After a very disappointing Pacific Nations Cup tournament this summer which saw Canada put in some big performances but ultimately fall short at the last hurdle of every game, the three remaining warm-up matches against the USA, Fiji and Georgia before the World Cup, which starts on September 18th, are a critical time for the team. Furthermore after only 4 wins out of 15 games in the last two years Canada really needs to start developing a winning culture going into the World Cup otherwise it could be a very demoralising experience for a group of young and talented players who are all exceptionally motivated to do their country proud in the coming weeks.
Fixtures this weekend
Canada vs USA
Saturday, August 22nd
Canada will be seeking to avoid a third straight loss to the USA this weekend in Ottawa. The team that Coach Kieran Crowley has put together for this encounter should be more than capable of getting the job done. While I haven’t seen the team that the US will be fielding, there is enough star quality in terms of emerging talent in the Canadian lineup that provided they keep their discipline and more importantly their focus till the final whistle they should break their current losing streak against our Southern neighbours. Although surprised to see some of Canada’s big guns like overseas based players Jamie Cudmore, Jebb Sinclair, DTH van der Merwe and Jeff Hassler not get a start on Saturday, I would assume that these four are already assured of their roles in Canada’s World Cup campaign, whereas all the players running onto the pitch in Ottawa are seeking to make the final cut with some big performances.
Nevertheless as mentioned above, this is still a game Canada desperately needs to win, especially as it is Canada’s last test in front of a home audience. As I have said before I don’t regard the game against a depleted Glasgow Warriors side (most of their first choice players being on training duty for Scotland’s World Cup campaign) in Halifax as a real test. Thus as Canada’s last Test match before heading to England and the warm-up games there against Fiji and Georgia, statements need to be made to ensure a strong level of confidence in the squad after a winless Pacific Nations.
On a positive note, I must say from what I saw in the Pacific Nations Cup, I like the look of the team selected to play in Ottawa. Amongst the forwards Hubert Buydens stood out along with Ray Barkwill, Doug Woolridge and Tyler Hotson who all had a massive performance against a very physical Samoa. John Moonlight as openside flanker impressed as well throughout the tournament. I am curious to see Aaron Carpenter play at number eight as opposed to hooker but he was often superb in the loose and does lend some experience and inspiration to the side in place of the injured Tyler Ardron.
I am still slightly puzzled by the choice of John McRorie as starting scrum half for Canada. I appreciate that Canada are looking to use his boot, but he didn’t exactly stamp his ability in this department all that well in the Pacific Nations. Canada does have other kicking options and for me Liam Underwood was more reliable in this department, even though Nathan Hirayama gets the nod over Underwood for the fly half position for this match based on his stellar performance against Samoa. As I have said all year, if you want intensity behind the scrum and at the breakdown then Phil Mack has clearly demonstrated his value as a first choice scrum half. He may not have the kicking prowess of McRorie, but I would rather see him used to orchestrate Canada getting some big points differences on the board through some well worked tries at the start of a match as in the game against Samoa. Then bring in McRorie at the end to penalize a tired opposition defence being forced into disciplinary errors and resulting penalties. Oh well just an opinion and at least Mack is on the bench for this game!
In terms of the rest of the backs however, I must say I feel pretty confident about Canada’s lineup. I would have preferred to see Matt Evans start at fullback rather than the bench, as I was not overly impressed with Harry Jones in Canada’s PNC outing against the USA. Conor Trainor and Nick Blevins were good value for money for the entire Pacific Nations experience and I am interested to see Taylor Paris in action for the first time on the wing, as I am not familiar with his form for his French club Agen. The big question on everyone’s lips is whether or not winger Phil Mackenzie will be able to reproduce some of the magic which got him the try that should have won the game for Canada against Samoa. Big, strong and fast and with an ability to make something out of nothing, Mackenzie is an exciting prospect for Canada.
In short a solid team that if they’ve got the basics right should manage to easily get past a USA team prone to serious lapses in discipline. Hopefully Canada have put the painful lessons of the Pacific Nations behind them, done their homework and are ready to restore Canada to the upper levels of the tier two countries. I am confident that it can only get better from now on and in front of a home crowd, Canada will get the win they so desperately need. Canada to put in a complete performance at last and take the game by 10 points at least!