TORONTO -- Liam Underwood could have been playing for Queen's University on the weekend, looking to take down the Western Mustangs in the OUA rugby final.
Instead the 22-year-old fly half found himself starting for Canada against the New Zealand Maori All Blacks.
The Kiwis, a renowned invitational side of Maori descent, showed their superiority in scoring six tries en route to a 40-15 win Sunday over a depleted Canadian side.
"They're fast," said Underwood, a fourth-year economics student from Toronto. "That's the fastest rugby I've played in a long time. Or ever, probably."
Making just his third start while earning his sixth cap for Canada, Underwood survived a crunching 14th-minute tackle that may have had friends and family cringing in the stands.
"That's rugby," he said with a smile later. "You get hit."
He also noted that his Queen's team hadn't needed him in the OUA final, defeating the Mustangs 40-10.
Both Canada and the Maori made plenty of mistakes. That was perhaps not surprising for a Maori side that only had a few practices under its belt since coming together a week ago. But for Canada, it probably demonstrated what can happen under the pressure of facing elite opposition.
Jamison Gibson-Park, a late addition to the Maori starting lineup when veteran scrum half Piri Weepu was ruled out in the pre-game warmup with a knee problem sustained in training, scored two tries for the visitors.
Zac Guildford, Robbie Robinson, Matt Proctor and Nick Barrett also scored tries for the Maori. Andre Taylor and Robinson each kicked two conversions with Ihaia West contributing another conversion. Guildford was named man of the match.
Jeff Hassler and captain Aaron Carpenter scored tries for Canada. Underwood contributed a penalty and a conversion.
While Canada lost, you could argue Canadian rugby still emerged a winner. A sellout crowd of 22,566, on a sunny, crisp six-degree day at BMO Field, probable made Toronto FC think back to what once was.
And the Canadians' open style of play drew praise from the visitors.
"They played really well, especially in that first 40 (minutes), they shocked us with their style of attack," said Maori captain and fly half Tim Bateman, a veteran of 50-plus Super Rugby games. "We expected them to be a little more narrow and brutal, but they played with a lot of width and a lot of intensity and they probably caught us off-guard for a large part of the game."
While Maori coach Colin Cooper acknowledged his team was rusty, he too applauded Canada.
"Canada defended very well and they surprised us with their width and the way they attacked," Cooper said. "And we had to defend a lot more accurately than we should have.
Bateman was also complimentary of the Canadian fans.
"This crowd was outstanding. It really was. It was loud, it was vocal. It made it really tough for our calls. We mucked up quite a few times because of the crowd."
Canadian coach Kieran Crowley, a former New Zealand international, saw positives but was left to lament errors and missed chances against a fully professional side.
"That was the difference between the teams, I think. When they got an opportunity, they converted it. When we got an opportunity, we didn't quite nail it."
Canada started well and took an early 5-0 lead but the Maori began to turn the screws. While the Canadian scrum withstood the New Zealand challenge, the visitors' edge in skills began to take its toll and Canada trailed 19-5 at the half.
"We played a lot of rugby in that first half. Our skill level just let us down a couple of times," said Crowley.
The Canadians continued to show grit in the second half but Maori pressure eventually paid dividends as the visitors piled on the score with 14 points in the last 10 minutes.
"We gave away three soft tries in the second half," Crowley said.
The Maori are not to be confused with the world champion All Blacks, New Zealand's national team which opened its November Northern Hemisphere tour Saturday with a 54-6 win over No. 15 Japan. The Maori side has added All Blacks to its name for branding reasons.
Weepu, who did not see action and limped to the dressing room after the game, still led the haka -- a traditional pre-game challenge. The Maori performed it in the shape of an arrowhead, while the Canadians looked on from the halfway line.
The Maori have their own haka, distinct from those of the All Blacks. Called Timatanga, it was written especially for the team by elders.
Canadian forward Tyler Ardron said facing the haka was like getting a loud rugby wakeup call.
"It's gives you like a pinpoint time when that game's going to start," he said. "You know that they're going to bring it and you're going to have to match it."
