Play Smarter: Canadian rugby team hopes to correct mental mistakes against Tonga

The Canadian Press/Neil Davidson
The Canadian Press/Neil Davidson

BURNABY, B.C. – Canadian rugby head coach Kieran Crowley has a simple request for his team — use your head.

Canada did a lot of things right in its Pacific Nations Cup opener against Japan last weekend, but also made a number of sloppy mistakes in what would turn out to be a penalty-filled 20-6 defeat.

With another match in the competition set for Friday against Tonga, and the Rugby World Cup less than two months away, Crowley wants to see improvement in his side’s mental approach.

“We played some good rugby,” said Crowley. “We created a lot of opportunities that we just never took. We’ve got to be a lot more accurate.

“We need to be a lot smarter.”

Crowley didn’t have much time with his players prior to the game against No. 12 Japan in San Jose, Calif., and wants to see how the 18th-ranked Canadians respond to his call for better discipline.

“We’ve got to pay attention to it,” he said. “Giving away 15 penalties in a game is not good enough. You can’t afford to do that at the international level.”

Canadian captain Tyler Ardron was frustrated by the performance against Japan, but added the rust wasn’t all that surprising.

“Once you’ve had that week and a game, building up to the next week as we are now, you start to get into the patterns,” said the 24-year-old from Lakefield, Ont. “It definitely does take a game to get it and I think that did show last weekend.”

No. 13 Tonga also opened the six-team tournament with a loss — falling 30-22 to No. 10 Fiji — and like Canada, is looking to find its stride ahead of the World Cup.

“We are very disappointed that we let that game slip through our fingers,” said Tongan captain Nili Latu. “We took a lot of positives from it and are looking forward to the challenge on Friday knowing the Canadians are always tough to beat at home.”

Asked later what fans can expect from a country they might not be familiar with, Latu replied with a grin: “We’re from the friendly island. We bring a lot of smiles, a lot of passion into rugby — a lot of fun, as well.”

But those characteristics aside, Ardron said Canada knows it will be in for a fight at Swangard Stadium.

“Physicality is obviously the one thing you think of first, but also just some individual players they have that are going to pose a good threat,” he said. “We’re going to have to stick together and stay in our systems.”

Working on those systems is one of Crowley’s goals for the tournament to ensure his players are comfortable heading into the World Cup.

“We’ve changed a few things. You can train as much as you like, but a game is completely different,” said the New Zealand-born coach. “We want to come out at the end of the PNC having a blueprint of how we want to play the game going forward.”

While teaching and evaluating is important, Crowley also wants to secure a victory on home soil to get rid of the bad taste from the tournament opener.

“The No. 1 priority is win. That’s the thing for me,” said Crowley. “The benefits from that will outweigh any negatives.”

Notes: The United States (0-1), ranked 16th in the world, meets Japan on Friday in Sacramento, while Fiji takes on No. 9 Samoa (1-0). … Next up for Canada is a date with Samoa as part of a triple header in Toronto on Wednesday before the event wraps up back in Burnaby with three playoff fixtures on Aug. 3. … Canada is waiting on the health status of a number of veterans and won’t name its World Cup roster until after the PNC.

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