IRELAND ‘A’ 39 CANADA 20, Sandy Park, Exeter (Att: 4,000)
Scorers: Ireland ‘A’: Tries: Ryan Caldwell, Darren Cave, Keith Earls, John Hearty, Johnny O’Connor, Jeremy Staunton; Cons: Jeremy Staunton 3; Pen: Jeremy Staunton
Canada: Tries: Craig Culpan, Dean Van Camp; Cons: James Pritchard 2; Pens: James Pritchard 2
Helped by a 14-point contribution from out-half Jeremy Staunton, Ireland 'A' scored a deserved win over Canada to join England Saxons at the top of the Churchill Cup table after the opening weekend's two matches.
Staunton backed up Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan's decision for him to link up with the 'A' squad instead of the seniors in Argentina as despite a poor place-kicking performance, the Limerick-born number 10 took the man of the match award.
He had a hand in two of Ireland's six tries, also touched down himself late on and linked well with his half-back partner Chris Keane and the young outside backs.
Keane, who will be playing for Leinster next season, caught the eye with some lively midfield runs, try scorers Ryan Caldwell, Darren Cave and Keith Earls enhanced their international prospects with solid displays, while Roger Wilson and Johnny O'Connor, two of only three full international in the Irish starting line-up, caused havoc for the Canadian defenders and bossed the breakdown.
Ireland's forward strength was very evident in the opening quarter, and young Ulster lock Caldwell was mauled over off a lineout drive for the game's opening try in the twelfth-minute. Staunton, who missed an early penalty shot like his Canadian counterpart James Pritchard, narrowly missed with his conversion attempt.
Canada, whose backs were particularly lively, got their first points when Pritchard landed a 16th-minute penalty, but a second Irish try followed on 24 minutes when a neat pass from Johnny Sexton, who impressed at full-back before injury ended his evening, allowed centre Cave to jink past the tackle Stan McKeen and make a 20-metre diagonal burst to the line.
Again, Staunton failed to add the extras, but although Canada attacked with plenty of purpose - they did have a couple of try-scoring chances, most notably when the ball just ran away from Pritchard in the right corner, Ireland 'A' were able to build up a decent lead.
Michael Bradley's men were being to motor when, just past the half-hour mark, a pinpoint pass out to the left from Staunton put Munster winger Earls over for a try to mark his first outing in an 'A' jersey. The conversion followed for a 17-3 lead.
A Pritchard penalty cut the gap to 11 points for the Canucks just before half-time, but Ric Suggitt's World Cup-bound side came flying out of the traps for the second half and they managed to take the lead within 13 minutes of the resumption.
The Irish, who pressed well in the opening minutes of the half, were soon on the back foot as Canada struck for two excellent tries. Ireland's defence let them down as full-back Mike Pyke ran a kick back with interest, breaking two tackles, and centre Craig Culpan took the ball on to beat two further defenders and dot down near the posts. Pritchard's conversion made it 17-13.
Boosted by that score, the Canucks almost notched a second try just a couple of minutes later but a dropped pass ended that attack. Winger Dean Van Camp was soon scoring in the left corner, after a clever pass from Pritchard, as Suggitt's men suddenly went 20-17 in front.
Ireland 'A' were now under pressure, but they rose to the challenge by scoring 22 unanswered points to see out the win. From the restart after Van Camp's try, Ireland regained possession quickly and Staunton sent an excellent chip over to the right corner for replacement John Hearty to ground the loose ball and score his side's fourth try.
Staunton missed the conversion but he added the extras to flanker O'Connor's 60th-minute try, which came after the Galway man plucked a lineout ball out of the sky and muscled his way over from close range.
Staunton, whose influence grew as the game progressed, added some cushion with a 69th-minute penalty and the win was wrapped up, three minutes from time, when the Irish forwards mauled forward and Staunton stepped past Ryan Smith to dash in behind the posts for a try which he converted. A seventh touchdown almost followed as Cave sliced through the Canadian defence, but the Ulster flyer was stopped five metres from the line and the Irish advantage remained at 19 points.
Encouragingly, all the replacements, including young Shannon hooker Sean Cronin, got a run-out. Having a competititive squad will be key for this tournament, which continues for Ireland 'A' on Tuesday, May 29 when they take on the New Zealand Maori at Sandy Park (kick-off 8pm).
TIME LINE: 4 minutes – Ireland ‘A’ penalty: missed by Jeremy Staunton; 9 mins – Canada penalty: missed by James Pritchard; 12 mins – Ireland ‘A’ try: Ryan Caldwell – 5-0; conversion: missed by Jeremy Staunton – 5-0; 16 mins – Canada penalty: James Pritchard – 5-3; 23 mins – Ireland ‘A’ try: Darren Cave – 10-3; conversion: missed by Jeremy Staunton – 10-3; 29 mins – Ireland ‘A’ try: Keith Earls – 15-3; conversion: Jeremy Staunton – 17-3; 35 mins – Canada penalty: James Pritchard – 17-6; Half-time – Ireland ‘A’ 17 Canada 6; 44 mins – Canada try: Craig Culpan – 17-11; conversion: James Pritchard – 17-13; 53 mins – Canada try: Dean Van Camp – 17-18; conversion: James Pritchard – 17-20; 55 mins – Ireland ‘A’ try: John Hearty – 22-20; conversion: missed by Jeremy Staunton – 22-20; 60 mins – Ireland ‘A’ try: Johnny O’Connor – 27-20; conversion: Jeremy Staunton – 29-20; 69 mins – Ireland ‘A’ penalty: Jeremy Staunton – 32-20; 77 mins – Ireland ‘A’ try: Jeremy Staunton – 37-20; conversion: Jeremy Staunton – 39-20; Full-time – Ireland ‘A’ 39 Canada 20
IRELAND ‘A’: Johnny Sexton; Paul McKenzie, Darren Cave, Seamus Mallon, Keith Earls; Jeremy Staunton, Chris Keane; Ray Hogan, John Fogarty (capt), Michael Ross, Ryan Caldwell, Andrew Farley, Stephen Keogh, Johnny O'Connor, Roger Wilson.
Replacements used: David Gannon for Farley, John Hearty for Sexton (both 47 mins), Farley for Gannon (49), Declan Fitzpatrick for Ross (58), Kieran Campbell for Keane (70), Fergus McFadden for Mallon (71), John Muldoon for Keogh (75), Ross for Hogan, Gannon for Farley (both 78), Sean Cronin for Fogarty (79).
CANADA: Mike Pyke; James Pritchard, Craig Culpan, David Spicer, Dean Van Camp; Ryan Smith, Morgan Williams (capt); Dan Pletch, Pat Riordan, Scott Franklin, Josh Jackson, Mike Burak, Colin Yukes, Nanyak Dala, Stan McKeen.
Replacements used: Adam Kleeburger for Dala (28 mins), Kevin Tkachuk for D Pletch (49), Aaron Carpenter for Yukes (62), Mike Pletch for Franklin (71), Ed Fairhurst for Williams (80). Not used: David Biddle, Derek Daypuck.
Referee: Andrew Small (England)
Jeremy Staunton Image © www.sportsfile.com