CHARLESTON, S.C. – The Men’s Eagles fell to Canada 9-27 in front of 5,258 fans at Charleston’s Blackbaud Stadium Saturday. The Eagles will need a big win in the second leg in Toronto next weekend if they are to ensure qualification for the 2015 Rugby World Cup England.
The perfect start came from Canada in the first minute of the match, as Phil Mack chased his own chip kick into the try zone and dove on it to give the visitors the lead. Though the play was seen a second time by the referee, he awarded the try and James Pritchard converted from the touchline.
Down by seven with another 78 minutes on the clock, the Eagles started to get to work. A few minutes of possession resulted in a Canadian penalty, and Chris Wyles had an opportunity to put the Eagles on the board. From 45 meters, however, Wyles’ kick was just short, keeping the score at 0-7.
The Eagles committed a penalty in the 14th minute and paid for it as Pritchard successfully kicked the penalty goal to extend the Maple Leafs’ lead to 0-10.
After 18 minutes, the Eagles had committed four penalties to Canada’s two, indicative of the way the game was going for the home side. Taku Ngwenya chased his own clearance kick in the 22nd minute and was able to put pressure on the Canadian backs, but the return clearance kick bounced awkwardly for Toby L’Estrange. L’Estrange was tackled with no support around him and turned over possession, but Scott LaValla pushed an attacker into touch to get a lineout.
The Eagles were awarded another penalty in the 22nd minute after a Canadian’s high tackle on Blaine Scully. Wyles hit one of the uprights from 25 yards, prolonging the Eagles’ scoring drought in the match.
Mack seemed to score his second try of the match in the 25th minute, but the referee called the play back for obstruction.
Wyles caught a Canadian clearance kick in the 30th minute and made a nice 20-meter run past a few defenders, but should have offloaded it to the wing before he was tackled. The Eagles committed a knock a phase later.
Pritchard kicked his second penalty goal of the match in the 37th minute, sending the teams into halftime with the Eagles down 0-13.
It took three minutes into the second half for Wyles open the Eagles’ scoring account with a 25-meter penalty goal. Canada responded minutes later with a try from Harry Jones. A run from Mack put the Maple Leafs on the try line and Jones finished the sequence with a strong run across the line. Pritchard converted for a 20-3 Canada lead.
Wyles converted his second penalty kick in the 60th minute and Canada again responded with a try. Ciaran Hearn received a nifty switch pass 15 meters out and was not held after being knocked to the ground. DTH van der Merwe got the ball and walked between two defenders into the try zone for five points, with Pritchard adding the extra two for a 27-6 lead.
Folau Niua looked like he was starring in the IRB HSBC Sevens World Series after he entered the match, dummying past the Canadian defenders and running half of the length of the field before passing off to Titi Lamositele. Lamositele earned his first cap with his substitution and became the youngest Eagle to enter a test. The Eagles were awarded a penalty after a few more phases and elected to go for points.
While the game might have been out of their hands with four minutes remaining, they had a second leg to look forward to in Toronto. Wyles converted the penalty goal and the Eagles were humbled 9-27 in front of a sell-out crowd at Blackbaud Stadium.
“You let them score 25 seconds into the game, you’re starting off on the wrong foot,” Eagles Head Coach Mike Tolkin said. “We didn’t get our attack going, we were playing in the wrong end of the field, we didn’t get our momentum going early enough – so we wound up playing catch-up ball.”
“Obviously we feel pretty dejected,” Wyles said. “Canada were more clinical in the important areas and fed off of our mistakes. They do that often, so fair play to Canada.
“We’ve got to take a good, hard look at ourselves. We’ve got to dig real deep and pull together. We’re all pretty proud characters and we’re going to be putting in everything we have into this next game. That’s for sure.”
The Eagles will travel to Toronto for the second leg of the Rugby World Cup Qualifier against Canada and will need to win by at least 19 points to gain the Americas 1 position in 2015. Watch the Eagles from BMO Field on Universal Sports Saturday, August 24, at 4:00 P.M. ET.