This was Canada’s most important game of the Rugby World Cup. Canada had targeted their match with Italy as a winnable game and they would need to come away with the victory to have a chance at finishing 3rd in the pool and qualifying for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. The importance of this game makes Canada’s 48-7 loss all the more disappointing.
It all started with a box kick. Italy kicked off to Canada, but Gordon McRorie sent a box kick back toward the Italians. Italy would send an attacking kick through and Patrick Parfrey would be forced to take the ball over the line and ground it. Tommaso Allan slotted the penalty Italy earned on the ensuing scrum to jump to a quick 3-0 lead. The start of the match would only get worse for Canada. A plethora of mistakes afforded the Italians many opportunities. An errant Eric Howard lineout throw led to a try from Bram Steyn and Matt Tierney added to Canada’s already high missed tackle count on Dean Budd’s try. Just like that Canada found themselves down 17-0 just 13 minutes into the match. Canada also lost Nick Blevins and Lucas Rumball to injury in the opening 15 minutes to make matters worse.
A big reason for the large deficit early was missed tackles. In particular, Canada seemed to really struggle to bring down Jake Polledri. Canada racked up 15 missed tackles in the opening 15 minutes of the game. Ultimately, Canada would finish the game with 39 missed tackles (many of those thanks to Polledri) and is one of two main reasons why Canada lost this match. The other was handling errors.
Source: Issei Kato/Reuters
Following the opening 15 minutes, Canada started to turn their game around. McRorie abandoned the box kick that dug Canada a hole early and Canada focused on playing some attacking rugby. Peter Nelson and Parfrey did well in the kicking game and gave Canada a big territorial advantage. The backs really came to life and since Canada was holding onto the ball, they had plenty of chances. Ciaran Hearn and Ben LeSage were doing well to get the ball out wide to DTH van der Merwe and Jeff Hassler who looked dangerous at times.
However, Canada just couldn’t hold onto the ball. Of course, there were the knock-ons in the middle of the pitch that are bound to happen. However, there is also Matt Heaton dropping a pass from Ardron after a line break which was a certain try and would have been an easy conversion. Time and time again, Canada squandered their own opportunities with a handling error when a try seemed imminent. Italian captain Dean Budd admitted following the game that Canada left 3 tries off the board. Ultimately, Canada played well between the 15th and 40th minutes but was never able to execute. Italy put some pressure on at the end of the half, but Mike Sheppard forced a turnover and Canada went to the sheds down 17-0, but you could sense they missed their opportunity to climb back into the game.
That feeling certainly carried over into the 2nd half. Sebastian Negri scored a try for Italy just 3 minutes into the half. Canada did not back down though and continued to play attacking rugby. Canada ran a great set-piece play that looked to put Hassler away, but a great tackle from Minozzi brought Hassler down. He tried to offload, but it was knocked-on by van der Merwe. Italy would begin to pull away soon after. They began with a penalty try after Heaton collapsed a maul. That would earn Heaton a yellow card as well. Polledri would force Canada to add to that ever-growing missed tackles total and Italy would take advantage of the extra space allowing Mattia Bellini to score out wide. After Ardron thought he had Canada’s first try (called back due to a LeSage knock-on), Nelson would sneak through the Italian defense and hit Andrew Coe with pace down the touchline. Coe would have a world-class finish and pick up Canada’s first try of the tournament. Italy would add two more tries from Federico Zani and Minozzi to end the game.
In addition to the missed tackles and handling errors, Canada really struggled in the lineout. Howard was penalized for a throw that wasn’t straight to go along with some overthrown balls. Benoit Piffero added to the overthrown total when he was in the game. Italy also stole 1 lineout. Even if Canada maintained possession, it was often untidy. The set piece has been an area of focus for Kingsley Jones and there is still work to be done.
Outside of the horrendous start, Tyler Ardron and DTH van der Merwe both illustrated that they are world class players in this game. Ardron had some really nice carries and nearly picked up a try. Ardron also was able to nearly pick off a handful of Italian passes as well. Wayne Barnes did save him from a yellow card once though. By holding onto the ball more, Canada was able to give van der Merwe more touches and their attack looked more dynamic for it. Hopefully, Canada continues to hold onto the ball more in the future
Ultimately, this loss will be seen as disappointing for symbolic reasons as well. Just 4 years ago, a match with Italy surely felt like a winnable game. At the 2015 RWC, Canada lost to Italy 23-18 in a competitive match that Canada actually led 10-0 at one point. Now 4 years later, and Canada looked like they didn’t belong on the same pitch at times (especially the opening 15 minutes). Unfortunately, this game helps to illustrate the decline of the program. A once winnable game now feels like a tall order. Of course, Canada had plenty of self-inflicted wounds in this game that did not help their cause. The Rugby World Cup only gets harder from here. Up next for Canada is the All Blacks followed by the Springboks. Hopefully, none of the injuries sustained today are serious and Canada is able to put their best foot forward against the All Blacks.