Friday, August 9, 2019

Canada v Tonga: Pacific Nations Cup Round 3

Canada v Tonga

Tonga issued the pre-match offer for battle

Sunny, a lazy breeze and temperatures in the low- to mid-80s for kickoff of the first of the Pacific Nations Cup Round 3 matches between Canada and Tonga, Rugby World Cup-bound numbers 21 and 15 respectively would wind up their PNC campaigns today and each would have a last Test prior to kickoff of RWC: Tonga v All Blacks at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on September 7 and Canada v USA Eagles in Vancouver on that day as well. Tonga brought their challenging, “tackle me!” method throughout their XV, while Canada sought to loose the fleet-footed outside backs with pick-and-goes from set pieces and breakdown.

Canada made good progress initially, turning ball over from the kickoff and working their pattern into Tongan territory before knocking on at tackle, reversing possession. Ikale Tahi replied with incremental forward movement, bashing into the near channels and moving swiftly into the Canadian business district, ten meters from goal and earning a scrum eight meters from that line. A penalty awarded by field magistrate, Nigel Owens, and Tonga chose to scrum. That set piece won, backrow lock Zane Kapeli picked ball from its base and striding laterally, opened the defense and shifted the ball to halfback, Tane Takulua, who flicked on to fullback, Tevita Halaifonua. The formidable 15 broke the line two meters out and touched down for the first points of the match and Halaifonua’s conversion, and it was 7-nil for Tonga in the 9th minute.

Second chances for Canada and the mixture of short, stabbing p-and-gs got the Men of the True North into their opponents 22 before knocking on at tackle, but ball was brought back for a Canada penalty just beyond the 22 and outside the left post as Tonga were caught offsides.. Canada elected to eschew a shot at goal, choosing to pop the pill into touch and a lineout ten meters from goal. Lineout won and weakside shout, but ball spilled forward at tackle shut down the attack.

A penalty award 25 meters out and in front of the sticks got Canada onboard with flyhalf Gordon McCrorie notching the numbers and a scoreline of 7-3, yet in Tonga’s favor, after 15 minutes.

Hydration break in the 20th minute and save for Canada going for five instead of three, it’s a one-point match; still, tight at 7-3 as play resumed.

Canada penalty kick for touch and their throw-in five meters out. That won, slips and slides crabbed the action crossfield in half-dozen phases but Tonga turned ball over and standoff James Faiva cleared to touch.

A Canadian kick ahead was covered by Halaifonua and in the subsequent ten physical phases later flyer Vil Lolohea fended the faux stop off and touched down for Halaifonua’s additional deuce and 14-3 at minute 28.

Lolohea would get his brace in the 33rd and with Halaifonua’s completion attempt sailing wide across the face of the uprights, 19-3 just then.

A penalty for failure to release inside the 22; post touch-kick had a Canada lineout eight meters out. Two re-sets and third time proved the charm for Canada mauled to goal before scrumhalf, Phil Mack, stole around the short side of breakdown to put flyer, Jeff Hassler, away in the corner and it was 19-8 at Owens halftime signal.

Hot stuff in the warmth on Viti Levu with Tonga hard and brutal in the engagement and Canada losing knock-ons  at stoppage stymying their offense overmuch.

Tonga missed the re-start reception and Canada were brief into their 22 before ball forward at tackle put Tonga on the front foot with lineout just outside the Canadian 22. The toss won, Tonga shattered the defense as relief forward, Latu Talakai, punched over goaline for five and, after halfback Tane Takulua completed the goal, 26-8 for Ikale Tahi in the 44th minute.

Canada struck back surging into the Tongan 22 and breakdown. Mack scooped ball and shopped the weakside, stabbing the grubber to the goaline where it was collected and cleared by Halaifonua.

A Canadian set piece at the 22 was won and spun, but knock-on at tackle made for the set piece with the Tonga put; Kapeli picked and popped a stiff arm to space making heaps of ground and well into Canada territory. A Tongan tactical boot found touch on the fly and play returned for a lineout to Canada.

Tapped Tongan lineout, but the kick ahead was well-covered by 15, Peter Nelson, although the comprehensive Tonga kick-chase had the fullback bundled to touch.

Canada attained double-digits as McRorie booted the lofty looker out to the wing through outstretched Tongan paws and relief three-quarters, Nick Blevins, covered the jouncer in goal for the touch down: 26-13 at ’65.

Tonga got a grounding from second row Sam Lousi with Lakalua adding the extras in the 72nd to extend the lead to 20 at 33-13.

Canada responded with flyer, DTH Van der Merve making the corner on the counter and touching down the try for a scoreline of 33-18 at ’74.

Hassler grounded for his brace and 33-23 at ’75.

Canada, rocking and rolling now, brought fire to a flagging Tonga and were speeding on the overlap at Tonga’s 10 meter line but the communication to Hassler went slightly awry, try went begging and the movement shut down.

Canada were hard after it and mauled into goal but were held up as time expired and 33-23 the final at Owens’ last blast.

Tonga converted all but one of their five trys and Canada, with the decision not to go for goal early and no conversions, left 11 on the deck.

     Canada - Try: Hassler (2), Blevins, Van der Merve; Pen: McCrorie;
     Tonga - Try: Halaifonua (2), Lolohea, Talakai, Lousi; Con: Faiva (3); Takulua;

Match Officials: Nigel Owens (Referee); Ben O’Keefe, Tevita Rokovereni (RAs)

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