Martin Haag insists his Championship XV showed off the league’s quality after they battled back from behind at Sixways to clinch a thrilling 28-23 victory against international opposition in Canada.
The Championship first combined to take on the Maori All Blacks in 2012 and, while that match ended in a 52-21 defeat, this game was anything but one-sided.
Kyle Gilmour and Gordon McRorie tries gave the Canadians the advantage in the first half, though London Scottish’s Mark Bright did trundle through for the hosts.
But the Championship side – which included Bedford Blues captain Nick Fenton-Wells and hooker Charlie Clare – turned it around in the second half as Bright’s Exiles team-mate James Phillips clinched it, to add to tries from Bristol pair Jack Tovey and Marco Mama.
Bedford Blues’ James Pritchard was on form with the boot for Canada, while McRorie had grabbed a second try, but the Championship held firm.
Nottingham boss Haag said: “I was delighted, we wanted to put a show on. I’m not sure if we were nervous in the first half but we made a few errors and our discipline cost us.
“But in the second half we got together and sometimes that happens; we’ve only been together since Wednesday.
“We got a bit more go forward in the second half, looked after the ball and had more decisiveness in attack.
“But when you look at the array of talent we started with and brought off the bench, we probably could have picked another XV as well because the Championship is that strong.”
After an early spell of Canadian pressure, flanker Gilmour nipped around the front of a well-worked lineout to crash down in the corner.
But the hosts wasted little time in responding as the Championship’s top scorer, Bright, found himself at the base of a huge rolling maul to apply the final touch.
Lawrence Rayner converted to nudge the Championship into the lead, but soon after a penalty for holding on handed Pritchard an easy three points for Canada.
That kick ended a frantic opening 15 minutes and aside from another Pritchard three-pointer, both sides remained stout in defence.
But with half time closing in and belligerent hooker Ray Barkwill at the heart of things, McRorie dipped under outstretched arms to dot down Canada’s second try of the afternoon.
Pritchard converted and in the face of pressure – including another Championship maul – the visitors held on to take a 11-point lead into the break.
Clearly buoyed by that spell the Championship immediately put Canada on the backfoot from the restart, and Rayner supplied the final pass to a flowing move as Bristol full-back Tovey surged over.
Rayner’s conversion cut the deficit down to four with 45 minutes gone and almost immediately after man-of-the-match Mama ploughed through to score after Barkwill’s sin bin for handling.
The tries kept flowing and out of nowhere, a handling error allowed McRorie to blow clear through midfield and restore Canada’s lead – though a simple conversion was brilliantly charged down.
Sixways favourite Jonny Arr was then the subject of a lengthy TMO decision, as he was adjudged to have hit touch before dotting down in the corner.
But after a five-metre scrum the Championship finally pounded the door down through replacement Phillips, with Kieran Hallett converting to set up a nail-biting finish.
And the face of mounting pressure the Championship held on in a match that, according to Haag, will live long in the memory.
“They’ve gelled really well and to beat an international team is no mean feat,” he added.
“I’m hoping that 15 years down the line they’ll still be thinking about this game, still be friends, and enjoying the experience.
“What I’m hoping is that the people who came and enjoyed the game – the support was fantastic – got value for money and the people watching on Sky too.”