Two scares for Wales against the big-hitting minnows of Canada here last night, which at least served to raise the pulse rates on what was a decidedly dull night for the 60,000 entertainment-seekers. Those and the putrid yellow shirts modelled for the first and, it can only be hoped, last time by the home side.
The first fright was eventually averted by the Six Nations champions as they overcame a 38-minute deficit. Alas, the second was not so readily put right. The medics will today examine the injury to James Hook's right knee and will determine whether the outside-half will be fit to face the All Blacks next Saturday.
His departure in the 18th minute presented a golden opportunity for his young Osprey team-mate Dan Biggar. The 20-year-old impressed with his composure but errors did emerge from his inexperienced hands. Not as many, however, as emanated from the rest of the Welsh side on a unsatisfactory night for Warren Gatland. This was supposed to be the 80 minutes in which the reserves stated their case to play against New Zealand. It is fair to say the first team will not have suffered a disturbed sleep last night.
If there was a bright note then it undoubtedly came from the second cap of Leigh Halfpenny, the 19-year-old wing whose reputation is enhanced seemingly by the hour. "Even in the credit crunch a Halfpenny goes a long way," read the banner and indeed he does. Two tries, both of them beauties, both of which make him favourite to retain the No 14 jersey over Mark Jones for the big one in seven days time. Elsewhere, John Yapp did his cause no harm at loosehead by destroying the Canadian scrum. Yet on the whole this was an evening to forget for Wales against an outfit boasting seven pros, who had been beaten 55-0 in Ireland last weekend.
Continuity was a problem as the Welsh were bossed at the breakdown. Until Halfpenny used his renowned trickery and then his not so well-known strength to tap down in the corner a minute before the break, Canada looked like winning an abject first half.
Following two penalties by James Pritchard – the first giving the visitors an early lead, the second, a thumping effort from the halfway line, restoring the advantage after Morgan Stoddart's try – they were 6-5 to the good and gaining in confidence. The glaring problem was Wales's sloppiness as they committed nine unforced errors and gave away territorial supremacy. When Hook limped off and when the uncapped and largely untested Biggar arrived on the scene, all the ingredients were there for a shocks.
Except the reality was that the semi-pros of North America were going to tire and so they did. They defended courageously, if not legally, and the two penalty tries awarded for repeatedly collapsing scrums in the shadow of their own posts could not be argued with. The Canucks did have one moment of ecstasy when Biggar, just like Hook six days before, threw a telegraphed pass for Ryan Smith to trot under the posts in the 71st minute and that appeared set to seal a morale victory. Halfpenny had other ideas, however, and when Jamie Roberts broke through and when Dwayne Peel used his quick hands, the new hero of Wales was there to finish off the move of the night. Shame the Millennium Stadium had to wait so long for it.
Wales: Tries Stoddart, Halfpenny 2, Penalty 2; Conversions Biggar 3; Penalties Biggar. Canada Try Smith; Conversions Pritchard; Penalties Pritchard 2.
Wales: M Stoddart (Scarlets); L Halfpenny (Blues), T Shanklin (Blues), A Bishop (Ospreys), M Jones (Scarlets); J Hook (Ospreys), M Roberts (Scarlets); J Yapp (Blues), R Hibbard (Ospreys), R Thomas (Dragons), I Gough (Ospreys), L Charteris (Dragons), D Jones (Scarlets), R Sowden-Taylor (Blues), R Jones (Ospreys, capt). Replacements: D Biggar (Ospreys) for Hook, 18; J Roberts (Blues) for Shanklin, 47; A Powell (Blues) for D Jones, 51; D Peel (Sale) for Roberts, 51; E Lewis-Roberts (Sale) for Thomas, 65.
Canada: J Pritchard (Bedford); C Hearn (Baymen), B Keys (Velox Valhallians), R Smith (Calgary Irish), J Mensah-Coker (Plymouth Albion); A Monro (Colorno, It), E Fairhurst (Cornish Pirates); K Tkachuk (Glasgow Warriors), P Riordan (Univ of Victoria, capt), J Thiel (Bayside), T Hotson (Northern Suburbs), J Jackson (Stade Bordelais), J Sinclair (Castaway Wanderers), A Kleeberger (Univ of Victoria), A Carpenter (Brantford Harlequins). Replacements: S M Stephen (Plymouth Albion) for Carpenter, 54; M Williams (James Bay) for Fairhurst, 58; M Burak (Cornish Pirates) for Hotson, 60; D Van Camp (Velox Valhallians) for Hearn, 60.
Referee: S Dickinson (Australia).Reuse content