ST. JOHN’S, NL – Oakville’s Sean-Michael Stephen scored a try for Canada in its 56-7 win over the U.S. Eagles to gain a berth in the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France next year.
Stephen, playing at the No. 8 position, scored 28 minutes into the game, giving Canada a 27-0 cushion after wing James Pritchard was good on the convert.
The 23-year-old Stephen, who plays for the Oakville Crusaders in Ontario’s Marshall Premiership League and the Niagara Thunder in Rugby Canada’s Super League, impressed Rugby Canada’s national team selectors this year with an impressive training camp showing. His hard work was rewarded on Saturday when he scored under the posts after centre Ryan Smith made a break before offloading to Morgan Williams who fed Stephen coming in at pace.
Dan Pletch, a reserve for Saturday’s game, is also a member of the Crusaders and the Thunder, and is a member of the McMaster University team.
But the show stealer on Saturday, the 41st meeting between the two countries, was Pritchard. who broke the 29-point single game record he set against Barbados in his last game. This time he scored three tries and kicked three penalties and five conversions for 36 points.
“It was amateurs against professionals,” said Eagles interim coach Peter Thorburn after the game. “Canada was much better than we were today and when things go wrong they tend to compound. They put us under an immense amount of pressure and we didn’t handle it well.”
Canada’s most capped prop Rod Snow scored his eighth try for Canada mid-way through the first half.
At times Canada owned the pitch and the continuity between the forwards and backs had the Americans picking at straws. The Canadians were firing on all cylinders and when the offence wasn’t running the show, the defence looked after matters with some memorable tackles by James Cudmore, Mike James and little David Spicer who never took a step backwards.
Canada opened the scoring at six minutes, when prop Kevin Tkachuk took a quick tap penalty at the 40-metre mark and fed flanker Cudmore, who made ground. When he was tackled he fed centre Spicer, who eluded a number of feeble tackles and fed fullback Mike Pyke eating up the ground with his huge strides. Pyke went over unopposed to bring the ball behind the posts for Pritchard to convert. 7-0.
At 13 minutes, with nearly all of the Canadian team having a hand in the try, but with Stephen, Tkachuk, Spicer, Williams, Ander Monro and Pat Riardon coming to the fore. When Snow took the ball over the line for his eighth and most memorable try in front of his family and his hometown crowd; the place erupted. Pritchard converted: 14-0.
At 20 minutes, referee Christophe Berdos awarded a penalty for a high tackle on Cudmore 20-metres out and in front of the posts. Pritchard made no mistake: 17-0.
Pritchard hit another penalty from 24-metres at 24 minutes: 20-0.
After Stephen’s try and just before half-time Canada centre Ryan Smith took a yellow card for deliberately knocking a ball on as the Americans mounted a scoring attack on Canada’s line. With Smith off ,Canada defended its line well with Monro making a try-saving tackle on Philip Eloff just as he was about to cross the line. Half-time: 27-0 to Canada.
With the half only six minutes old wing Pritchard added to Canada’s lead. Monro kicked deep into U.S. territory, so deep in fact the ball stopped on the two metre line. Eagles fullback Francois Viljoen fielded as Canada wing Justin Mensah-Coker closed and snagged Viljoen, who tried to offload to Brian Barnard when he went to ground, But the alert Pritchard leapt over the downed player and picked off his flip pass to roar in for the try. He converted: 34-0.
Pritchard scored again five minutes later after Canada used quick hands to move the ball wide. Pyke came in from fullback and despite the hint of a forward pass, fed Pritchard who scooted in. He converted his own try: 41-0.
Pritchard added a penalty at 57 minutes to tie his 29-point Canadian record he had set against Barbados in Canada’s last match. 44-0.
Unexpectedly the U.S. stole a Canadian ball in a ruck and using quick hands, put centres Philip and Albert Tuipoltu off on a dashing run up field. Eventually flanker Todd Clever stretched over the line for Mike Hercus to convert: 41-7.
Derek Daypuck replaced Monro at 67 minutes and at 76 minutes Derek Daypuck leapt into the in-goal at the corner flag after Pritchard had rounded his man and fed the London, Ont., native the ball. Pritchard missed from the touchline: 49-7.
At 79 minutes the U.S. kicked to touch. Williams took a quick throw in to Luke Tait and then set off up the field. At the half-way line he fed Pritchard, who streaked half the length of the field to dive over for his hat trick. He converted his own try; 56-7 for the final.
“This was a very special day for me,” said Snow. “The Newfoundland crowd was tremendous today. Some people thought we were taking a risk playing this game here in St.John’s. I never felt it would be a risk and today proved that. The crowd can take credit for twenty points today.”
“This has to be up there with one of the best performances we’ve had for the last few years,” said captain Williams. “ To have Snow playing here in front of his home crowd and scoring a try was superb. I think we just pressured them and we defended them well too. This was the one that counted and we went out and proved that today.”
“I’m very happy,” said Canada coach Ric Suggitt. “ I couldn’t be happier for the players. We said two-and-a-half years ago that this was the game we needed to win and now it is a reality. At times we played some excellent rugby but we have to continue to improve because when we go to play Wales and Italy in November, we’ll have to be even better than this. The next level is a huge jump. James Pritchard has come back into the side and has been phenomenal.”
“I don’t think I can put my hand up for any of those tries,” said Pritchard. “ All the hard work was done by the guys inside me and I only had to finish them off. I just happened to be the right guy in the right place at the right time.
“Morgan was very heads up on the last try to throw the ball in quickly and Luke was there to take the ball. I was lucky to be backing up. I have been practicing kicking here all week in the wind and it was difficult. But today, there was no wind, and I had an easier time of it.”
Canada now looks forward to its sixth Rugby World Cup where it will play in Pool B with Australia, Wales, Fiji and likely Japan. Canada will play Wales in Nantes on Sept. 9, 2007; Fiji in Cardiff on Sept. 16; Japan (likely) in Bordeaux on Sept.25; and Australia four days later in Bordeaux on Sept. 29.
The U.S. on the other hand, must now prepare to play Uruguay in Montevideo on Sept. 30, and again in Stanford, California on Oct. 7. The winner of that home-and-away series becomes Americas #3 and will join England, South Africa, Samoa and Repechage #2 in Pool A.
The loser of the Americas #3 enters a repechage competition against the winner of a contest between the winner of Africa #2 and Europe #4. The winner of this Repechage #1 will end up in Pool C with New Zealand, Scotland, Europe 1, and Europe 2.