LANGFORD, B.C. — A strong second-half performance by a rejuvenated Canadian side gave the hosts a 34-24 victory over Italy in a women’s international rugby 15s test match at Starlight Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Tied 12-12 at halftime, Canada struck twice in the first 10 minutes of the second half in the match featuring world-ranked No. 4 Canada and No. 6-rated Italy. The teams will be competing in the same pool at October's World Cup in New Zealand.
Canada’s dominant pack powered its way to two early second-half scores and a 26-12 advantage as Emily Tuttosi of Souris, Man., and hometown product, and team captain Sophie de Goede punched in tries with some strong work up front. Both tries were converted by Brianna Miller of Pointe-Claire, Que.
“I thought we started the game well, too. Then we lulled a bit the second 20 (minutes) of the first half. We lulled a bit near the end of the game, too, after they put in that try, but we did a good job to close it out in the end and win back momentum. It was definitely a game of ebbs and flows,” said de Goede, who was named player of the match.
The extra honour was a thrill for the Victoria product, who had a large contingent on hand.
“It was absolutely incredible. Just being able to go up into the stands after the game and give my mom and dad hugs, and brothers and aunts and uncles and all my family and friends. Honestly, there’s no feeling like it. I’m still revelling in the game,” said de Goede.
The victory didn’t come without some scares, however.
Sara Tounesi kept Italy’s hopes alive with a try 58 minutes in, but Canada flexed its muscle off a lineout as the pack mauled its way in eight minutes later to extend the lead to 31-17 when Paige Farries of Red Deer recorded her second try of the game.
“Those were some of the easiest tries I’ve ever had to score. The team did all the hard work and I, generally, just had to dart the ball across the line,” said Farries, who has also spent her adult time in Victoria.
Italian captain Elisa Giordano took advantage of a poor Canadian lineout with five minutes remaining and a Sofia Stefan conversion cut the lead to 31-24 Canada. But de Goede added a penalty kick with just a few minutes left to clinch the victory.
The game began well for Canada, which opened a 5-0 lead seven minutes into the contest as Farries punched in a try to set a strong early tone with a clinical start for the home side.
However, Italy responded quickly when Vittoria Ostuni Minuzzi parted a red sea of Canadian defenders from beyond midfield and scampered in for a lengthy score on a counter attack off a long Canadian kick. The convert put the visitors up 7-5 nine minutes into the first half.
Ten minutes later, Sara Kaljuvee of Ajax, Ont., recorded Canada’s second try from five metres out to regain the lead and Miller split the uprights for the conversion — after striking a post on her first effort from a horrendous angle — for a 12-7 lead.
Canada’s pack showed its dominance early and its defence was challenged 30 minutes in as the hosts thwarted an Italian threat near its touch line. Key tackles from de Goede and Fabiola Forteza of Quebec City kept the visitors at bay after a lineout from five metres out went to the Azzurri’s favour.
Italy pressured yet again and Maria Magatti finally broke through for a second try just before halftime to tie it at 12-12 after the conversion fell short. Canada adjusted well at the halftime break.
“Just to relax and don’t overplay stuff,” Canadian coach Kevin Rouet said when asked what the message he delivered to his troops. “If we do our basics well, we will win. That’s what we said to them. Don’t overplay, just do the simple stuff. We started with the maul. It’s not pretty, but it’s efficient.”
Aside from the highly anticipated matchup between the highly ranked teams it was also Canada’s first 15s game on home soil in seven years. It will be followed by a second international test match as Canada welcomes No. 9-ranked Wales in Halifax on Aug. 27 in these coast-to-coast preps.
They now go into that game with a positive result against Italy.
“It’s a huge confidence level. We get to play another game on Canadian soil. If we did this with a month’s preparation, I can’t imagine what we’re going to do with another month’s preparation,” offered Farries.
“We need to be more clinical for sure,” said Rouet. “We also have to learn when to off-load and when we don’t. We need to find the limit, find the balance.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 24, 2022.
Mario Annicchiarico, The Canadian Press