TORONTO — Peter Nelson is no stranger to playing Leinster. The Irish-born back saw plenty of the four-time European champions during his time with Ulster on the Guinness Pro 14 rugby circuit.
But last Saturday's matchup with the Irish powerhouse was something new for the 26-year-old Nelson. He was wearing Canadian colours.
"It was strange," said Nelson, who qualifies for Canada by virtue of his Toronto-born grandmother. "I've played Leinster for years ... I certainly didn't think that I'd be playing them in a Canadian jersey. It was quite cool, actually. I enjoyed it."
After falling behind 19-0, the Canadians rallied in the second half and led 35-24, only to have Leinster score two late tries — including one in the game's dying seconds — to secure a 38-35 win at Hamilton's Tim Hortons Field.
Leinster was in pre-season mode with many top players away with Ireland. Eight Leinster players are named in the matchday 23 for Ireland's test match against Wales on Saturday.
Nelson's whirlwind summer featured his first visit to Canada, followed quickly by his first appearance for the Canadian rugby team. The versatile back, who spent eight seasons with Ulster, hopes the journey leads to the Rugby World Cup.
"It's been a bit crazy but it's been really really good," said Nelson. "I've really enjoyed it."
Canada plays the B.C. all-stars on Friday in Langford, B.C., in its penultimate World Cup warmup match. The Canadian men, ranked 21st in the world, host the 14th-ranked Americans in Vancouver on Sept. 7 before heading to Japan for the World Cup three days later.
Canada could use a win. Kingsley Jones' team is 1-8-0 in 2019 with losses to the U.S. (twice) No. 10 Fiji, No. 15 Tonga, No. 19 Uruguay and No. 26 Brazil as well as an Argentina XV and Leinster. The lone win was a 56-0 romp over No. 29 Chile on Feb. 22.
The Canadians have been drawn in Pool B at the Rugby World Cup with No. 2 New Zealand, No. 5 South Africa, No. 13 Italy and No. 23 Namibia. Canada opens Sept. 26 against Italy in Fukuoka City.
It's too early yet to know if the left-footed Nelson is the answer to Canada's long-standing need for a fly half. But he kicked well against Leinster and won a penalty with some outstanding work at the breakdown.
Nelson, who has split his time between fly half and fullback with Canada, started all three games in the Pacific Nations Cup before facing Leinster.
"He's a lovely guy and he's fitted in well," said Jones, who acknowledges he threw him in at the deep end.
The Canada coach liked what he saw from his new recruit on the weekend.
"He stepped up, I thought, against Leinster ... I thought he grew as well as the game went on," Jones added.
Canada has already taken Nelson to Denver, Fiji and Hamilton. He spent a week in Toronto with his girlfriend during a break in the schedule.
Unfortunately Nelson's grandmother passed away earlier this year, so did not get to see him debut for the country of her birth on July 27 in a 47-19 loss to the U.S.
"She loved her time over here and always spoke very highly about Canada," Nelson said.
Nelson, who represented Ireland at the youth level, made 60 appearances for Ulster before leaving the side earlier this year. Ulster back Will Addison, whom Jones coached in England at Sale Sharks, helped Nelson connect with Canada.
"It was an opportunity I couldn't turn down," said Nelson, who grew up in the small town of Dungannon, some 40 minutes outside Belfast.
BC All-Stars XV Squad
John Braddock, Castaway Wanderers, Victoria; Lucas Bradley, Castaway Wanderers, Victoria; Neil Courtney, Capilano, North Vancouver; Elias Ergas, UBC Thunderbirds, Vancouver; Mike Finnemore, Castaway Wanderers, Victoria; John Franklin, Capilano North Vancouver; Nick Frost, UBC Thunderbirds, West Vancouver; Stephen Gillies, Nanaimo Hornets, Nanaimo; Fraser Hurst, UBC Thunderbirds, Vancouver; Tom Larder, Nanaimo Hornets, Richmond, B.C.; Blake Mahovic, Axemen Rugby Club, Omagh, Ireland; Colby Mason, UBCOB Ravens, Moranbah, Australia; Connor McCann, Meraloma Rugby Club, Belleville, Ont.; Adam McQueen, UBC Thunderbirds, Vancouver; Cole Mosychuk, Westshore, Kelowna, B.C.; Brian Moylett, UBCOB Ravens RFC, Vancouver; Owain Ruttan, UBC Thunderbirds, Coberg, Ont.; Brandon Schellenberger, Castaway Wanderers, Victoria; Harrison Smith, UBC Thunderbirds, North Vancouver; Mike Smith, UBC Thunderbirds, Surrey, B.C.; Brock Staller, Seattle Seawolves, Langley, B.C.; Nathan Stewart, Castaway Wanderers, Williams Lake, B.C.; Reid Watkins, Burnaby Lake, Okotoks, Alta.; Dan Wigley, Meraloma, Llandybie, Wales; Bryce Worden, Burnaby Lake, Burnaby, B.C.
Head Coach: Aaron Takel.
Assistant Coaches: Curry Hitchborn, Jebb Sinclair, Sean White, James Thompson.
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