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Canada under-20 rugby side has mountain to climb at World Rugby U20 Trophy qualifier

Canada U-20 rugby team Canada U-20 rugby team - The Canadian Press

Canada has work to do Saturday when it takes on the U.S. in the second leg of a two-match North American qualifier for the World Rugby U-20 Trophy.

The Americans won the opening leg 43-21 on Tuesday.

"We've phrased it like we're down 22-0 at (the) half and we've got another half to come back and win by 23," said Canada under-20 coach Adam Roberts. "We've really just focused on ourselves … backing each other and working hard to correct some of the issues that we had in the (opening) game."

"This is a great character moment in their lives and as a team," he said of his players.

The finale of the total-points aggregate series takes place at Tuesday's venue — Spartanburg Regional Field at County University Stadium — on the campus of University of South Carolina Upstate (formerly known as the University of South Carolina Spartanburg).

The series winner will slot into Group A alongside Scotland, Uruguay and Zimbabwe at the second-tier under-20 tournament, slated for July 15-30 in Nairobi, Kenya.

Group B features Spain, Samoa, Kenya and Hong Kong.

The Americans used a strong defence, opportunistic attack and Canadian errors to build their lead Tuesday, reeling off 36 straight points Tuesday after going down 7-0 early.

"I thought we let ourselves down in a few areas," said Roberts. "Maybe the stage and the energy and emotion kind of got to us a little bit. I think a few of our skill errors and turnovers in key moments really impacted our game. And that's something we have to live with and get better from … Full credit to (the Americans). They were right on the boil."

The top under-20 sides compete at the World Rugby U20 Championship, which is scheduled for June 24 to July 14 in South Africa. The U20 Championship field features Argentina, Australia, England, Fiji, defending champion France, Georgia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and Wales.

Due to the pandemic, both under-20 tournaments have not been held since 2019.

The U.S. is trying to get back to the U20 Trophy for the first time since 2016. The Canadians finished fifth at the 2019 tournament in Brazil, defeating Kenya 52-13 in its closing game.

The U20 Trophy and Championship are linked by promotion and relegation.

In 2019, Japan earned promotion by winning the U20 Trophy while Scotland was relegated after finishing last in the Championship.

World Rugby says the two age-grade tournaments, first held in 2008, have seen almost 1,500 players go on to make their test debut including 28 Rugby World Cup winners.

Canada competed in the top-tier U20 tournament in 2008 and '09, finishing 12th and 14th, respectively. The elite tournament was trimmed from 16 teams to 12 in 2010 with Canada not making the cut and instead dropping to the second-tier event.

Canada's best finishes at the U20 Trophy were runner-up in 2013 and 2015, to Italy and Georgia, respectively.


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2023