Canada’s return to test rugby proved to be a lopsided affair Saturday as Wales ran in 10 tries en route to a 68-12 victory.
The 23rd-ranked Canadians scored the first try of the game, only to see No. 6 Wales reel off 40 consecutive points before the stroke of halftime. The Welsh, the reigning Six Nations champions, added 21 points before Canada scored again.
The match at Principality Stadium in Cardiff was the first for the Canadian men in almost 21 months, following a 66-7 loss on Oct. 8, 2019 to eventual champion South Africa at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. The pandemic had sidelined the Canadians since, other than a short camp last November.
In contrast, Wales came into the match with 15 tests under its belt since the World Cup.
Canada gave seven players their first caps and, despite the score, had its moments. But it was under almost constant pressure.
“We hit the wall after about 20 minutes,” Canada coach Kingsley Jones said. “For the boys to finish the game the way they did was great. It is about the boys getting used to the speed. I thought they adjusted to it.”
Canada plays No. 3 England, runner-up at the 2019 World Cup, at Twickenham next Saturday.
The Welsh side was missing 10 players who are on tour in South Africa with the British and Irish Lions plus captain Alun Wyn Jones, who was injured early in the Lions warm-up match against Japan. But it still had plenty of experience.
Kainoa Lloyd and Cooper Coats, on his test debut, scored tries for Canada. Peter Nelson kicked a conversion.
Lloyd appeared to have scored a second try in the 67th minute when he touched down a grubber kick. But the grounding did not pass muster by the television match official. A minute later, Canada replacement hooker Eric Howard was judged to have knocked on as he went for the Welsh goal-line.
Canada finally got its second try in the 69th minute when Coats, off a Canadian scrum, ran a great line to slice through the Welsh defence.
“In the second half we just let our standards slip a bit,” said Welsh captain Jonathan Davies, who earned his 89th cap. “And to be fair to Canada, they put a spirited effort in the second half and they came at us for the full 80 (minutes).”
Tomos Williams, Jonah Holmes and Taine Basham each scored two tries and James Botham, Nicky Smith, Elliot Dee and Will Rowlands added singles for Wales. Callum Sheedy booted seven conversions and Ben Thomas added two more.
“They brought everything – the skill, the execution, the pace of the game,” said Canada captain Lucas Rumball. “I think we made it tough for ourselves at times, trying to play too fast when we should have slowed it down, got our composure back. But they take every opportunity you give them and we gave them lots today.”
Jones, a former Wales captain, is using the July tests as preparation time for World Cup qualifiers this fall. The Canadians open their qualifying campaign against the 16th-ranked U.S. Eagles on Sept. 4 in St. John’s, N.L., with the return match set for Sept. 11 south of the border.
Jones isn’t the only member of the Canadian camp to have Welsh ties. Senior assistant coach Rob Howley was a star scrum half for Wales and technical adviser Byron Hayward was also part of the Welsh coaching setup.
Saturday marked the first time Jones had coached against his homeland.
The game was seen by 6,100 spectators, the first allowed at the stadium since February 2020.
Jones called his lineup “possibly one of the youngest Canadian teams ever.” Eight of the 15 starters were 24 or younger.
Coats, scrum half Ross Braude, centre Quinn Ngawati and No. 8 Siaki Vikilani all made their Canadian senior debut. The 22-year-old Ngawati spent time with rugby league’s Toronto Wolfpack before returning to rugby union.
Prop Tyler Rowland, flanker Michael Smith and lock Donald Carson won their first caps off the Canadian bench.
The Canadian starting 15 went into the match with a combined 206 caps, with props Djustice Sears-Duru and Jake Iinicki accounting for 90 of those.
Leigh Halfpenny won his 96th cap for Wales and 100th in all tests including Lions play. Sadly the 32-year-old fullback lasted just 89 seconds, his leg seeming to buckle as he went into contact. He was taken off on a stretcher.
“He just stepped off one leg and tweaked the knee. We won’t know how bad it is until he gets that scanned, and he will do that early next week,” said Wales coach Wayne Pivac.
“He was frustrated that was how his 100th test finished.”
The injury was suspected to involve the anterior cruciate ligament. Halfpenny tore the ligament in his right knee against Italy in September 2015. He was out for nine months.
The Wales starting 15, which features two uncapped players, had a combined caps total of 414. There were three uncapped players among the Welsh replacements.
Canada’s Nelson missed a long-distance penalty attempt in the third minute. But Canada went ahead in the fifth after a fine Nelson kick pinned the Welsh deep. A opportunistic quick penalty tap opened up the Wales defence with Ben LeSage eventually feeding Lloyd for a 5-0 lead.
Wales pulled ahead 7-5 in the seventh on a converted try with Williams touching down after a rumbling run by Rowlands a holes began to show in the Canada defence.
The Welsh added to their lead in the 15th minute with Botham touching down in the corner off a pass from Davies after Wales overloaded the Canadian defence. Botham is the grandson of England cricket star Ian Botham.
Despite some smash-mouth Canadian tackling, Wales upped its lead to 19-5 with a converted try in the 21st minute as it outlasted the Canada defence.
The Welsh scrum began to take control, winning penalties that helped put Canada in testing positions. Smith crashed over in the 28th minute, capping off a 13-phase move after a Canadian scrum penalty for a 26-5 lead. There was more of the same four minutes later when Dee bulled his way over after a Canadian penalty for an infraction at the breakdown near the posts.
Another penalty cost Canada as Rowlands, a big mobile lock, left tackers in his wake as he touched down in the 37th.
The tries kept coming in the second half with Williams scoring his second of the game in the 46th minute after the Canadian defence was compromised. The conversion increased the lead to 47-5.
Canada laid siege to the Welsh try-line after a pair of penalties but could not break through with the move eventually ending in a knock-on.
Basham, making his debut off the bench, scored two late tries with Holmes the last to touch down for Wales.
It was the first meeting between the two countries since May 2009 when Wales beat Canada 32-23 in Toronto. Canada’s lone win over the Welsh came in November 1993 at Cardiff when a last-ditch try by Al Charron and conversion by Gareth Rees gave Canada a historic 26-24 victory.