Rugby Canada’s Niagara Thunder try to weather the Lancashire storm

Despite having a two-man advantage for nearly 10 minutes in the second half, Lancashire, the touring runners-up to the English county championship, could only manage three points, but beat the Rugby Canada Super League’s Niagara Thunder 19-7 in an exhibition match at Crusaders Park in Oakville.

Niagara Thunder player tries to escape grasp of Lancashire opponents. (Photo: Ron Bernardo)
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The two sides maintained a ferocious pace in the waning Southern Ontario heat, with the visitors drawing first blood with a try from Neil Kerfoot. It was really the first foray into the Thunder’s half from the kick-off, with quick hands finally freeing the Waterloo (National Division One) wing into the far corner. Preston Grasshoppers fly-half Paul Bailey slotted the extras for a 7-0 lead.

But Bailey soon found himself wearing the goat horns a few minutes later as Thunder flanker Andrew Wilson charged down an attempted clearance kick, gathered it in about 20 metres down field before charging under the posts unchallenged for the home side’s opening score. Dan Gordon put across the conversion to tie the match after 20 minutes at 7-7.

Thunder players have look of determination on them. (Photo: Ron Bernardo)
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Two minutes later Bailey shed the horns and got his side into the lead with a penalty kick, to take Lancashire into the break with a slim 10-7 advantage.

Bailey, who had 14 points on the night, then added a drop-goal which drew howls of protest from the several hundered fans in attendance, who were looking for running rugby. Bailey added two more penalties, one during the two-man advantage period that saw Dave Knowles and Wilson sent off for foul play.

The Thunder did well to weather the storm, and seemed to have the legs in the dying minutes, but the true turning point was an apparent try by Oakville’s Michael Sutherland that referee Gareth Calloway called back for an offside. .

Despite the loss, No. 8 Knowles was pleased at the levels his team displayed, especially while he was off the field with Wilson.

“That showed me a lot that (Lancashire) could only manage a penalty in that time,” he said, adding “this is a big confidence boost for us as a side.”

Lancashire’s back row, No. 8 Chris Planchant, had a series of promising runs in the second half, but could not solve the Thunder’s last ditch tackling efforts. He was impressed by the standard of play by the home side.

“We knew they would be physical and they certainly were,” he said, admitting that coming away with only three points while two men up was disappointing. “At the end of the day it is about winning the game, and we achieved that, two down and one to go.”

Lancashire beat the Newfoundland Rock 27-15 and now face the Toronto Xtreme on Saturday at Fletcher’s Fields in Markham, (4:30 pm Kick-off).