Wales down brave Canucks

09th Sep 2007, 17:46

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Sonny Parker dots down Wales' first try

Sonny Parker dots down Wales' first try

Wales got their World Cup trail off to a fine start on Sunday, beating Canada 42-17 in Nantes, although they had to fight back to do it.

Wales got their World Cup trail off to a fine start on Sunday, beating Canada 42-17 in Nantes on Sunday, although they had to fight to do it.

Canada led 17-9 after five minutes of the second half, and it was the introduction of Gareth Thomas and Stephen Jones that steadied the Welsh ship, with the Welsh running in five tries thereafter.

However it was the first half that really got the Welsh fans needing manicures at half-time after chewing their nails to the bone. Not even Nostradamus himself could have predicted Canada going into the break with a three-point lead after a well-structured game of rugby from the Canucks.

The game started off with a minute's silence for the passing of former Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) president and honorary life vice-patron Sir Tasker Watkins who died at the age of 88.

Wales did nothing to prove their critics wrong after their poor results leading up to the World Cup left them in the bad books. It was as if Wales felt all they needed to do was turn up.

But how wrong they were, as Canada took it upon themselves to make a go of it and try pull off what would have been the tournament's second major upset in the space of three days.

Canada showed no signs of nerves and played a more controlled game of rugby with their big pack of forwards keeping the subdued Wales pack guessing with thundering rolling mauls from all over the park.

Wales never seemed to have a game-plan and relied on Canada to make the errors before launching any decent attack of their own.

The problem was Canada weren't making any mistakes and took play to the Welshmen - be it from clever kicks from fly-half Andre Monro, or little bursting runs from wing DTH van der Merwe and full-back Mike Pyke.

It was the constant hustle and bustle of the Canucks that kept Wales so unsettled. It also counted against Canada though, whose over eagerness resulted in four penalties against them, of which three were turned into points by fly-half James Hook.

With Wales boasting a generous 9-0 lead after 20 minutes played on the stadium clock, the game looked to be slowly drifting away from Canada. The capacity crowd also had nothing spectacular to cheer about.

However that was all about to change as the remainder of the half was painted red - with Wales sporting a dark grey kit, it's obvious they were not the ones in possession of the paintbrush.

Canada mounted an attack just outside the Wales' 22m line with twelve impressive phases of play that ended with lock Jamie Cudmore eventually finding a small gap in the wall of grey defenders. The ref was right on the spot to award the first try of the match.

The touchline conversion was just pushed wide by wing James Pritchard, but Canada were at least on the board.

Van der Merwe nearly made it try number two for Canada, but failed to hang on to a sneaky interception. Instead it was centre Craig Culpan who showed everyone how it's done when snatching a Hook pass near his own line and racing 90 metres to score.

It was unfortunate for Wales, who had launched their first real attack and had a try just begging to be scored with a five-man overlap to the left. But Culpan showed good initiative and had the legs to outrun Hook to the corner flag.

Pritchard's conversion was successful this time round and Canada were applauded off the field as they went into the changing rooms 12-9 ahead.

Canada started the second half with the same confidence and verve as they did the first, with captain Morgan Williams marshalling his forwards to the Wales line yet again.

The nippy scrum-half then made an American Football-style dive over the ruck to score the third try for Canada. The conversion missed yet again, but the Canucks held an impressive 17-9 lead.

It didn't come as a surprise when Wales coach Gareth Jenkins made two big substitutions, replacing James Hook and Kevin Morgan with Stephen Jones and Gareth Thomas respectively.

It was at that moment that the tables had turned for Wales as Sonny Parker immediately was sent into a gap by Jones for the side's first touchdown - much to the relief of the players and their fans.

Jones made the simple enough conversion and Wales were already just one point adrift from Canada.

Winger Shane Williams had an interesting next few minutes as a comedy of errors plagued the Ospreys winger. First he had a clean break with players on either side facing a clear run to the line. Instead, he fumbled the ball and tripped with not even a feather touching him.

The second try-scoring opportunity was blown just moments later after a casual dive for the corner ended in Van der Merwe taking his opposite number out into touch.

However it was the Canucks seeing red after a simple pass for a clearance kick was dropped by Pyke on his line. Towering Wales lock Alun-Wyn Jones seized the loose ball and fell over the line for only his second try for Wales.

Jones converted to give Wales the lead once again with 57 minutes of the match already played.

Shane Williams was then on hand to make up for his earlier two blunders to score two tries of his own. The first coming off a Tom Shanklin break - he never put a foot wrong all afternoon - and the second from some genius play from Gareth Thomas.

All of a sudden the lead had stretched out to eighteen pints with Wales looking a lot happier with a 35-17 scoreline.

Another replacement that had an influence in the turning of this match was veteran flank Colin Charvis who was rewarded for his efforts with a superbly worked try of his own. Again it was Stephen Jones who was responsible for setting everything up after slipping an inside pass to Charvis, who still had a lot of hard yards to make up.

Wales looked a completely different outfit and more tries could have been scored if it weren't for some wandering hands from the Canadians spoiling play.

However it was Canada who again took control in the last ten minutes as they continued to bash away at the Wales line. Hats off to the Welsh defence though, who never gave the Canucks an inch.

Though the final scoreline will suggest an impressive victory for Wales - the coaching staff will be very concerned leading up to their clash with Australia. In fact, make that Fiji as well.

Man of the match: For Canada, hats must be tipped to captain Morgan Williams and the entire Canada forward pack for their impressive march towards the Wales' tryline, which led to two tries. For Wales, replacements Stephen Jones and Gareth Thomas were instrumental in playing Wales back into a better sounding tune. Prop Gethin Jenkins was the pick of the Welsh pack, who really gave it his all in all facets of play. But it was Tom Shanklin who never put a foot wrong from start to finish in the midfield. The well-built centre wreaked havoc every time he touched the ball and kept the Canada defenders on their toes. it was no surprise then that nearly all the breaks came from this