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Canadian rugby men soundly beaten by Tonga for second time in five days

Rugby Canada Rugby Canada - The Canadian Press

NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga — Tonga continued its mastery over Canada on Monday, running in six tries for a comfortable 36-12 win in an international rugby test match.

The 23rd-ranked Canadian men lost 28-3 to the 15th-ranked Pacific Islanders in the opening test Wednesday in the Tongan capital.

As in the first meeting, the Tongan execution was far from perfect. But the home side's power and pace were too much for the Canadians at Teufaiva Stadium.

Sosefo Sakalia and Kyren Taumoefolau each scored two tries and Vaea Fifita and Sam Moli added singles for Tonga, which led 26-0 at the half. Sonatane Takulua kicked three conversions.

Isaac Olson scored both tries for Canada, whose offence never got untracked. Peter Nelson booted a conversion.

The games in Tonga were the first for Canada since a 43-37 loss to No. 21 Namibia in November.

For Tonga, they represented the last two runouts ahead of next month's World Cup in France where it will face No. 1 Ireland, No. 4 South Africa, No. 5 Scotland and No. 19 Romania in a tough Group B.

Canada failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time ever.

Tonga has benefited from a recent World Rugby rule change allowing players who have not represented their country in three years to switch to the country of their birth, or of their parents' or grandparents' birth.

The Tongan 35-man preliminary World Cup squad features former All Blacks Malakai Fekitoa, Charles Piutau, Augustine Pulu, George Moala and Fifita and former Wallabies Israel Folau and Adam Coleman.

Fifita started for Tonga in the game that kicked off at 3 p.m. local time Tuesday (10 p.m. ET, Monday).

For the second time in five days, the Canadian faced the Sipi Tau — the Tongan equivalent of the New Zealand haka — before kickoff.

Tonga went ahead in the fifth minute, taking advantage of a Canadian penalty to set up a driving maul off a lineout that ended in Sakalia going over behind the forwards.

There was almost a repeat in the 10th minute but the Tongans were penalized for an infraction in the driving maul. A second penalty against Tonga and a long-distance kick by Nelson gave Canada a lineout five metres from the Tongan goal line.

But the Canadians could not take advantage with Jason Higgins' grubber kick not finding a Canadian to touch it down.

Tonga made it 12-0 in the 18th minute with Taumoefolau, after a fine run, touching down in the corner after a Tongan grubber kick opened up the Canadian defence.

Nelson made a try-saving tackle in the 32nd minute after Canada lost the ball near the Tongan goal line, allowing Tumoefolau to set off on another solo run.

But Canada could not stop Fifita in the 24th minute as the former All Blacks lock, showing impressive speed, rumbled in under the posts for a converted try and 19-0 lead.

A lost Canadian lineout led to another try in the 32nd minute when Sakalia grabbed the ball from the breakdown and accelerated through the Canadian defence for a 26-0 lead.

Nelson made another try-saving tackle as the first half ended, stopping Sakalia in his tracks.

The tries continued in the second half with Taumoefolau capping off some nifty running down the left flank with a try in the 45th minute for a 31-0 lead.

Canada's problems in attack were shown in the 51st minute with lock Conor Keys dropping a pass from a tap-and-go penalty five metres out from the Tongan try-line.

Helped by a string of penalties, the Canadians had a lengthy period deep in Tongan territory midway through the second half. That finally produced a try in the 65th minute with Olson touching down a Robbie Povey cross-field kick in the corner with Canada playing a penalty advantage.

Moli, a hooker deployed as flanker on the day, made it 36-5 in the 73rd minute with another try at the back of a driving maul.

Olson scored his second try in the 78th minute, sidestepping a Tongan defender after hauling in a long pass to touch down in the corner.

Flanker Sion (pronounced Sean) Parry, who won his first cap off the bench in the first Tonga match, made his first start for Canada. Parry, who plays in his native Wales for Pontypridd, qualifies for Canada through his Ontario-born mother.

Jason Higgins replaced Ross Braude at scrum half while Mitch Richardson stepped in for the injured Ben LeSage at centre. LeSage was left dazed early in the second half Wednesday by a dangerous tackle that resulted in the ejection of Moala.

Canada's matchday 23 included seven members of the MLR-champion New England Free Jacks, with five in the starting 15 and two on the bench. There were also six Arrows, including three starters.

Before travelling to Tonga, Canada held a 12-day training camp in Nadi, Fiji, which included a closed training scrimmage with the Fijian Drua academy.

Tonga, known as the Ikale Tahi (Sea Eagles), finished last at the four-team Pacific Nations Cup, which ran July 22 through Saturday, losing 36-20 to No. 10 Fiji, 21-16 to No. 14 Japan and 34-9 to No. 12 Samoa.

Before that, the Tongans defeated Australia 'A' 27-21 in Nuku'alofa in their first match on home soil since 2017.

Canada's record against Tonga fell to 5-6-0, with the Pacific Islanders now having won the last four meetings. Canada has not beaten Tonga since a chippy 36-27 decision in Kingston, Ont., in June 2013.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 14, 2023.