I was fortunate enough to be asked by Rugby Canada to write the match recap of Canada vs Leinster for their website. You can check out that article here. In an effort to not repeat myself too much, I will skip the recap of the match and just jump into some more analytical thoughts.
Canada got off to a slow start in this match. Leister was able to control the play right from the opening kickoff and took advantage of a plethora of Canadian penalties. Leinster went up 19-0 after 23 minutes thanks to two Max Deegan tries and one from Bryan Byrne. Leinster looked to be doing everything right as they had the upper hand in territory, possession, were dominant at the set piece, and looked to be in complete control of the match. However, things began to change after the 30th minute. “We started to give away a couple of silly penalties then we gave away the yellow card,” said Leinster head coach Leo Cullen following the match. That yellow card was given to hooker Bryan Byrne. This led to a very interesting sequence that began to turn the momentum of the game in Canada’s favour.
The yellow card was handed out in the 37th minute. Canada was able to exploit the extra space on the pitch and create a great attacking opportunity. Taylor Paris made a great tip pass to DTH van der Merwe but, Leinster would be strong in defence and tackle van der Merwe into touch. However, after B. Byrne was sent off, Leinster did not replace him with another hooker on the pitch. As a result, Deegan (the blindside flanker) was tasked with delivering the ball in the lineout. Deegan overthrows the lineout and Lucas Rumball pounces on the ball. Rumball coming away with a key turnover in the lineout would lead to Evan Olmstead’s try right at halftime. Canada would keep that momentum rolling into the 2nd half. Tyler Ardron would pick up a try on an 8man pick from the back of the scrum and Canada’s game would dramatically improve in the 2nd half.
One of the noticeable improvements the team made in the 2nd half was at the lineout. “We lost 3 lineouts at the beginning of the game and our scrum on their ball was under pressure. There is no getting away from that,” said head coach Kingsley Jones. Those 3 lost lineouts also took away Canadian attacking opportunities as one of them was deep in Leinster territory. However, Jones added “the pleasing thing is we adapted to what Leinster brought.” On the 3 lost lineouts, Eric Howard targeted a jumper that was near the back of the lineout. Once, that was not connecting the Canadian pack adjusted. Howard began looking for the first jumper and Rumball became the primary target. This adjustment allowed Canada to frequently retain the ball on their lineout.
Unfortunately, they did lose one more for a total of 4 lost lineouts on the day (Leinster lost 2 lineouts). However, after watching the game against Fiji and seeing Canada try the same play over and over again, it was nice to see an obvious strategic adjustment that allowed them to be more successful against a strong Leinster pack. That being said, the lineout was much more effective when the got the ball out quickly instead of setting up the maul.
The scrum, however, struggled against Leinster form most of the game and was one of two areas of the game that captain Tyler Ardron said needs to be improved if Canada is to pick up some victories before heading to Japan. “I think the attack is going to have to improve a little. Our d was full of commitment but, if we can just improve that attack, keep the ball a few more phases so we don’t have to make so many tackles. Then we need to fix that scrum up.” Ardron said in his post match comments. Ardron felt that the scrum gave up too many penalties which led to many of the points Leister put on the board.
One way that the attack could improve is with the pace they play with. Gordon McRorie played all 80 minutes of the match at scrumhalf. McRorie was quite slow to play the ball out of the ruck throughout the game. Leinster frequently was able to reset their defensive line and be in a good position for when McRorie finally played the ball. To me, McRorie’s slow pace with the ball was highlighted by 2 plays. First, with Canada attacking just inside the Leinster 22, McRorie takes a long time at a ruck. Van der Merwe comes all the way in from the wing and picks up the ball for a pick-and-go before McRorie even bends down to pick up the ball. Shortly after, van der Merwe will try another pick and go before McRorie can get to the ruck. He knocks the ball on and can be seen shaking his head after. That could be because of the knock-on or McRorie, or it could be me reading into things way too much.
The 2nd instance though was much more costly to Canada. With Canada up 35-31 and the clock ticking down, the Canadians were in possession of the ball and all they need to do is maintain that possession to come away with the win. However, McRorie arrives to a ruck and just stands over the ball. After a few moments, Josh Murphy decides he’s had enough of this and blasts Olmstead into McRorie. 3 other Leinster players then overpowered Baillie and create a turnover on the counter ruck. Leinster would never give Canada the ball back and this play would lead to Hugo Keenan’s game winning try.
Now, there was some controversy surrounding Keenan’s last second game winning try. With the clock already at 80, the Leinster forwards begin wearing down the Canadian defense on the try line. Scrumhalf Patrick Patterson passes to Harry Byrne, who slings it to Keenan. Keenan is met by van der Merwe and Theo Sauder. Keenan is tackled just short of the line, but pops back up and dives across the line for what appears to be a try. However, referee Moe Chaudhry appears to not award the try then blow the full-time whistle. He then goes to review the play.
After review, Chaudhry determines that Keenan was not held in the tackle and free to pop back up to score the try. The try was awarded, H. Byrne kicked the conversion and the final whistle was blown again. Jones even joked about the situation after the game saying “we just need to keep building on the momentum and hopefully it will reflect on the scoreboard, which it almost did today. But on the final whistle it actually did. We were winning weren’t we on the final whistle?” Should Chaudhry have blown the final whistle before the review? No. Did Hugo Keenan score a try? Absolutely. Keenan is clearly not held by either van der Merwe or Sauder. Neither Canadian is in contact with him at all and therefore, he is free to bounce back up and dive across the line. It’s a try in any competition on the planet. Ultimately, in the end Chaudhry got this call right and the end result was a 38-35 win for Leinster. If the review doesn’t happen, we would be sitting here talking about how Canada should have lost the game, but the ref made a mistake.
A theme of the post match interviews was that there were plenty of positives to take from this game. Canada showed a lot of heart in coming back from the early deficit. The backs looked a lot more dangerous with ball in hand, particularly on Patrick Parfrey’s 2nd try where van Der Merwe and Nick Blevins worked a give-and-go around the Leinster defense. As Ardron mentioned, the defense looked solid. Canada rebounded nicely from the combined 0/4 conversion kicks against Tonga. You couldn’t ask for more from Peter Nelson who was 5/5 with his boot today. Tyler Ardron had a fantastic game. He was great in defense and score the opening try of the 2nd half. He nearly had a few more tries as well. Ardron is great at reading an offense and came away with a few interceptions and nearly had a few more. DTH van der Merwe had his best game in a Canadian kit in 2019. He made a number of big plays with ball in hand and was finding space in the Leinster defence. Lucas Rumball had a fantastic game as well. He earned a steal from a ruck and came away with the lineout ball that led to Evan Olmstead’s try. He has a great work rate and always seems find his way to the breakdown.
The man of the match was Patrick Parfrey. Parfrey followed up his amazing 20min against Tonga with another amazing performance. Parfrey picked up 2 tries, both as a result of well-timed attacking runs. His play all over the pitch on offense and defense was great. Fullback was one of the highly contested spots on the Canadian squad. However, Parfrey has really stepped up and appears to have taken ownership of the 15 jersey. With Parfrey playing so well at fullback, Nelson may end up as the flyhalf at the Rugby World Cup pushing Shane O’Leary to the bench.
Canada’s next match will be against the BC All-Stars on August 30th, 2019.