Can-Am comes to a close with Canada claiming victory

CHULA VISTA, Calif. - Canada secured the Can-Am Trophy for a second consecutive year Saturday as the USA Women's Eagles conceded six tries in a 37-10 loss at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center.

A standing-room-only crowd in Southern California serenaded both teams in cheers to close the Can-Am Series following a 39-5 Tuesday result in favor of the visitors. The win is Canada's third consecutive against the U.S., bringing the all-time series to an even 18-18 record. Prop Catie Benson and wing Naya Tapper recorded tries for the Eagles in their final test before Women's Rugby World Cup 2017 in Ireland.

"We're a young team that's shown flashes of what we can do; we just haven't done it consistently," Eagles Head Coach Pete Steinberg said following the defeat. "For us it's about building that consistency, which is what you get with a young team. You can see our decision-making is effected by that. When we make the right choices we're able to play really well."

The Eagles were put on the defensive in the opening minutes of the game - like they were Tuesday - and conceded points within five minutes of match official Rose LaBreche's whistle. Sara Parsons' turnover win in the second minute was undone by a missed kick to touch, and Canada opted to put pressure on in a scrum when the U.S. was penalized in the counter attack. Canada captain Kelly Russell promptly dotted down to open the scoring and give her side a fourth-minute lead at 7-0.

Canada's scrum dominance was evident throughout the match, though one set piece the U.S. kept preceded a run from Alev Kelter through three defenders. A penalty gave the ball back to Canada, and a scrum minutes later provided a platform of attack in the attacking half that led to Julianna Zussman scoring wide on an overlap, 12-0.

One identified room for improvement from Tuesday was the breaks allowed to Canada in the middle of the field. The Eagles did shore up that part of the defense, and even bounced back from a high tackle penalty against Nicole Heavirland on one such occasion to turn the ball over before it turned into points the other way.

Kelter was a menace on both sides of the ball, winning penalties left and right as she partnered with a deft Ryan Carlyle in the midfield. Unfortunately for the U.S., Carlyle sustained an injury in the tackle on a positive attack. Young Tess Feury replaced the Olympian after 26 minutes, but a turnover in their own end found Magali Harvey in enough space to extend Canada's lead to 17-0.

Eagles captain Tiffany Faaee started a break out as the half neared an end, with Feury and full back Jess Wooden getting in on the action to catch Canada off guard. Their side of the scoreboard remained empty at the break, however, with a penalty ending the opportunity.

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The physicality of Tuesday's game had transferred over to Saturday, and the Eagles were able to come out of half time with much more than they had in the first matchup of the year. The U.S. used possession from the restart to advance past the 10, and a looping pass that sent Wooden backwards was saved by the full back for a juke and offload to flanker Christiane Pheil. Pheil quickly found the screaming Tapper with one defender to beat, and the wing dotted down for a 17-5 score line.

The U.S. could not contain their own set pieces in the defensive end after Canadian fly half Emily Belchos' grubber to the corner found touch, and a penalty in front of the posts allowed Harvey to extend the lead to 20-5 with a 55th-minute penalty kick.

Kelter poked a loose ball at midfield behind the forward-running Canadians to claim the turnover, and the break supported by Feury and Wooden took the Eagles to the try line. Benson provided the finish with the reach over the line to bring the U.S. within two scores at 20-10.

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"We changed a few things around how we do half time because of our poor start on Tuesday," Steinberg said. "They stepped up and I think we had some opportunities at 20-10. If we had just been able to execute it would've given us the belief that we could actually win. But Canada's savvy, experienced, and took advantage of the opportunities they were given."

The experienced 2010 World Cup Finalist did not let the Eagles get any closer, however, scoring through Belchos four minutes post-Benson's try, 27-10, and Elissa Alarie four minutes after that, 32-10. The additions of substitutes Phaidra Knight, Naima Reddick, and Jamila Reinhardt to the front row proved useful with go-forward runs and skillful passing in contact, but did not yield points. Kelly Griffin and Kristine Sommer made their international debuts in place of an emboldened Annakaren Pedraza and Parsons, respectively, as the Eagles piled on some offensive pressure, but saw the match finally slip out of their grasp with a final try by Harvey minutes into Reinhardt's sin bin stay.

"Although I'm disappointed we didn't give a little bit more in the first half, I was very proud of how our defense held a strong Canadian team," Steinberg said. "We made 60 tackles in the first half alone. We were still playing well into the final stages of the game before the yellow card.

"I walk away from the Series excited about the potential of this team but also challenged by the work it's going to take to fulfill that potential by August. We're going to find time to get these players together. It's hard to become a better scrummager without actually scrumming in an international match, but we got better this week."

Canada keeps the Can-Am Trophy with a combined 76-15 victory from two matches in Chula Vista. The Eagles will assemble again in the summer prior to heading to Ireland for Women's Rugby World Cup 2017.

USA Women's Eagles | v. Canada
1. Tiffany Faaee (C) (Reddick @ 51')
2. Joanna Kitlinski (Knight @ 59')
3. Catherine Benson (Reinhardt @ 61')
4. Stacey Bridges
5. Molly Kinsella (Washington @ 51')
6. Christiane Pheil
7. Sara Parsons (Sommer @ 65')
8. Jordan Gray
9. Annakaren Pedraza (Griffin @ 55')
10. Nicole Heavirland (Canett @ 65')
11. Naya Tapper
12. Alev Kelter
13. Ryan Carlyle (Feury @ 26')
14. Kristen Thomas
15. Jess Wooden

USA Women's Eagles | Reserves
16. Phaidra Knight
17. Naima Reddick
18. Jamila Reinhardt
19. Alycia Washington
20. Kristine Sommer
21. Kelly Griffin
22. Kayla Canett
23. Tess Feury

Canada | v. USA
1. Carolyn McEwen (Kassil @ 64')
2. Laura Russell
3. DaLeaka Menin (DeMerchant @ 40')
4. Tyson Beukeboom (Mack @ 55')
5. Latoya Blackwood (Nelles @ 55')
6. Jacey Grusnick
7. Karen Paquin
8. Kelly Russell
9. Chelsea Guthrie (Josephson @ 40')
10. Emily Belchos (Holly @ 69')
11. Magali Harvey
12. Amanda Thornborough (Burk @ 53')
13. Brittany Waters
14. Elissa Alarie
15. Julianne Zussman

Canada | Reserves
16. Jane Kirby
17. Brittany Kassil
18. Olivia DeMerchant
19. Kayla Mack
20. Cindy Nelles
21. Lori Josephson
22. Andrew Burk
23. Anais Holly

USA Women's Eagles | 10
Tries: Tapper, Benson
Conversions: N/A
Discipline: Yellow

Canada | 37
Tries: K. Russell, Zussman, Harvey (2) Belchos, Alarie
Conversions: Harvey (2)
Penalties: Harvey

USA Women's Eagles | Can-Am Series
v. Canada - L 39-5
v. Canada - L 37-10