Canada will miss the Rugby World Cup for the first time ever, knocked out of contention Saturday by Chile in a 33-24 defeat Saturday that gave the South Americans a 54-46 aggregate victory in the two-legged qualifying series.
The 21st-ranked Canadian men held a slim lead over No. 28 Chile after their 22-21 opening-leg win last Saturday in Langford, B.C., with Robbie Povey’s late penalty giving Canada the edge.
Little went right for Canada after taking an early 3-0 lead in Saturday’s rematch, however. Chile reeled off 16 straight points for a 16-3 lead on the day and a 12-point aggregate advantage at halftime. And when Canada tried to cut the gap in the second half, the Chileans kept answering.
Chile will now face the loser of the U.S.-Uruguay series with a berth in France 2023 on the line. Canada can only watch and wonder.
The Chileans were full value for the victory, showing a more creative attack and often bone-crunching defence at Estadio Elias Figueroa Brander. Fly half Rodrigo Fernandez quarterbacked the Chile attack, carving open the Canadian backline.
Eric Howard, Andrew Quattrin and Kainoa Lloyd scored tries for Canada. Peter Nelson kicked a penalty and two conversions. Povey added a conversion.
Fernandez, Matias Dittus and Santiago Videla scored tries for Chile. Videla also booted four penalties and three conversions.
It marks the first time the Canadian men will be a spectator at the World Cup. They had qualified for all nine previous editions, stretching back to 1987.
Failing to qualify will significantly impact Rugby Canada’s bottom line, given World Cup qualification carries with it a financial boost from World Rugby. It represents another setback, coming after the women’s seven team — bronze medallists at the 2016 Rio Olympics — finished ninth this summer in Tokyo.
And it is another body blow to a governing body that made headlines for all the wrong reasons earlier this year when past and present members of that women’s sevens team launched a formal complaint under Rugby Canada’s bullying and harassment policy.
The pandemic meant head coach Kingsley Jones had few opportunities to test his team ahead of qualifying series against the U.S. — Canada lost 59-50 in that aggregate series — and Chile.
The U.S. defeated Uruguay 19-16 on Oct. 2 to kick off their two-legged playoff in Glendale, Colo. The second leg was later Saturday at Estadio Charrua in Montevideo.
Chile had lost all seven previous meetings with Canada, outscored 267-83. The South Americans have never qualified for the World Cup, positing a 14-15-0 career record in qualifying prior to Saturday.
Chile showed early purpose, driving at the Canadians. But the visitors scored first.
Back-to-back early penalties against Chile moved Canada five metres from the Chilean try line. A third penalty allowed Nelson to kick for the posts and a 3-0 lead on the day after just five minutes.
Chile won the restart and then a penalty at the breakdown, with Videla’s kick tying it up. Another Chile penalty kick by Videla put the home side ahead 6-3 in the 17th minute.
Chile threatened in the 20th minute, using a throw to the front of the lineup after a Canadian penalty to attack the corner. But the Canadians bundled the ball-carrier out of touch to end the attack.
Chile pulled ahead in the 24th minute on a converted try by Fernandez, a magnificent solo effort that saw the fly half soar high in the air to pull down a Ross Braude box kick and then run through the Canadian defence to score under the posts for a 13-3 lead.
Canada roared straight back but lost the ball near the Chile try-line when the Chileans stalled a driving maul.
Another Fernandez run, this time after a blocked kick, opened up the Canadian defence and the Chilean forwards laid siege on the Canadian try-line. But the Canadians held firm and won a turnover to end the threat.
Another penalty against Canada — for a lineout infraction — and Videla’s boot gave Chile a 16-3 lead in the 34th minute.
Chile came close to another try in the dying minutes of the first half, launching an attack from the scrum down the blind side via No. 8 Alfonso Escobar. But a handling error at the breakdown gave Canada reprieve.
Argentine referee Nehuen Jauri Rivero warned Chile early in the second half for repeated infringements. And minutes later, hooker Augusto Bohme was sent to the sin-bin for taking out the man in a lineout.
Howard scored off a maul from the ensuing lineout near the Chile try-line to cut the lead, with Nelson’s conversion, to 16-10 in the 46th minute.
An error on the ensuing restart typified Canada’s day. And another penalty prompted the referee to warn Canadian captain Lucas Rumball to stop the infractions or else.
With the hooker still in the sin-bin, Chile took a tap-and-go penalty from in-close and eventually bulled over for another try via Dittus. The conversion extended Chile’s lead to 23-10.
Canada prop Djustice Sears-Duru was sent to the sin-bin in the 60th minute after another Canadian penalty. Videla kicked the penalty for a 26-10 lead.
A Chile penalty gave Canada a lineout at the five-metre line and Quattrin went over at the back of the driving maul in the 66th minute. Nelson’s conversion cut the lead to 26-17.
A slashing Fernandez run opened up the Canadian defence yet again and the elusive fly half passed to Videla to score in the corner in the 70th minute. The conversion upped the lead to 33-17.
Substitute Chile prop Salvador Lues was sin-binned in the 74th minute, paying the price for repeated Chilean infractions. Canada pressed at the end but knocked the ball on at the try-line. Lloyd scored a consolation converted try in the 80th minute to make it 33-24.
Jones made two changes to his starting lineup for Saturday’s rematch.
Former captain Tyler Ardron, back from his Castres Olympique team in France, came in for Matt Heaton at flanker while Patrick Parfrey slotted in for Cooper Coats at Estadio Elias Figueroa Brander. Prop Matt Tierney and wing/centre Quinn Ngawati joined the Canadian replacements, replacing Jake Ilnicki and Parfrey.
Heaton and Coats did not make the 10,400-kilometre trip to Chile.
Canada’s starting 15 featured seven members of the Toronto Arrows, with another three among the replacements.
The Canadians were coming off a 59-50 aggregate loss to the 16th-ranked U.S. Eagles that moved the Americans into the playoff with No. 17 Uruguay, with the winner qualifying for France 2023 as Americas 1 alongside No. 1 New Zealand, No. 6 France, No. 14 Italy and Africa 1 in Pool A.
The Canadians qualified for the 2019 World Cup in Japan the hard way the last time out, winning a four-team repechage after losing series to the U.S. and Uruguay.
This time around, Canada led the U.S. 34-21 after the first leg Sept. 4 in St. John’s. But the Americans rallied with a 38-16 victory Sept. 11 in Glendale.
Argentina qualified automatically from the Americas by virtue of its performance at the 2019 World Cup in Japan. Uruguay became the top qualifying seed in South America by winning a three-team tournament that also included Chile and Brazil.
The Chileans moved into the Americas 2 playoff on the strength of their second-place finish at that competition.
Canada came in to Saturday’s match with a 20-8-1 record in World Cup qualifying but half of those defeats have come in the qualifying processes for Japan 2019 and France 2023.
– The Canadian Press