BURNABY, B.C. – Canada has steadily improved at the Pacific Nations Cup. All that’s been missing is a victory.
After three straight defeats, the Canadians will look to close out the six-team rugby tournament on a positive note Monday when they meet the United States in the fifth-place match at Swangard Stadium.
Canada, ranked 18th in the world, dropped an error-filled 20-6 decision to No. 13 Japan on July 18, but played well for stretches of a 28-18 defeat to No. 12 Tonga six days later before a heartbreaking 21-20 loss to No. 9 Samoa on Wednesday that saw the winning points scored in the dying seconds.
“We certainly want to get a victory for the group,” said Canadian head coach Kieran Crowley. “They’ve worked hard and have been learning. We’ve just got to keep up the process of what we’re trying to achieve and the result usually takes care of itself.”
Results aside, Crowley has been encouraged by what he’s seen over the last three weeks as he tries to implement new systems ahead of next month’s Rugby World Cup. At the same time, everyone in the Canadian camp is eager to end a 2-10 run over the last 12 test matches dating back to November 2013.
“It’s great to say ‘Oh we played a good game and we were just shy of beating a top-10 team in Samoa.’ But at the end of the day we didn’t win,” said fly half Harry Jones. “We need to get those wins. Moving into the World Cup, a 21-20 loss isn’t going to cut it. You need to win those close games.”
Canada will be without captain Tyler Ardron for the match against the No. 16 Americans (1-2-0) after he hurt his knee on Wednesday. With the health of some of his other veterans also in question ahead of the World Cup, Crowley is getting a long look at a number of players on the bubble.
“A couple boys that played against Samoa really put the pressure on around selection for World Cup,” said Crowley. “We’re giving them another opportunity.”
Samoa takes on No. 10 Fiji in Monday’s PNC final after both teams finished with 2-0-1 records, including a 30-30 tie when the South Pacific rivals met on July 24.
“To be in the final is a big achievement for us,” said Fijian captain Akapusi Qera. “I know the boys will be up for it. It’s a big challenge.”
Every team at the tournament has been using it as prep for the World Cup in England, which begins Sept. 18, but Samoan captain Alesana Tuilagi said all his focus is on Monday.
“It’s going to be a tough one,” he said. “I know both teams are going to give 120 per cent.”
While there will be much less on the line in the fifth-place game, pride and North American bragging rights will be part of what drives Canada.
“It’s always the same when it’s U.S. and Canada,” said Crowley. “There’s a bigger picture here, though. We’re looking at World Cup. As long as we can progress and learn from our last game and go forward there’s bigger things further down the track.”
While stressing that a loss on Monday wouldn’t be the end of the world as long as the team continues to show well, Jones said picking up a victory could do wonders for Canada’s psyche moving forward.
“The boys do need a win. We need to start knocking off a couple Ws leading into the World Cup,” he said. “Once you win one game you’ll probably start winning a few more. Notching a win on Monday will be a step in the right direction and give us a bit more belief.”