Source: GERARD JULIEN / AFP
Canada got off to a solid start at the Rugby World Cup Repechage Tournament. The Canadians were led by none other than DTH van der Merwe who picked up his first hat trick on route to a 65-19 victory. On the tables, it is the perfect start for Canada. They pick up the win, the bonus point, and created a large buffer in the points for and against column (World Rugby uses point differential as a tiebreaker so it's always good to run up the score if you can).
DTH van der Merwe’s deadly finishing touch was on display throughout the game. He had the opening try and the final try. Van der Merwe is one of the best at knowing precisely when to attack and where to run that perfect line. The Kenyan defense struggled to stop van der Merwe attacking off of rucks within 10m of the try line. Even if they had bodies in position, van der Merwe would find the perfect attacking angle to break through the defensive line. I said in my preview that van der Merwe is the best player in the tournament and it’s great that he showed it in the opening game.
Theo Sauder of the Toronto Arrows was another stand out in the opening game. The fullback scored 2 tries himself while playing a key role in many other tries. His play of the game came early on when Canada was down to 14 men following a Matt Heaton sin-binning, with referee Wayne Barnes playing advantage, Sauder sent a grubber kick into a wide open space. Ultimately leading to van der Merwe’s opening try of the game. The Arrows were well represented in this game. Mike Sheppard picked up his first international try in his debut match, and Lucas Rumball was also very effective after entering the game in the 2nd half.
However, despite what the scoreline might suggest there are a lot of improvements to be made. Somehow, in a 65-19 win, Canada trailed in possession for the majority of the game. At the end of the opening half, Kenya led in both ball possession and territory. Despite trailing 27-12. After 80 minutes, Kenya still had 53% territory, but Canada ended up with 52% possession. The difference in this game really seemed to come down to execution, Kenya had 19 turnovers in the game (nearly doubling Canada who had 10).
Canada possesses one of the game’s deadliest finishers in van der Merwe. Give him a chance to score and he won’t miss. Kenya missed a lot. Two plays really stick out in this regard; off a midfield scrum, Kenya ran a perfect set play. The backs opened up space for each other and Collins Injera sent a dynamite pass to Samuel Oliech and he was off to the races. Oliech had no one in front of him, just the try line, but then he in inexplicably threw the ball out of bounds. The second play was when George Nyambua made a break and was heading toward the try line. The Canadian defense brings him down and Nyambua’s shoulders land centimeters away from the try line. Yet, Nyambua doesn’t reach out. A ruck just forms on the goal line. It’s almost as if Nyambua didn’t know where he was on the field. These 2 tries could have been big momentum changers for Kenya. Keeping the game close might have allowed for their athleticism to create a few more chances to overtake the lead. Possession numbers are a big stat. You can't score if you don't have the ball, so Canada finding it difficult to win the possession battle with Kenya is concerning.
The other big issue that came up was the maul. Kenya dominated this element of the game. Canada received two penalties for joining the maul incorrectly. The first time they did this, the Kenyans kicked for a touch and then obliterated the Canadian pack with a driving maul off the line out for their first try. The second time Canada stole the lineout and were fortunate to avoid the maul. Late in the game, Canada had a solid driving maul from a line out. Barkwill calmly stayed behind the pack as they began pushing the Kenyans back. After 10 maybe 15 meters, Kenya just stole the ball and their backs immediately went on the attack. Canada did pick up a try from a maul, but that required van der Merwe to swoop into the front of the maul (still don't know how he managed that) to ensure possession was maintained.
Ultimately, this was a solid opening game for Canada. That doesn't mean there aren't things to work on. Poor possession and territory numbers will hurt them if better teams are able to finish off tries, and the pack must be stronger.
Up next for Canada is Germany. The newly christened “Black Eagles” defeated Hong Kong 26-9 on opening weekend. Germany is now undefeated in the Black Eagles era. This was a tight game that went without a try for the first 65 minutes. Hooker Kurt Haupt picked up the game’s first try in the 66th minute, Haupt had a powerful run from the 22 crashing through the Hong Kong defense to find himself in open space and score the try. The Germans would add another late try to seal the victory. It was an impressive victory as the second half was completely dominated by Germany. This upcoming game is now a big opportunity for Canada and Germany as the winner will become the only 2-0 team at the tournament.