LANGFORD, B.C. — Canada has work to do to keep its Rugby World Cup qualification dream alive despite a 22-21 win over Chile on Saturday in the first leg of their aggregate points series.
The game at Starlight Stadium seemed in Chile's hands with the clock winding down. But a penalty conceded in front of the Chilean posts gave the hosts a chance to take the lead with replacement fly half Rob Povey converting the kick.
The 21st-ranked Canadian men and No. 28 Chile now make the 10,400-kilometre journey to Valparaiso, Chile, to complete the tie next Saturday. The series loser is out of World Cup contention.
"It's simple for us now" said Canada coach Kingsley Jones. "We have to go to Chile and win an away test match."
The Canadians were coming off a 59-50 aggregate loss to the 16th-ranked U.S. Eagles that moved the Americans into a playoff with No. 17 Uruguay, with the winner qualifying for France 2023 as Americas 1 alongside No. 1 New Zealand, No. 6 France, No. 14 Italy and Africa 1 in Pool A.
The U.S. defeated Uruguay 19-16 to kick off their two-legged playoff Saturday in Glendale, Colo. The second leg is Oct. 9 at Estadio Charrua in Montevideo.
The winner of the Canada-Chile series will face the U.S.-Uruguay loser to decide Americas 2, which will qualify in Pool D alongside No. 4 England, No. 8 Argentina, No. 10 Japan and No. 13 Samoa. The loser of the Americas 2 playoff has one last chance to qualify for France 2023 via a repechage tournament.
Jones had warned that Chile would be a tough out and he was proven right. The good news is Canada can play much better.
"Credit to them, their defence was solid," the former Wales captain said of the Chileans.
"It was a good effort from Chile and it was a tough game as expected," he added. "Anyone who thinks differently is disrespectful, really. We've won a test match, which is pleasing. I felt we left probably 14 to 20 points out there, if I'm honest."
The Canadians leave Tuesday for Chile. They'll take a short flight to Vancouver en route to Houston and then Santiago. Valparaiso is some 115 kilometres outside of the Chile capital.
The Canadians will have to spend their first 24 hours at the hotel in Chile, until negative COVID tests are returned.
Ross Braude scored two tries and Corey Thomas added a single for Canada, which trailed 9-5 at the half. Peter Nelson kicked two conversions.
Clemente Saavedra scored two tries for Chile. Santiago Videla kicked three penalties and a conversion.
It was a sloppy game with lots of penalties and handling errors. The Canadians mounted a pair of lengthy attacks deep in the Chile end in the dying minutes, only to see the surge stalled each time by a penalty before Povey put Canada ahead.
The officiating did not help Canada. The Chileans were likely due another yellow card in the second half, either for repeated infringements or for one instance when Canadian Brock Webster was taken out going for a high ball.
Canadian prop Tyler Rowland was sent to to the sin-bin in the 50th minute for taking out a Chilean player in the air while contesting a high kick. With Rowland's 10-minute sanction about to expire, Javier Carrasco followed him to the sin-bin after Chile was called for repeated infringements.
Canada pressed early, only to see attacks nixed by handling errors. A string of early penalties against Chile helped Canada's cause and field position.
Chile came close to scoring first, however, with winger Franco Velarde spilling a cross-field kick at the Canadian goal-line after the home side was penalized leading to a lineout in the Canadian end.
The Canadian forwards began to take control, winning scrum penalties. There was some niggle between the two teams after the whistle, prompting Irish referee Chris Busby to ask both captains to talk to their teams and cool things down.
But it was a penalty against Canada at the breakdown that led to the first points, a Videla penalty kick in the 22nd minute that gave Chile a 3-0 lead. Videla doubled the lead with another penalty in the 32nd minute.
Thomas answered with a try for Canada in the 34th minute, bulling his way over after the Canadians laid siege to the Chile goal-line. The try survived a video check on the grounding. Nelson missed the conversion, leaving Chile with a 6-5 lead.
Some solid Chile defence kept Canada at bay and Videla added another penalty as the first half ended, with Nelson called for not releasing the ball after being tackled.
Canada went ahead 12-9 early in the second half with Braude darting over in the 44th for a converted try after Chile was penned deep in its own end after conceding a penalty. Braude went over again for another converted try in the 48th, capping a Canadian counter-attack after Chile spilled the ball, for a 19-9 lead.
With Canada a man down, Chile's Saavedra scored on a driving maul after the Rowland penalty to narrow the lead to 19-14 in the 51st.
Busby warned Chile in the 57th minute for taking too many penalties, promising a yellow card if it continued. And seconds later, Carrasco was sent to the sin-bin.
Saavedra went over again in the 66th at the back of a driving maul after a lineout prompted by a Canadian penalty. Videla's conversion put Chile ahead 21-19.
Jones tweaked the forward pack for Saturday’s opener.
Hooker Eric Howard, lock Kyle Baillie and Rowland came in with Andrew Quattrin and Conor Keys dropping to the bench. Veteran prop Jake Ilnicki was added to the replacements at the expense of Matt Tierney.
Chile made three changes to the forward pack that started last time out in a 15-10 defeat to Uruguay. Lock Clemente Saavedra joined twin brother and centre Domingo Saavedra in the starting lineup, while prop Vittorio Lastra and flanker Martinez also slotted in.
The Canadians have never failed to qualify for the sport’s showcase but had to do it the hard way the last time out, winning a four-team repechage after losing series to the U.S. and Uruguay.
This time around, Canada led the U.S. 34-21 after the first leg Sept. 4 in St. John’s, N.L. But the Americans rallied with a 38-16 victory Sept. 11 in Glendale.
Argentina qualified automatically from the Americas by virtue of its performance at the 2019 World Cup in Japan. Uruguay became the top qualifying seed in South America by winning a three-team tournament that also included Chile and Brazil.
The Chileans moved into the Americas 2 playoff on the strength of their second-place finish at that competition.
Canada and Chile have met in recent years in the Americas Rugby Championship with the Canadians winning at home 56-0 in 2019 and 36-15 in 2017. On the road, Canada won 33-17 in 2018 and 64-13 in 2016.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2021