The Canada U23s won the first of two Border Battle matches against the USA U23s 24-5 on Wednesday night. The teams will meet again inside Veterans Memorial Stadium (Quincy, Mass.) on Sunday, July 30 at 12 p.m. ET. The Rugby Network will live-stream the match for free.
The opening seven minutes stayed for the part in Canada’s end. The USA had the first scoring opportunity in that block, building off an unforced Canadian error and penalty. Freda Tafuna – who made the most of every single touch on the ball – cleaned up a messy lineout and powered forward. Canada was offsides at the ruck, setting up a USA scrum at the 10 meter. Kapoina Bailey peeled off the back and toward the back line, but flanker Lizzie Gibson disrupted the offload and it was a quick clear to midfield. The pickup was knocked on, and so Canada was on the attack.
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The Canadians built to the USA 22, until Tafuna came flying off the line for the intercept and long thrilling run to Canada’s end. Su Adegoke was hot on her heels and a couple of passes later saw Mona Tupou trotting to the try line. But then the inevitable whistle from center ref Amelia Luciano sounded, calling the game back for the offsides penalty. A fun diversion nonetheless.
Flyhalf Kristin Bitter was a consistent and effective kicker, and did well to relieve pressure off the boot. Canada was just able to field them well and one such counter-attack resulted in the game’s first try. Approximately 17 minutes in, Canada evaded the chaser, moved the ball wide and set free Carmen Izyk on the sideline. The wing carved up the defense and the support was quick to provide options back in the middle of the field. Flyhalf Claire Gallagher took the final pass for the centered try and conversion, 7-0.
About five minutes later, Tafuna looked to get the USA out of trouble, goose-stepping around the defense for a solid break. But then the ball was bobbled in the middle of the field, Canada swarmed and countered quickly. No. 8 Tylo Borsboom worked the 2-on-1 and put fullback Savannah Bauder away for the try and 12-0 lead.
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Wing Sereana Vulaono was an excellent presence in the restarts and always pressured the receipt. The USA had a lineout on the 30 meter but the ball went over the top for Canada to claim. The Americans really struggled with that set piece, and Canada was also able to steal the ball in the air. The Canadians also really pushed the kicking game – for territory and inside the opposition 22, when a stout USA defense was tough to penetrate. On this occasion, a USA knock-on set up a Canada scrum, and Gallagher poked another grubber through the line. Alex Wantlin and Adegoke were tracking across the field for the pickup when the ball took an incredible bounce back inside and right into Bauder’s arms for the try, 17-0.
Canada certainly had the momentum into the break but the USA had its bright moments. The team had to play a lot of defense, but they were big and physical in that contest. Malia Isaacs, Tessa Hann, Tafuna were all prominent, and Bitter was also very active and reliable. We didn’t get to see what the backline could really do. A few opportunities were muddied by timing issues, but Eti Haungatau did an excellent job of moving the ball to space – i.e., Adegoke – on a couple of occasions, and that kickstarted some fun breakaways and linkages.
The second half had a more scrappy feel. The USA still played a lot of defense but stood up big time. During one series, the forward pressure around the breakdown drove Canada back 20-plus meters, building all kinds of good energy. The team also withstood a yellow card disadvantage, relinquishing zero points during that time.
In the middle of the half, Canada built from a scrum penalty and solid lineout. The ball moved side to side, and Canada kept possession long enough to send flanker Rachel Smith across for the try. Gallagher converted for the 24-0 lead.
The USA started working its bench and also replacing players due to injury – Mae Sagapolu, Taina Tukuafu, Vulaono. That energy helped propel a USA try in the final minute. Starting prop Alivia Leatherman moved the ball to reserve Lewanda Aspinall, who sent an over-the-head pass just before contact to Adegoke on the wing. The flyer worked so hard on the sideline, beating three defenders to get within meters of the try line. Just before forward momentum stopped, reserve front row Lauren Ferridge was there in support for the offload and dive-over try, 24-5 the final.