Monday, October 12, 2015

Canada 15 vs Romania 17 (Pool D, Rugby World Cup) - October 6, 2015

The primary purpose of my short trip to England was to see Canada in the Rugby World Cup. They were in Pool D along with France, Ireland, Italy, and Romania. Out of those opponents, Romania would likely provide the most competitive match, so I based my trip around their Tuesday encounter in Leicester.

The city of Leicester is about 100 miles north of London and close to Rugby, where the game was born nearly 200 years ago. I spent the day exploring the town and will write about that in a separate post. The game was a 16:45 start at King Power Stadium, home of Leicester City FC of the EPL, but during the tournament the stadium is referred to as Leicester City Stadium for sponsorship reasons.

Interestingly, Leicester has a top rugby squad in the Tigers but their home ground just minutes away was deemed unsuitable for the Rugby World Cup, amid some controversy. The stadium had hosted RWC matches in the past, and although capacity is about 3/4 of that of Leicester City Stadium (24,000 to 32,262), but it is lacking in some pretty obscure areas. Anyway, Leicester rugby fans were not happy and when they were given 3 pretty crappy matches, they didn't bother snapping up tickets, which allowed me to pick up one and thus I found myself wandering around the outside of a soccer stadium in anticipation of a rugby match.

I had ordered tickets online and picked up Category B seat for 45 pounds, which left me close to the try line midway up. Not a bad seat but a bit expensive for a couple of lower ranked countries.

End zone seats were quite a bit cheaper at 15 quid, and as this was a soccer stadium, much better value than they were at Olympic Stadium, where I saw a match a couple of days prior. But even these were still available at the box office and in fact, there were plenty of empties around the stadium, with about 5,000 unsold tickets remaining as the game started.

It had been raining on and off all day, including a mini-downpour that had me seeking shelter in a pub as I walked to the stadium. The length of the storm was about the same time it took to enjoy a pint of ale, a happy coincidence. By the time I got to the stadium the sun was out and a rainbow appeared behind the main stand.

There were many fans supporting one of the two nations, as well as a lot of neutrals who just enjoy rugby. I had mostly Romanian fans in my section, though there were three drunk Canucks right in front of me.

The players came out to a nice little pyrotechnic display, which kind of captured how Canada's day would end. In flames, in other words.

From the start, the Canadians were clearly the better team, but that is not saying much. Handling errors and missed kicks were the order of the day. Canada's Gordon McRorie converted just 1 of 3 penalties and missed the only try conversion in the first half (Canada scored 8 points when they could have scored 16), but Romania could not capitalize either, missing a penalty themselves and struggling to gain ground against Canada's solid defense. The halftime score was 8-0, the lowest of the tournament.

In the second half, Jeff Hassler (named man of the match way too early) escaped some weak Romanian tackling and tacked on another try. When Nathan Hirayama (who had replaced McRorie as the kicker) added the conversion, it was 15-0 Canada and victory was assured. As long as Canada didn't lie back. Oops. I could see their change in strategy immediately, or perhaps Romania responded with a more powerful approach that forced the Canadians back on their heels. Either way, the game had changed and Romania was starting to dominate; their captain Mihai Macovei scored a try in the 53rd minute and added another in the 75th with Canada down a man; both were converted by Florin Vlaicu to make it 15-14 Canada. All Romania had to do was force a penalty, which they did in the next scrum, and convert it, which Vlaicu did to clinch the win, the biggest comeback in Rugby World Cup history. I could sense the outcome from about the 57th minute, when Hirayama missed yet another penalty, you can't leave 11 points in the dressing room and expect to win at this level.

Well, at least I can say I saw rugby history. It was a depressing end to an otherwise extremely enjoyable trip, but on the bright side, I spent the overnight hours at a 24-hour sports bar watching the Yankees lose to Houston in the AL Wild Card game before catching an early flight back to reality.



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