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Canadian men squander lead, lose to Portugal at under-20 rugby tournament

BUCHAREST, Romania — Canada squandered a 26-11 halftime lead and lost 31-29 Tuesday in the opening match for both teams at the World Rugby U20 Trophy. The game was an error-filled affair, especially in the second half.

BUCHAREST, Romania — Canada squandered a 26-11 halftime lead and lost 31-29 Tuesday in the opening match for both teams at the World Rugby U20 Trophy.

The game was an error-filled affair, especially in the second half. There were three yellow cards — two to Canada and one to Portugal — as well as a penalty try awarded to the Portuguese.

"It's unfortunate. We could have won that game and we didn't," said Canada coach Jeff Williams. "We've got to learn from it, we're going to move on and stay positive." 

Canada got tries from Jack McRogers and Michael Smith. Will Percillier kicked five penalties and two conversions.

Portugal, runner-up at the tournament last year, scored three tries, including a penalty try, four penalties and a conversion.

Earlier Fiji beat Uruguay 55-34 and Samoa downed Hong Kong 41-20.

The second-tier event is an eight-team competition whose winner graduates to play alongside the likes of New Zealand, South Africa, England and France at the elite World Rugby U20 Championship. 

Canada and Portugal exchanged penalties in the first half to make it 6-6 before the Canadians pulled ahead on two more penalties and two tries to Portugal's one.

Portugal came out strong in the second half and was awarded a penalty try in the 43rd minute when winger Rodrigo Marta broke though the Canadian line and headed to the corner. Canadian fullback Brennig Prevost was yellow-carded for a high challenge that brought him down at the tryline.

Percillier was then sent to the sin-bin for tackling a player without the ball.

"Getting two yellow cards completely changed the dynamics of how you attack and you defend," said Williams. "We had to put a forward out in the backs and obviously that puts a lot of pressure on the other seven guys in the scrum, which basically wore them down faster than we ever thought they would be worn down."

Minutes later, Portugal scored another converted try to cut the deficit to 26-25. Back on the field, Percillier missed a penalty and Portugal went ahead 28-26 via a penalty of its own in the 66th minute.

Percillier kicked his fifth penalty of the day to put Canada back into the lead 29-28 in the 71st minute, only to have Portugal respond two minutes later with a penalty for a 31-29 lead.

Percillier had another penalty shot but missed, with a horn sounding from the stands just as he was about to kick.

"Someone in the crowd," said Williams. "A little disappointing but when you're at this level you can't control the crowd ... He's made those before. It was unlucky."

Portugal missed a penalty in the dying seconds but got the ball back and was laying siege to the Canadian goal-line when the final hooter went.

Canada has not played in the top-tier age-group tournament since 2009 when it finished 14th. It has competed a level below since, coming close to promotion in 2013 and 2015 when it was runner-up to Italy and Georgia, respectively.

Last year in Uruguay, Canada lost to eventual champion Japan, Chile and Namibia before blanking Hong Kong 38-0 in the seventh-place game.

Canada faces Uruguay on Saturday and Fiji on Sept. 5.

The other pool features host Romania, Hong Kong, Namibia and Samoa, which was relegated from last year's World Rugby U20 Championship.

Romania, Samoa and Uruguay have all won the U20 Trophy tournament in the past.

The Canadian Press