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  • Saturday, June 17, 2000

    Ireland earns tie with Canada

     MARKHAM, Ont. (CP) -- Canada's battered rugby reputation received a much-needed boost Saturday as a fiery young Canadian side tied Ireland 27-27.
    In truth, the Irish were fortunate to escape with a draw. They trailed 21-8 at the half, never led and needed a Ronan O'Gara penalty kick in the 80th minute to escape an embarrassing loss.
     Ireland, ranked eighth in the world, was wasteful with the ball on attack and looked vulnerable on defence as the mobile Canadians came on in waves.
     "We had to stop making mistakes, otherwise it could have been a cricket score," said Irish No. 8 Anthony Foley.
     "We just didn't play well," he added. "At the end of the day we were lucky to get a draw."
     "A draw isn't good enough," said O'Gara.
     Canadian coach David Clark, whose team may move up from No. 11 in the world rankings, was elated with the tie. He improved his record to 1-2-1 since taking over the team following last fall's World Cup.
     "Why it's a miracle," the Australian said with a laugh. "To come up with a draw against Ireland, when they were really trying and really chasing us and to keep them to 27 points was very admirable."
     "We're ecstatic right now" said Canadian scrum half Morgan Williams. "There's a lot of guys going out tonight."
     Going into the match, Canada was 2-12 since a win over the U.S. in August 1998.
     Canada has never beaten Ireland, with three losses prior to Saturday's draw.
     "It's disappointing that it wasn't a win," said hard-hitting flanker Danny Baugh. "We played the game to win it not to tie it.
     "It's a little disappointing that we let it get away from us at the end. But I think it's a great day for rugby in Canada."
     The draw, before a crowd of 6,000 at Fletcher's Fields, was entertaining from start to finish. Canada will win a lot more fans if it continues to play such a brand of attractive rugby, looking to run with the ball at every opportunity.
     "There's a lot of talent on this team," said fly half Scott Stewart, who accounted for 17 of Canada's points. "It's probably the best athletes we've ever had on the national team. Their sevens experience certainly showed in the open field today."
     With the wind at its back, Canada struck quickly. Fullback Winston Stanley added to his record as Canada's leading try scorer, notching his 19th after dancing past an Irish defender down the left-hand side.
     Stewart kicked the conversion, the first of five successful kicks on the day. Flanker Gregor Dixon, Canada's seven-a-side captain, set up the next two tries -- by Philip Murphy and Stewart -- with some fine individual running. In one instance, he held the ball out as if to pass, then snapped it back and left an Irish defender in his tracks.
     "Dixon played a storming game of rugby," Clark said. "Very creative."
     Baugh also made an impact, coming off the bench in the 29th minute, despite playing with a broken hand that is due to be rebroken and set with a pin by a specialist upon his return to his Welsh club team.
     "Danny Baugh resurrected himself," said Clark, who was not happy with the play of Baugh and the rest of the back row in the 51-18 loss to South Africa the week before. "He was under the gun."
     Big tackles by Baugh stopped several Irish attacks, but they took a toll. After the game, Baugh's torso was criss-crossed with abrasions, he had a fat lip and his ear looked like it had been pistol-whipped.
     Ireland rallied in the second half with coach Warren Gatland making liberal substitutions. Guy Easterby and O'Gara came on in the 54th minute, replacing Peter Stringer and David Humphreys.
     Irish winger Justin Bishop took advantage of a giveaway by Canadian hooker Pat Dunkley after a rolling Canadian attack. Bishop, taking the ball from Irish captain Keith Wood, sprinted 50 yards for the try to cut the lead to 21-13. Bishop hurt his leg during the run and had to be helped off the field.
     Stewart kicked one penalty and O'Gara two make it 24-19 before Paul Wallace, the British Lions prop, dragged two Canadians over the line with him for a try that tied the game at 24-24 in the 66th minute.
     The Irish were penalized in the 75th minute for taking down Canadian captain Kyle Nichols as he tried to chase down his own chip. Stewart calmly slotted the ball over for a 27-24 lead.
     Then came O'Gara's tying kick from just inside the 22-metre line, saving the Irish from a loss. The Canadians had been penalized for a scrum violation.
     "I thought they started very slowly," Canadian prop Rod Snow said of the Irish. "And they're going to sit and look at the video and wonder what they were doing for the first 20 minutes."
     Snow wondered if the Irish might have underestimated them, knowing that they had run up an 83-3 win over an American side that had beaten Canada 34-25 the week before.
     Gatland praised the Canadians and wondered why his own players had come out so sluggishly.
     The Irish opened the tour with a 34-23 loss in Argentina before thrashing the Americans. They finish their season with a 7-5-1 record.
     Canada's next game is in two weeks, against Samoa.


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