(Langford, BC) Led by two tries each from Pierce Dargan and Noah Tarrant, the Junior All-Americans mounted a huge comeback to beat the Canadian U-20 squad 34-28 at Bear Mountain Stadium.
The victory completed a two-match sweep for the touring team. The USA U-20s previously defeated Canada 27-22 last Wednesday.
The American tourists found themselves under heavy pressure from the first kickoff. No. 8 Cam Stones opened the scoring for Canada just four minutes in, thundering into the try zone. Tries from scrumhalf Andrew Ferguson and wing Josh Hart followed in short order - flyhalf Connor McCann hit all three conversions, putting Canada up 21-0 just fourteen minutes in.
Lock Pierce Dargan, of Dublin University, scored first for the Americans. Dartmouth's Madison Hughes added two points, bringing the score to 21-7. The two sides battled back and forth, but the JAAs ended the half with momentum on their side: high school winger Noah Tarrant, of the Oceanside Hurricanes, broke through the Canadian line to score. Hughes converted, narrowing the gap to 21-14 at halftime.
Tarrant opened the second stanza just as he had closed the first - with a try. Hughes missed the conversion, leaving the Canadians with a narrow two-point lead. The fullback soon redeemed himself with a 51st minute penalty goal to put the visitors ahead for the first time in the match, 22-21.
The Canadians drove deep into the visiting half, but stiff American defense held up the attackers just over the line. The hosts showcased their ability to play strong phase rugby, swinging the ball out and pressing forward until center Mike Fuilefau finally touched down to retake the lead, 28-22.
America's response was swift. The Junior AA backrow, led by eightman Alex Goff, launched into Canada's line to crack open space for an American rebuttal. Hooker Cameron Falcon hit the gap to make it a one-point game just minutes later: 28-27, still in the Canadians' favor. (Goff, a freshman starter at Arkansas State, seemed to be everywhere but the try zone - he was quick off the scrum, relentless at the breakdown and an absolute terror in open play.)
Throughout the match, referee David Smortchevsky repeatedly pinged Canada for infringing at the ruck. His warnings culminated in a pair of fatal yellow cards - reserve flanker Fuku Vikalani and center Clayton Meeres were sent off in the 70th and 73rd minutes, respectively, for an offense at the ruck and a dangerous tackle. Canada was down two men with less than ten minutes in the match, and Dargan wasted no time in exploiting numerical advantage for his second try of the day. Hughes converted to make it 34-28, giving the Americans a narrow lead in the match's final moments.
The Junior AAs made the mistake of committing a turnover in injury time, giving the Canadians the opportunity to make a game-winning score as they drew close to the try line. Resolute tackling made up for the Americans' error - they ran the clock down, and Hughes booted the ball into touch on the final possession to end the match with a USA victory.
The two-game test series served as the final tune-up for the Junior All-Americans before the 2012 IRB Junior World Cup Tournament, to be held June 18-30th in Salt Lake City. (Canada takes on the University of St. Andrew's U-20 side on June 9th.) Both teams will compete in different pools on June 18th: Canada will kick off against Georgia in Pool B, while the United States takes on Tonga in Pool A.
USA Junior All-Americans
Tries: Pierce Dargan (2), Noah Tarrant (2), Cameron Falcon
Conversions: Madison Hughes (3/5)
Penalty goal: Madison Hughes
Madison Hughes, Pasefika Iosia, So'e Tatafu, Kingsley McGowan, Noah Tarrant; Will Magie ©, Alex Taefu; Vei Tomasi, Cameron Falcon, Angus MacClellan, Nick Barrett, Pierce Dargan, Tim O'Hara, Teli Veamatahau, Alex Goff.
Reserves: Casper Huizenga, Khrys Speed, Aladdin Schirmer, Brendan Hardiman, Nick Boyer, Sione Letoi, Tanner Barnes, Travis Whitlock.
Tries: Cam Stones, Andrew Ferguson, Josh Hart, Michael Fuilefau
Conversions: Connor McCann (4/4)
Patrick Kay, Lucas Hammond, Michael Fuilefau, Clayton Meeres, Josh Hart (Mike Dalsin); Connor McCann, Andrew Ferguson; Noah Barker, Casey Reed (Eric Selvaggi), Jake Ilnicki ©, Jacob Rumball, Andrew McGinn, Matthew Heaton (Fuku Vikilani), Chase Kelliher, Cam Stones.
Reserves: Alex Marshall, Ryan Monahan, Doug Crowe, Caleb Hanson.
Referee: David Smortchevsky (Canada)