Disappointing 23-18 loss by Canada to Italy today at the Rugby World Cup, for a few reasons. Mainly, this was the only realistic chance for our boys to get out of the qualifying round into the quarterfinals. In the pool they're seeded in, Ireland and France are virtually guaranteed a pass into the elimination stage. Romania is the minnow. So Italy and Canada were in a fight for third place and the ticket out of the round-robin phase.
Both teams are virtually guaranteed losses against France and Ireland, and a win against Romania. The tiebreaker, essentially, was the head-to-head matchup. This was win and you're in the playoffs.
So the disappointment of the loss has to be seen through the prism of how close the result was, were it not for a couple of bounces, a couple of questionable decisions or oversights by the referee(s), an overturned try, and various other woulda coulda shouldas. Our whole tournament pivots on these happenstances, and the games against France and Romania are now largely academic. We're playing out the string.
For me, the disheartening aspect of the loss is how captain Tyler Ardron, with Canada pressing and threatening at the Italian goal line, and awarded a penalty, chose to kick for goal and the sure three points, instead of trying to score a try. Maybe a prudent choice, to narrow the margin to 20-18, and still 8 minutes to go, but I think it deflated the Canadian side, who were so close they could smell it.
Contrast to Japan against South Africa, who twice in the final minutes of their game had an opportunity to kick for goal and tie the game, which would have been a huge moral victory if it stood at the final whistle. But the Japanese never wavered, they chose to keep pressing for the win, which they thrillingly did, in the final minute.
Sometimes these decisions send a message to your opponents and to your own side. Faint heart never won fair maiden.
Despite the bitter conclusion, the match was thrill-a-minute. I've grown accustomed in past World Cups that the best Canadian players are in the forwards, but that's not the case this year. The play-by-play team talked often of how many of our boys were successful 7's players, how they're comfortable with ball in hand in the open field. Prime among them was DTH van der Merwe, who scored what may be the try of the tournament, a weavy exciting run through overmatched Italians.
The forwards held their own, notably in the scrums. After the poor showing in the Pacific Nations Cup, I expected the Italian scrum, steeled against other Six Nation packs, to make lunchmeat out of ours. The Canadian pack actually held them to a standstill a couple of times when they tried to push us back, and forced the Italians to wheel when they themselves were driven back. On our put-ins, the ball came out quick and clean, so that the opponent couldn't mount much of a drive.
The lineouts weren't so good though. Again, we chose not to contest a lot of their throw-ins, and I don't really understand the strategy, in basic terms. I'll have to look up the pros and cons of conceding their throw-ins, I assume it's to be more ready to defend, but philosophically I hate it. It looks awful. It doesn't gibe with our ethos of furiously defending and tackling.
At the start of the match Brian Spanton of TSN stated that Canada was very capable of causing this upset, but I didn't think it was realistic. Not after getting shut out this summer against other Tier 2 powers. But as the game progressed, I did believe, this was easily in our grasp. We now have to rue the lack of killer instinct.
Italy fire up their World Cup campaign with comeback win over Canada
Agonizing loss for Canada against Italy at Rugby World Cup