Canada maintained a winning start to their maiden IRB Pacific Nations Cup 2013 campaign with a 20-18 victory over Fiji in Ottawa.
Building on their opening day win over the USA, Canada took the match to Fiji from the off and dominated both territory and possession in the early exchanges.
In the 11th minute the Canucks deservedly took the lead through industrious captain Aaron Carpenter, who, in touching down under the posts, broke Al Charron’s national record for tries by a forward. The number 8’s tenth try in international rugby was converted by Connor Braid to give Canada a 7-0 advantage.
Surprisingly out-gunned at scrum time, Canada refused to cow-tow to the Fijians in all other physical aspects of the match.
The resolute defence so evident against USA was again on show as Fiji’s powerful runners found it difficult to make too much headway when consistently asked to run from deep.
However Canada were powerless to stop Nemani Nadolo when he picked up the ball on halfway, fended off rookie fly half Liam Underwood, then broke through another tackle before rounding Braid for a brilliant individual unconverted score.
After a sluggish start Fiji had now picked up the pace, with dynamic flanker Apisai Naikatini very much to the fore. It was his run that led to a penalty for Fiji in the 25th minute, which fly half Setareki Koroilagilagi duly kicked.
Braid and Koroilagilagi then traded penalties to take the half-time score to 11-10 to Fiji.
Carpenter was unable to continue after the break and was replaced by London Irish’s Jebb Sinclair in a Canada back row that continued to be more than a match for Fiji at the breakdown.
Four minutes into the half Canada regained the initiative when centre Harry Jones won a foot race to get on the end of Matt Evans’ hack downfield.
Leading 15-11, Canada sensed a first win over Fiji since 1995 was within their grasp, and that belief was further heightened after a brilliant run from man-of-the-match, scrum half Phil Mack, set up a try for replacement hooker Ray Barwill with just under an hour of the contest gone.
Braid was again unable to convert and Fiji ensured a nerve-racking finale to the contest, watched by a crowd of 4,530 at Twin Elm Park, when captain Akapusi Qera capped a fine individual performance with a try from close range that replacement back Jiuta Lutumailagi improved for a 20-18 scoreline to Canada.
With the victory, Canada climbs to the top of the table in PNC 2013. They currently lead Fiji by two points with Tonga, who they meet in Kingston on Saturday, a further point back in third.
Looking ahead to their third PNC fixture on home soil, Carpenter said: “First and foremost we’re going to be concentrating on our recovery because it’s going to be another very physical battle against a very tough team in Tonga.
“Tonga play with a bit more structure than Fiji, so we will have to keep that in mind, but they are still going to run hard at us and we’ll have to do what we did today – chop them down low.”