With plenty of spots on Canada’s Rugby World Cup squad up for grabs, many players who have not received a lot of playing time were given a chance to prove themselves in a game with the BC All Stars. Canada turned in a 6 try performance against a BC side that played some tenacious defense and gave the national squad a tough contest. Canada received tries from Andrew Coe, Andrew Quattrin, Justin Blanchet (2), Travis Larsen, and Phil Mack and Shane O’Leary was a perfect 7/7 from his boot as Canada defeated the BC All Stars 45-13.
Canada got off to a roaring start as Andrew Coe capitalized on a play from the set piece. The scrum provided a great attacking platform and the backs worked the ball to Coe on the touchline and he out ran the BC defense for the game’s first try. Andrew Quattrin would soon follow as he picked up a try from the back off a rolling maul and, with O’Leary’s conversions, Canada was up 14-0 just 12 minutes into the game. BC would begin to push back as they began taking advantage of poor Canadian discipline. BC was being very aggressive at the breakdown and their quick pace of play forced Canada into penalty trouble. Initially, BC just gained plenty of territory from the penalties but eventually Canada would take one within Adam McQueen’s range and he slotted the penalty to put BC on the board. McQueen would soon be given another opportunity as Josh Larsen would receive a yellow card for repeat infringements. McQueen would make that one count as well. O’Leary would answer back quickly with a penalty of his own. A nice offload from Brandon Schellenberger put the BC All Stars behind the Canadian defense. They would then work the ball out wide where they would take advantage of the overlap caused by Larsen’s absence on the pitch. Colby Mason would be the one who finished off the try. The half would end with Canada leading by a narrow 17-13 margin.
Canada would dominate the 2nd half. The ball would barely see the Canadian half of the field in the next 40 minutes. Canada would again capitalize on another attacking platform set up by the scrum. Jamie Mackenzie would get the backs involved and they worked it down the line to Theo Sauder. Sauder would be stopped, but Justin Blanchet would clean it up for the first try of the 2nd half. Canada struggled to hang on to the ball for most of the match. In an attacking position, Canada would knock the ball on and BC would have a scrum just 5m from their own try line. Canada would put the scrum under pressure, but BC would escape and played some nice free flowing rugby. With a few offloads, BC quickly found themselves in Canada’s half. Unfortunately, the ref would get in the way of a pass and end the BC attacking threat. That would be the last great chance BC would have. The flood gates would open soon after that. Blanchet would add his 2nd try followed by tries form Travis Larsen and Phil Mack to close out the game.
This was an intriguing game from Canada. The 2nd half was dominate, but there were a few issues with the opening half. To start, Canada found themselves in quite a bit of penalty trouble. BC was being very aggressive at the breakdown and they were able to draw a lot of penalties as a result of this strategy. At first, the penalties just turned into territorial gains for BC, but eventually, Adam McQueen would begin turning those penalties into points. Canada’s penalty trouble was highlighted by the yellow card to Josh Larsen. With Larsen in the bin, BC put up 10 points and were able to fight their way back into the game. The discipline was cleaned up in the 2nd half, but that was largely because BC rarely had the ball. Like any good team, BC found a way to hurt Canada when they got into penalty trouble. At the Rugby World Cup, Canada is going to matched up with the All Blacks and Springboks. If the BC All Stars can make you pay for your lack of discipline, imagine what those teams can do.
Canada will also not be happy about their execution with ball in hand. There were far too many ball handling errors throughout the match. This game ended 45-13 but it probably could have been a lot higher. There were far too many instances where Canada would let BC off the hook with a knock on or errant pass when a try seemed inevitable. BC was also able to come away with a few turnovers at the breakdown. Again, if you are struggling to execute and finish off tries against BC All Stars, the outlook for a match with the All Blacks might now be too great.
With those two negatives out of the way. There were a lot of positives to come out of this match. There were a lot of players that put in strong performances and as a result put their hands up for the Rugby World Cup squad. Of course, the opponent being a provincial all-star team may need to be taken into consideration, however it does not mean that some players did not have great games. I discussed last week how I found Gordon McRorie’s pace too slow. Jamie Mackenzie had a strong match and was able to distribute the ball at a pace that kept the BC defense retreating. Phil Mack was also able to keep this up and even called his own number from a scrum to score a try. Both scrumhalves were also much quicker to get the backs involved in the game which did lead to a number of line breaks and other scoring opportunities. Mackenzie and Mack’s performances should have Kingsley Jones rethinking who wears the number 9 jersey.
Shane O’Leary also had a standout performance. He had a perfect night with his boot making 6 conversions and 1 penalty. He looked great at flyhalf as well and played a pivotal role in much of the Canadian offense. Perhaps his biggest contribution was his kicking for territory. O’Leary made BC pay for every penalty they took. O’Leary’s kicks frequently pinned BC deep in their territory and put Canada into immediate attacking opportunities. Who plays flyhalf for Canada looks like it’s coming down to Peter Nelson and O’Leary (possibly McRorie depending on who Jones picks for scrumhalf) and O’Leary’s performance against BC probably made Jones’ decision a lot more difficult.
Theo Sauder looked very strong at fullback. With his return, the battle for the 15 jersey becomes very interesting. Both Peter Nelson and Patrick Parfrey are also in contention for the starting fullback role. All three of them are playing terrific rugby at the moment as well. Of course, with Nelson and Parfrey’s versatility they could find themselves wearing another jersey as well. Only Kingsley Jones really knows who he is going to select.
Finally, Guiseppe du Toit and Conor Trainor both played well in the centres. Du Toit in particular was excellent on both sides of the ball. The back line as a whole was able to move the ball a lot more effectively than in many of Canada’s previous games. Du Toit and Trainor were both major factors in Canada’s ability to get the ball to their dangerous wingers. Ben LeSage, Ciaran Hearn, have not been overly impressive throughout Canada’s previous games and I wonder if du Toit and Trainor did enough against BC to catch Jones’ eye.
Canada’s final game before the Rugby World Cup will be against the USA Eagles on September 7th.