DUNGANNON’S Peter Nelson may have represented Ulster over 60 times but the the full back had never experienceed international rugby before Canada came calling.
Nelson, who qualifies for Canada by virtue of his Toronto-born grandmother, made his international debut against an unexpected opponent – the province of Leinster.
”It was strange,” said the 26-year-old full back. “I've played against Leinster for years. I certainly didn't think that I'd be playing them in a Canadian jersey. It was quite cool, actually. I enjoyed it.”
After falling behind 19-0, the Canadians rallied in the second half and led 35-24, only to have Leinster score two late tries — including one in the game's dying seconds — to secure a 38-35 win at Hamilton's Tim Hortons Field.
Leinster were in pre-season mode with many top players away with Ireland. Eight Leinster players are named in the matchday 23 squad for Ireland's test match against Wales on Saturday.
Nelson's whirlwind summer featured his first visit to Canada, followed quickly by his first appearance for the Canadian rugby team.
The versatile back, who spent eight seasons with Ulster, hopes the journey leads to the Rugby World Cup.
“It's been a bit crazy but it's been really really good,” said Nelson. “I've really enjoyed it.”
Canada plays the B.C All-Stars on Friday in Langford, B.C, in its penultimate World Cup warm-up match.
The Canadian men, ranked 21st in the world, host the 14th-ranked Americans in Vancouver on 7th September before heading to Japan for the World Cup three days later.
Canada could use a win. Kingsley Jones' team is 1-8-0 in 2019 with losses to the U.S (twice), Fiji, Tonga, Uruguay and Brazil as well as an Argentina XV and Leinster. The lone win was a 56-0 romp over Chile on 22nd February.
The Canadians have been drawn in Pool B at the Rugby World Cup with New Zealand, South Africa, Italy and Namibia. Canada open their campaign on 26th September against Italy in Fukuoka City.
It's too early yet to know if the left-footed Nelson is the answer to Canada's long-standing need for a fly half. But he kicked well against Leinster and won a penalty with some outstanding work at the breakdown.
Nelson, who has split his time between fly half and full back with Canada, started all three games in the Pacific Nations Cup before facing Leinster.
“He's a lovely guy and he's fitted in well,” said Jones, who acknowledges he threw him in at the deep end.
The Canada coach liked what he saw from his new recruit on the weekend.
“He stepped up, I thought, against Leinster...I thought he grew as well as the game went on,” Jones added.
Canada has already taken Nelson to Denver, Fiji and Hamilton. He spent a week in Toronto with his girlfriend during a break in the schedule.
Unfortunately Nelson's grandmother passed away earlier this year, so did not get to see him debut for the country of her birth.
“She loved her time over here and always spoke very highly about Canada,” Nelson said.
Nelson, who represented Ireland at the youth level, made 60 appearances for Ulster before leaving the side earlier this year.