St. John’s, NL – Saturday’s Rugby World Cup Qualifying match between Canada and the USA had been billed as the $1 million game, but in fact it was worth far more than that.
All those lucky enough to be at the Swilers’ Rugby Complex in St. John’s were treated to a multitude of memories that will remain with them for years. Memories made up of many little things, but which all wrapped together, made for a very special Canadian rugby day.
In true Canadian fashion, Aaron Carpenter, one of the Canadian players who didn’t dress for the game, did all he could to help his team earn a victory. When he arrived at the ground about an hour before kick-off, he strode out onto the field and embedded a Canadian loonie at centre field.
If he couldn’t play then he was making his own contribution to help his teammates in any way he could. This Canada squad does these kinds of things for one another, things that bond them and in the process is making them a stronger team.
The build up to the match continued with the arrival of the William Webb Ellis trophy, carried down the staircase to field level by two members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in full regalia. Fans then lined up to have their pictures taken with the Rugby World Cup trophy and the Mounties.
As game time approached, the Newfoundland Tattoo drum corps, dressed in wonderful vintage 1750s British military uniforms complete with black busbies, red swallow tailed coats and buttoned up leggings, marched round the field followed by the Rugby Canada Senior League champion Rock team carrying the MacTier Cup, won last week on the same ground. Then the Rock lads lined up at the bottom of the staircase where the teams would enter the field.
Spotting former Canadian captain and most capped Canada player, Al Charron, in the crowd they shouted at him until he reluctantly ran down the stairs and through the corridor of players, joined them as part of the pathway through which the Canadian team would run.
While they waited for the teams, a folk band kept the audience singing good foot-stomping East Coast songs and shanties.
With everyone at the height of expectancy, the two teams appeared at the top of the stairs. The US team ran on first to muted applause. Then the announcer told the raucous crowd that Canada would be led out by their own much-beloved Rod Snow. The roar went up and didn’t stop until the teams lined up for the anthems, which began with the ‘Ode to Newfoundland’ and ran through ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ to ‘O Canada’.
How good was the game? Canada looked like a team on fire: more energetic, fitter and with much more jump than the Americans. They ran adventurously and there was a constant link and inter-passing between backs and forwards.
When called on to defend, they met the Eagles with thunderous tackles right on the gain line and drove them back time and time again. Quite simply, it was total, champagne rugby. Some said it was Canada’s best game since it beat Scotland 26-23 in Vancouver in 2002. Some say better than that.
In 1990, Canada had to play Argentina home-and-away to win a berth in Rugby World Cup 1991. Canada beat the Pumas 15-6 in Vancouver. They then inexplicably lost to the USA 14-12 in Seattle, before going to Buenos Aires and beating the Pumas a second time, 19-15.
Once in the Rugby World Cup that team went on to forge a memorable record beating Romania and Fiji, running France close, and then reaching the quarterfinals to give the World Champions New Zealand All-Blacks a real scare before going down 29-13. This 2006-07 team could reach those same heights and re-establish Canada on the world rugby scene.
Poignant moments continued at half-time with the Canadian international cap presentations to Newfoundland internationals. Noel Browne, Swilers’ founder, resplendent in his club jersey, Kevin Parfrey receiving his cap to the delight of this father, Pat, and mother, Benvon.
Sean O’Leary received his after burying his father, Tom, the day before. On receiving his cap Sean touched his heart with his fist and pointed heavenward.
Beth Snow wheeled her sons, Tyson and Dakota out to centre field in a pram to receive Rod’s cap. Susan Webb-Parks, Mike Webb’s mother, received her son’s since both he and Rod were in the Canadian dressing room.
The second-half saw wing James Pritchard continue piling up the points on his way to a record-setting Canadian scoring performance that saw him net 36 points.
Canada scored 56 points to the USA’s 7, and as the game wound down the announcer told the crowd that Dr. Pat Parfrey, the ‘Godfather’ of Newfoundland Rugby and the man who organized the match in St. John’s, was celebrating his 56th birthday. Uncanny.
What this match showed is that Newfoundlanders are passionate about their rugby and will turn out in numbers to support Canada, and help them win. Rod Snow reckons the 5,000 strong crowd was worth 20 points.
What does this win do for Canada? First, it tells the world that Canada is supreme in North American rugby. Second, it demonstrates to the International Rugby Board that its Tier ll initiatives, intended to raise the standard of Canadian rugby in Canada, are working, and that its aid is bearing fruit.
Third, the win adds certainty to Canada’s rugby program leading up to the World Cup in France next September. It means that Rugby Canada can now plan accordingly and seek even more sponsorship based on the fact that Canada has qualified in Pool B.
Fourth, Canada’s coaching staff now knows that the IRB’s preparation funds are available to organize training camps, tours and games leading up to its first RWC game on Sept. 9, 2007 against Wales in Nantes.
Fifth, it has given Canada’s rugby players a win it needed. They now know that it can win big games and win them big, which they did with confidence and flair.
It tells them that the hard work in the gym, the hours spent at training and practising pays off, but they also know that to reach the next level the work must continue because in November it faces Wales and Italy, both of whom will be different kettles of fish than was the U.S. team.
And lastly, it sends a signal to Canadian rugby fans from coast to coast, telling them that its national team is moving in the right direction, that it will become better yet, and that they should begin planning, and booking flights, to France and Wales in 2007 to support this team.
The program deserves everyone’s support as the Newfies discovered to their delight on Saturday.