Adam Kleeberger received a clean bill of health after suffering an apparent head injury Saturday in a nasty collision during Canada’s final game of the Rugby World Cup against the host New Zealand All Blacks.
But for the White Rock flanker, what hurt more than the injury – which bloodied his face and his popular Viking-esque beard – or the 79-15 loss to the powerhouse All Blacks, was watching a day later as underdog Tonga upset France to close out the pool-play portion of the tournament.
The victory bumped the Tongan side into third place in Pool A, and knocked Canada – who finished with a 1-2-1 record – into fourth. A third-place finish would have automatically qualified Canada for the next world cup, set for 2015, and also ensured more funding and extra matches for the program.
Tonga beat France by a single try, 19-14.
Canada beat Tonga in the World Cup opener, but lost to France in Game 2 46-19 after the French side came-from-behind in the second half to win.
In Saturday’s tilt with New Zealand, Kleeberger – who played junior rugby with the Bayside Sharks before joining the University of Victoria Vikings and later, the national team – was injured in the 77th minute and left the game with a bloody nose after a collision.
He seemed to be in good spirits the following day, when he wrote on social media site Twitter, “Head is OK. Got a CT scan done after the game and they confirmed that there’s still nothing in there!”
Before leaving the game against the All Blacks, Kleeberger had been one of Canada’s best players; he had 22 tackles before leaving the game.
And though Canada did not get the results they were hoping for at the World Cup, they did bring rugby into the national spotlight at home, in part, at least, to Kleeberger, whose long, blonde beard garnered attention from media and fans before the first World Cup game was even played.
Canada became a favourite of New Zealand rugby fans, and many spectators at Canada games – including a handful of Peninsula residents who made the trip – donned fake “Kleeberger” beards in support of the team.
“We’re trying to raise the profile of the sport here in Canada, and get more young kids involved, so I really hope we can do that,” Kleeberger told the Peace Arch News in the summer, prior to leaving for New Zealand.
The 27-year-old Semiahmoo Secondary grad even gained support from other Canadian athletes. After he was injured Saturday, former Canadian Football League running back Jesse Lumsden – who is now trying to qualify for the next winter Olympics as a bobsledder – wrote on Twitter that he was “Bummed to see Kleeberger have to leave the match. He is a beast. Growing a beard for Sochi 2014. Gotta start now!”
While many of his teammates returned to Canada earlier in the week, Kleeberger stayed in New Zealand on vacation.