(ISN) – Rugby Canada’s Men’s Under 17 Team has opened its Wellington Festival campaign with an impressive 34-10 win over a talented Belgium side.
Canada came out of the blocks quickly, scoring five first-half tries to one. Impressive teamwork led to tries from Rupert Peers, Randall Barton, and Lucas Rumball, with Connor McRae adding a brace and Giuseppe DuToit two conversions to race into a 29-5 lead.
The Belgians then tightened up after half-time, putting the young Canadians under a concerted period of pressure. It took 20 minutes to tell, but they eventually broke through committed Canadian defence to add a second unconverted try. However, the Canadians responded by showing the fight which is beginning to define this group, hitting back immediately through a second Barton try, which proved to be the last score of the game.
Coach Jim Delaney had warned the boys before the game not to dwell on the senior Belgian team’s world ranking of 24, pointing to an impressive string of results by the country’s age-grade teams as a sign of the tough challenge ahead. The Belgian U17s did not disappoint and presented a stiff test for the young Canadians. “The Belgians were very organized. With the amount of games they play, we knew they would be much, much better than the side we faced last year. They put us under extreme pressure through the second-half and it is testament to the boys’ endeavours that we restricted them to just two tries, one of them an interception.”
The win is a result which rewards the work this group has put in over the past week in England and since the camps held last summer and Delaney told rugbycanada.ca that the win meant a lot to all involved. “It said it all for me when I walked into the changing room and the boys were just beaming, it’s great feeling for them and everyone is happy.”
He praised the team’s reaction to what the coaching team has been working on with them. “We talked about the pressures we’re under, and everyone has responded, some of the less-experienced boys in particular.” Among them he singled out Jordan Marsh. “He’s been a standout. To see his progression through the three games on tour and since the summer has been tremendous. He’s attacking and offloading like a back, and it’s great to see the boys coming up to him and patting him on the back. It’s representative of the culture within the team.”
Delaney said that this culture is seeing self-confidence blossom throughout the team and that this has been particularly satisfying to the coaching staff. “The boys are learning to express themselves out there, and we encourage that. They’ve been absorbing knowledge and experience all the time, and when you see them under pressure, then utilize this, and then see the satisfaction on their faces that they can utilize what they’ve been taught, these are the magic moments we as coaches want. That’s what it’s all about.”
He also praised his team as a whole’s commitment in learning from the previous games on tour, and their attitude in preparing for the game. “It’s been great to see how the boys react positively to pressure. Had we not talked about how to move forward from last week, and had we not focused and worked hard, there is no doubt that the result would have been different.”
The coach praised the RFU’s Wellington Festival for giving this group of young Canadians the chance to experience high-level competition. “There is no team you can take lightly at this tournament. We watched the Dutch take on England North in a close game, and it shows how strong European age-grade rugby is. It is only going to get better and better and the boys will have seen they will need to work hard to stay ahead of this pack. We can also do this through investment in this, the start of our national rugby program, and we need more of this type of competition or next time it will be even harder against Belgium again,” he said.
In the meantime, the team will continue to soak up the tremendous atmosphere of the Wellington Festival. “There’s lots of work to bring the teams together. Players and coaches are able to get together and build relationships. It is a unique environment for this age, and it is fantastic for every one of them to be here,” Delaney said.