TORONTO -- Canada may have been within a couple of points of knocking off a Tier 1 rugby team Saturday, but there was no celebrating in the Canadian locker-room after the game.
A controversial penalty in the dying minutes made sure of that.
The Canadians dropped a 19-17 decision to Scotland in an international Test match at BMO Field -- a country that sits a full eight positions higher than them on the world rankings. But Canada was in position to win with five minutes to go when the referee reversed his decision on a call, after originally awarding Canada a penalty kick.
"I'm gutted actually for the guys, they really put it all in," said Canadian coach Kieran Crowley. "Positives are . . . we ran a Tier 1 country to two points, that's a pretty good effort."
On the controversial play in the 75th minute, Canadian flanker Jebb Sinclair had the ball, his forearm made contact with Ruaridh Jackson, and the Scottish player was knocked out cold.
The referee initially awarded a penalty kick to Canada, but reversed the call after reviewing video.
"I don't know what you mean to do with your elbow in that situation when a guy gets his head on the wrong side," Crowley said "He refereed it how he saw it, and I thought it was the wrong decision. But that's the way he sees it."
Jeff Hassler scored Canada's lone try while James Pritchard booted for 12 Canadian points.
Grant Gilchrist scored the single try for Scotland, while Greig Laidlaw kicked four penalties and a conversion.
Hassler scored in the 23rd minute, after Ciaran Hearn broke through the Scottish midfield and sprinted 30 metres down the sideline in front of a red-and-clad crowd of 18,788 fans -- plus the odd Scottish fan dressed in a kilt -- at BMO Field.
"It's always good to get one on the board early in front of the home fans, it was a bit of a spark for us, just good team play and a good finish," Hassler said.
The Canadians were looking to bounce back from a 34-25 loss to Japan in a Pacific Nations Cup game a week earlier in Burnaby, B.C. -- an ugly affair that saw the Canadians give up 25 unanswered points in the second half.
While it was expected the No. 16-ranked Canadians would be in for a much tougher afternoon against the eighth-ranked Scots, they made Scotland work for the win -- the first Scottish victory on Canadian soil.
"It's pretty gutting," Hassler said of the close loss. "It's not the first time we've been in that position and it's something that we as a Canadian team need to improve on and start knocking off some of these teams in the last couple of minutes of the game. Locker-room is pretty disappointed, but we know we're right there."
Gilchrist scored in the 27th minute, muscling his way across the try line after some strong work from the Scottish forwards.
Scotland took a 13-8 lead into the dressing room at halftime.
Pritchard booted four penalty kicks, plus a conversion. He had a chance to give Canada the lead with 15 minutes to play, but his kick banged off the post. He made good on his next attempt to put the Canadians up 17-16.
But Laidlaw booted his fourth of the day to put the Scots back on top with eight minutes to play.
Stuart Hogg also had a penalty kick for the Scots, who were coming off a 24-6 victory over the United States a week earlier in Houston.
"Not happy at all with the outcome," said Canadian captain Tyler Ardron. "I'm sure that call (on Sinclair) is what's going to be talked a lot about this week, but in all honesty I don't think it should have come down to that. I think we should have closed it out before that and it's shouldn't have made a difference."
Despite the close loss, Ardron said this game didn't sit with him any better than last week's defeat at the hands of Japan.
"It's the same feeling, I think we should have won both those games, but it's not good enough to sit back and say we should have won those games," he said. "We have to win them. If we want to get to where we feel we should be, that's got to be our attitude."
Scotland's coach Vern Cotter admitted the call on Sinclair that reduced Canada to 14 men "changed momentum" of the game.
"(The Canadians) were attacking at that stage," said Cotter, after his second game with Scotland. "Always in these games, little things make the difference. A little thing turned out to be a big thing and had a reasonably big consequence on the result."
Cotter praised the Canadian side that is "developing rapidly." He added the Canadians clearly came out at the opening whistle bent on making up for last weekend's disappointing result against Japan.
"They were very angry, you could see in the first couple of rucks, there was a couple of exchanges, they obviously wanted to impose physically," Cotter said. "I think that's part of their team psyche, they enjoy that type of thing.
"I think they played particularly well. . . they're doing some good things."
The BMO Field crowd was positive on the afternoon -- another strong rugby turnout at the lakeside venue that Canadian players have dubbed their unofficial home.
Some 22,566 fans squeezed into BMO Field to watch the Maori All Blacks beat the Canadians 40-15 there last November -- a North American record crowd for the sport. Canada's loss to Ireland a few months earlier drew 20,396 fans to the stadium that is normally home to Major League Soccer's Toronto FC.
"It felt awesome," said Ardron, who grew up in Lakefield, Ont., just north of Peterborough. "It's so hard to comment on how good it felt now after such a devastating loss, a close game like that. But having the support behind us the whole game felt great."
The game was Scotland's first victory over Canada on Canadian soil. Canada had beaten Scotland twice at home -- 24-19 in 1991 in Saint John, N.B., and 26-23 in Vancouver in 2002.
They've met two times in Scotland, both Scottish victories -- 22-2 in Edinburgh in 1995 and 41-0 in Aberdeen in 2008.
The game was halted for about 10 minutes midway through the first half while medical staff attended to Scotland's Alasdair Strokosch. Strokosch was eventually wheeled off the pitch on a stretcher.
The Canadians face the United States next Saturday in a Pacific Nations Cup game in Sacramento, Calif.