Submitted by Leon Addie
Salt Lake City, Utah (ISN) – The Canadian U20 Rugby squad went down to defeat Monday to Georgia 31-17 in their opening game of the IRB’s Junior World Rugby Trophy 2012 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
If the young Rugby Canada athletes who ran onto the pitch at 2002 Winter Olympic Host Salt Lake City’s Murray Rugby Park, the picturesque venue for the IRB’s Junior World Rugby Trophy 2012, ever play rugby in a more magnificent setting, they will have played somewhere very special indeed.
Sitting in the shadows of the Wasatch mountains, the stadium was today the fitting setting for Rugby Canada U20’s first game of the tournament against the Georgians from the slopes of the South Caucasus. The same opponents’ face each other at senior level on Saturday in Burnaby, and if the National Senior Men’s Team wanted an insight into the tough and physical play which characterizes Georgian rugby, they would have seen it first hand in their younger counterparts, who from the off brought aggression, strength, and physicality to the field.
Canada was not overawed by their much-fancied opponents, however, and it was the North Americans who opened the scoring early on with a try by centre Taylor Paris. The Georgians could only muster a penalty in reply as they sought to limit the width Canada was attempting to put on the game. The sides then switched penalties as both teams exercised caution as they figured out strengths and weakness, before the Young Lelos broke through to score their first try on the half-hour mark, edging into a 13-10 lead.
Coming into the tournament, much had been promised of Paris – already a veteran of the IRB’s World Sevens Series and the Rugby World Cup. The newly confirmed Glasgow Warriors signing wasted little time living up to the hype, giving a near immediate response to push the Canadians back into the lead with a second well-taken score. The heat – the mercury was in the low 90s – was contributing to a fractured game, and neither side wwas able to string together much multi-phase possession as the game moved toward half-time, with the kickers swapping a couple of quick penalties to leave Canada trailing by two at the break.
Errors – namely knock-ons and forward passes – characterized much of the following 20 minutes, with frustrations clearly visible on both sides as the Georgians sought to draw the young Canadians into a war of attrition. The plan paid dividends for them, and it took just three minutes for their powerful pack to stretch the lead to 24-17. Canada fought hard in an attempt to even the scores, but ferocious work at the breakdown and yet more costly errors were stifling their game. It wasn’t all one-sided in either regard however, with the Canadians on defence giving as good as they got, putting in some crunching tackles to defend their line and forcing Georgian knock-ons in scoring situations.
As the game entered the final 15 minutes, the Georgians finally exploited a Canadian defence clearly beginning to suffer from the altitude and high temperatures, crossing the whitewash to establish the first two-score lead of the game at 31-17. It was to prove the final score, and the Canadians showed tremendous heart to keep some bigger opponents out as the game drew to a close – the Georgians attempting to grind out more points with a series of close-range scrums, before Canada responded by forcing their way to the other end for a final chance of their own. Sadly for the Canadians, the ball was turned over at a ruck, kicked out, and the whistle blown, bringing to an end an extremely hard fought contest which will have taught everyone a lot about the highly competitive nature of the tournament.
Coach Mike Shelley looked back on the game with a sense of frustration. “From a Canadian perspective we didn’t win because when we got quality phase one ball we gave up the ball, knocking it on when we should have been hitting the line at pace. There were too many set piece errors and we more than once had the ball knocked out of our hands.”
It wasn’t only the continual infringements which stopped the Canadians from growing into the game. “The game was lethargic with the heat out there. It was hot; the temperatures definitely affected both sets of players and the stop-start nature with all the injury stoppages didn’t help,” he said.
However, it wasn’t all bad news, with the Coach taking heart from a number of positives. “The line-out functioned well and there were a couple of standout performers out there. Matt Heaton was immense in the back row, and Taylor Paris scored twice. The Georgian scrum had been vaunted as a major weapon, and although they probably had the upper hand, we held out throughout.”
There was no mistaking the bottom line for Shelley, however. “They made less errors, simply put.”
The players now have a short turnaround before returning to the same field on Friday for a game against two-time runners up Japan, who narrowly beat African champions Zimbabwe in their opener earlier in the day.
“The players are disappointed, but there is no time to dwell on it. They just have to put it right against the Japanese,” he said. “We have to keep working on what we’ve been working on, namely being in the right place at the right time, discipline, and retaining possession. We must also cut down on those errors, we paid for them too many times.”
Tries: Paris (2); Convs: McCann (2) Pen: McCann
Tries: Bitsade, Lomidze, Tetrashvili Convs: Nikolava (2) Pens: Nikoleva (4)