Rugby Canada can add yet another Can-Am trophy title to its history books.
Canada defeated the United States 28-25 on June 9 in front of 7,521 fans at Richardson Stadium. It was their 23rd Can-Am Trophy triumph out of 34 meetings since 1977.
Canada’s victory came with a price, when a key starter got injured five minutes into the game. Former Queen’s player Sean Duke saw his day end early when he collided with a US forward off the opening kick-off, sustaining a concussion. Five minutes after the hit, Duke said he realized the injury was serious.
“I just remember lying there with his leg over top of me, then I tried to get up and just fell.” Duke said. “I don’t remember what happened, and I only remember two of the scores from the first half.”
The match had the imprints of the Gaels rugby program all over it. In addition to Duke, current Gael Liam Underwood and head coach Peter Huigenbos are with Team Canada for its summer exhibition series. Former women’s rugby coach Jon Phelan led the local organizational committee that brought the match to Kingston.
Duke suited up for the Gaels from 2006-07, before transferring to the University of Victoria to train with the Victoria-based Canadian national team. He was named Canada’s 2011 Rugby 7’s Male Player of the Year.
In 2009, Underwood helped lead the Gaels to their first OUA title since 2001. At the Canada-US match, Underwood sat as one of the new members of Team Canada but didn’t dress.
A week later, Underwood became the 20th player from Queen’s to suit up for the Canadian national squad. He dressed as a reserve against Italy on June 15 in Toronto, but didn’t see the field.
The game featured several generations of rugby players who took part in the action. The half-time show featured games played by the Kingston Panthers rugby club’s youth teams, while a full match between alumni of the Canadian and US national teams preceded the game. The alumni game was also won by Canada.
The first half of the Canada US match — ranked 13th and 17th respectively by the world International Rugby Board — saw Canada leading 20-18 in an end-to-end offensive battle. Although Canada controlled play, the Americans capitalized on turnovers to keep the game close.
“We got into how they were playing, a bit frantically, and they made us pay for it,” said Kieran Crowley, head coach of the Canadian national team.
In the slower second half, Canadian fullback James Pritchard kicked a penalty conversion to top off his 13-point game. In the 71st minute, Canada’s DTH van der Merwe returned a kick, broke two tackles and made a pass to first-time Canadian captain Aaron Carpenter for the game-winning try.
The Americans responded with a try and a conversion in the 78th minute, but the match ended 28-25.
“We tried our best to chuck it away I think, but we came through at the end,” Crowley said.
Canada lost 26-12 to Italy on June 15 in Toronto, and defeated Georgia 31-12 in Burnaby, B.C. on June 23.
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