Canada scored two tries in the final quarter to beat Tonga 25-20 in their Pool A match in Whangarei.
Tonga appeared to be in control of the game when outside centre Siale Piutau scored his second try early in the second half. Fullback Kurt Morath slotted the conversion and then added a penalty to give his side a 20-13 lead.
But the Canadians finished strongly and struck two crucial blows.
First, Tonga conceded a turnover, replacement centre Conor Trainor bounced off two tackles, and No 8 Aaron Carpenter was unstoppable from close range.
Five minutes later, Canada kicked a penalty into the left corner and won the lineout. Flyhalf Ander Munro got to within a metre of the tryline and with no Tongans defending the fringes, left wing Phil Mackenzie was able to pick up and score the match-winning try.
Canada have now won all three of their World Cup matches against Tonga, having also emerged victorious in 1987 and 2003.
The Tongans will wonder how they managed to lose this one, having had 54% of the possession and 58% of the territory.
Playing into the wind in the first half, the Tongans opted to keep the ball in hand and spread it wide as if it was a game of sevens. A combination of long skip passes and Canada’s tendency to rush up too quickly on defence, created space for the Tongans out wide, with right wing Fetu’u Vainikolo looking particularly dangerous.
However, despite having most of the ball the Tongans found themselves 10-0 down after 25 minutes. Canada’s try was sparked inside their half, with SA-born outside centre DTH van der Merwe making the crucial linebreak, before offloading to fellow midfielder Ryan Smith, who put lock Jebb Sinclair away. Fullback James Pritchard kicked the conversion and then added a penalty to give his side a handy lead.
In contrast, Morath missed his first two penalty attempts at goal, and when the islanders were awarded another kickable penalty, they booted it into touch. Nineteen phases later, and after some aggressive Canadian defence around the fringes, the ball went wide and outside centre Siale Piutau scored the converted try that gave his side a big boost heading into the break.
Ultimately, though, seven points with the wind behind their backs just wasn’t enough.
By Simon Borchardt