The Maori starting 15 Sunday featured four All Blacks in winger Guildford (19), prop Ben Afeaki (1), hooker Hikawera Elliot (3) and lock Jarrad Hoeata (3). Elliot left midway through the first half due to injury.
They also showcased some future All Blacks, including 21-year-olds Gibson-Park and West. Gibson-Park plays Super Rugby for the Auckland Blues while fly half West was one of the stars of the recent ITM Cup competition with Hawke's Bay.
Their play will be noted. The Maori are closely monitored by the All Blacks, whose braintrust now plays a role in selection.
Outside of the Rugby World Cup, Sunday's match was about as high-profile as it gets for Canadian rugby. In addition to the sellout crowd, the game was televised live in Canada and New Zealand (where the kickoff was 7 a.m. local time) and streamed live on the International Rugby Board's website.
Unfortunately for Crowley, a former New Zealand international, Canada's starting 15 was nowhere near its strongest.
Because of injuries, personal commitments and the fact that the match falls outside the IRB's international window, Canada was without such key players as Jebb Sinclair, Jamie Cudmore, James Pritchard, Phil Mackenzie and DTH van Der Merwe.
Another half-dozen players were also missing, with Crowley forced to assemble a forward pack missing four of his top second-rowers. Canada's bench was also green, while the Maori had plenty of fully professional weapons.
As a Tier 2 nation, Canada no longer plays rugby's elite outside of the World Cup. The last time they met, at the 2011 world championship, New Zealand thumped the Canadians 79-15.
The 14th-ranked Canadians leave Monday for a European tour for test matches against No. 16 Georgia in Tbilisi on Saturday, No. 17 Romania in Bucharest on Nov. 16 and No. 22 Portugal in Lisbon on Nov. 23. They will be reinforced by several of their European-based pros.
The Canadians will likely board the plane with more than few bumps and bruises.
The Maori head to Philadelphia to play the 18th-ranked U.S. Eagles on Saturday.
Hubert Buydens, Manawatu Turbos (New Zealand), Saskatoon, Ray Barkwill, Niagara Wasps, Niagara Falls, Ont.; Doug Wooldridge, Lindsay RFC, Lindsay, Ont,; Jon Phelan, Lille Metropole Rugby (France) Montreal; Tyler Ardron Ospreys (Wales), Lakefield, Ont.; Nanyak Dala, Castaway Wanderers, Saskatoon; John Moonlight, James Bay AA, Pickering, Ont.; Aaron Carpenter (capt.), Cornish Pirates (England), Brantford, Ont.; Phil Mack, James Bay AA, Victoria; Liam Underwood, Queen's University, Toronto; Conor Trainor, UBCOB Ravens, Vancouver; Harry Jones, Capilano RFC, West Vancouver; Ciaran Hearn, Castaway Wanderers, Conception Bay, N.L.; Jeff Hassler, Ospreys (Wales), Okotoks, Alta.; Matt Evans, Cornish Pirates (England), Maple Bay, B.C.
Jake Ilnicki, Williams Lake Rustlers, Williams Lake, B.C.; Ryan March, Abbotsford RFC, Abbotsford, B.C.; Aaron Flagg, Abbotsford RFC, Abbotsford, B.C.; Kyle Gilmour, St. Albert Rugby Club, Edmonton; Adam Kleeberger, Castaway Wanderers, White Rock, B.C.; Jamie Mackenzie, UVIC Vikes, Oakville, Ont.; Pat Parfrey, Swilers RFC, St. John's, N.L.; Connor Braid, James Bay AA, Victoria.
Maori All Blacks
Kane Hames, Hikawera Elliot, Ben Afeaki, Jarrad Hoeata, Joe Wheeler, Liam Squire, Luke Braid, Elliot Dixon, Jamison Gibson-Park, Tim Bateman (capt.), Zac Guildford, Jackson Willison, Charlie Ngatai, Andre Taylor, Robbie Robinson.
Chris Eves, Nick Barrett, Ash Dixon, Piri Weepu, Blade Thomson, Shane Christie, Ihaia West, Matt Proctor.