the Can-Am Series in Chula Vista, Calif. Canada won both games, 19-0 and 52-27.

Both teams showed signs of rust with early mistakes Monday. The Canadians grew into the game as it continued but had to fight off a late U.S. charge to secure the win.

Trailing 15-9 in the final 10 minutes, the U.S. got good field position after Canadian fly half Alex Tessier was judged to have kicked the ball directly into touch from outside of her 22-metre line. The Americans attacked from the ensuing lineout and got the ball over the try-line but the Canadians managed to prevent it being grounded.

The U.S. attacked again from the goal-line dropout that followed, but the move ended with an errant pass.

Renee Gonzalez and Karen Paquin scored tries for Canada, which led 12-3 at the half. Sophie De Goede booted a conversion and penalty.

Megan Foster kicked three penalties for the Americans.

“I think we started strong (and) we finished strong,” said Canadian captain Olivia Demerchant. “And the subs came on and they really lit up the field and held their own. So it’s really great to see the depth of our team.”

The Canadian women play the U.S. again Friday at the same venue before heading to Britain to face No. 1 England at Twickenham Stoop in London on Nov. 14 and No. 11 Wales on Nov. 21 at Cardiff Arms Park.

The Canada-U.S. matches are part of the Pacific Four Series, a new women’s competition that will launch in full next year with four teams competing.

It was three degrees Celsius for the 8 p.m. ET kickoff Monday at Infinity Park in suburban Denver with Canadian flanker Janna Slevinsky an early injury casualty, helped off in the fourth minute and replaced by de Goede, who made an impact after coming in.

Canada survived an early U.S. onslaught and made it within five metres of the U.S. try-line, only to see the attack end in a handling error.

Canada went ahead on an attack starting with a quick-tap penalty deep in its own end that eventually saw the ball go through quite a few hands. Fullback Emily Belchos de Goede sliced through the U.S. defence, feeding Gonzalez with a long low pass that the winger somehow managed to catch at boot-level. Gonzalez then beat a defender for a 5-0 lead, scoring in her senior 15s debut.

A Foster penalty kick in the 22nd cut the lead to 5-3.

Canada laid siege to the U.S. try-line with the Americans holding off numerous Canadian pick-and-go attempts. Scrum half Brianna Miller finally sent the ball wide and Paquin, with a nice show-and-go, crossed in the 35th minute for a converted try and a 12-3 lead.

The U.S. survived a Canadian attack near the goal-line as the half ended.

Foster penalty kicks in the 43rd and 57th minute cut the Canadian lead to 12-9 and prompted referee Julianne Zussman, a former Canadian international player, to warn Canada for repeated infringements. De Goede answered with a penalty of her own in the 60th minute to extend the lead to 15-9.

“I think we showed about maybe 70 per cent of what we’ve been working on,” said U.S. skipper Kate Zackary. “So lots of room for improvement. A few too many penalties that we’ll clean up.”

Canada coach Sandro Fiorino held East and West camps this July, allowing he and his staff to see some 80 players. That was reduced to 50 for a camp in August in Nova Scotia.

Some of the Canadian women headed overseas during the pandemic to play club rugby in England and France.

The women face a compressed schedule as they prepare for the 2021 World Cup in New Zealand, which has been pushed back to next October because of COVID.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2021

The Canadian Press

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