Kieran Crowley wanted a better performance from Canada in Saturday’s crucial Rugby World Cup qualifier against the United States.

The Canadian head coach didn’t get it, but his team will still be heading to England in two years’ time.

James Pritchard scored eight points as a sluggish Canada clinched a spot in the 2015 Rugby World Cup with a hard-fought 13-11 victory over the U.S.

“It was ugly,” Crowley said bluntly. “But it was a win.”

Jason Marshall also had a try for the Canadians, who took the two-match total-points qualifying series 40-20 after last weekend’s 27-9 victory over in Charleston, S.C.

Despite the lopsided scoreline in the first leg, Crowley wasn’t happy with Canada’s showing and said in the leadup to Saturday’s match at BMO Field that he expected more.

But an American team that had its pride damaged in a disappointing home loss seven days earlier came out strong and outplayed Canada for long stretches, especially in the first half.

Pritchard agreed with Crowley’s assessment of Canada’s outing.

“We came out here wanting to make a statement showing how far we’ve come with Canadian rugby,” said Pritchard, the country’s all-time leading scorer. “Today we got a win, we did our job, we qualified for the World Cup, but it was anything but pretty.

“It’s not too often we get to play these big games at a stadium like this. We’d been gearing it up for it so much this week that I think the occasion might have got to a few of us.”

Takudzwa Ngwenya had the only try for the Americans, while Chris Wyles added six points on two penalty kicks. The U.S. still has two cracks at making the tournament, including a two-match series with Uruguay.

“Our backs were against the wall. We knew we had to come out and prove something to ourselves, to prove that we could play the game and we did,” American head coach Mike Tolkin said. “We played with guts, we played with determination.”

The Canadians, who are ranked 14th in the world by the International Rugby Board, join 12 countries that have already qualified automatically for the World Cup in 2015 and will slot into Pool D alongside France, Ireland, Italy and another European qualifier.

With the sights and sounds of the Canadian National Exhibition serving as Saturday’s backdrop, the game between the North American rivals lacked flow for long stretches.

Tied 8-8 at halftime, Wyles had a chance to put the Americans in front, but missed a penalty kick in the 47th minute

The Canadians then grabbed the lead when Marshall finished off a good move by just getting the ball over the American line in the 60th minute, but Pritchard missed the conversion for just a five-point edge.

Wyles cut Canada’s advantage to two at 13-11 in the 67th minute with his second penalty kick of the afternoon and had a chance to give the Americans a late lead, but he missed a difficult penalty in the 79th minute from the left-hand side.

“It’s always a big battle against (the U.S.),” Canadian captain Aaron Carpenter said. “We know what they’re going to bring and they brought it today. I thought they were a little bit light last week in South Carolina.

“That’s what we expected from them last week and we got it this week.”

The Canadians got off to a quick start in last Saturday’s match south of the border but were hemmed in their own end early by a determined American team, which is ranked 18th in the world.

The U.S. opened the scoring in the 14th minute after some sustained pressure paid off with a try down the left side from Ngwenya, who faked a pitch before gliding across the line and touching down for a 5-0 lead. But Wyles missed the conversion for an American team that came in already facing a huge deficit.

Pritchard calmed Canadian nerves somewhat by getting his team on the board in the 21st minute with a penalty kick from centre field that split the uprights.

The Australian-born fullback, who scored 12 points in the opening leg, then gave the home side the lead with a try two minutes later. Ciaran Hearn took a pass on the right before finding Pritchard, who wove his way into the American end untouched for an 8-5 lead before missing the conversion attempt.

“He’s such an experienced player. He’s been around for so long,” Crowley said of Pritchard. “He’ll be the first to say he gets those points on the back of what the team’s putting up.”

Wyles added a penalty kick on the final play of the first half to send the teams to the locker-room tied 8-8.

“Tough victory,” Carpenter said. “They came out with everything and we battled all 80 minutes and thankfully we stuck together long enough to pull out a victory.

“We’re just happy that we’ve qualified and get to go where we want.”

Notes: Canada and the U.S. met at the same stage of World Cup qualifying for the 2011 tournament, with the Americans scoring a 12-6 victory in the opening leg before falling 41-18 in the return match. The U.S. went on to beat Uruguay 27-22 and 27-6 in the next round of qualifying to reach New Zealand. … Canada was missing veteran lock Jamie Cudmore, who suffered a hand injury in the first game against the U.S. Also out injured was hooker Ryan Hamilton (knee). … Should the Americans suffer defeat to Uruguay in the next round of qualifying, they will have one final chance to make the World Cup via a repechage tournament. … Canada now leads the all-time series against the U.S. by a count of 38-12-1. … The U.S. has lost seven straight matches in 2013. … The Webb Ellis Cup, which is awarded to the Rugby World Cup winner, was on hand at BMO Field. … Canada’s last game in Toronto — a 40-14 loss to Ireland in June — was watched by 20,396 fans, the largest-ever rugby crowd in this country. Attendance at Saturday’s game was not announced.


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