Canada got their Americas Rugby Championship campaign off to a winning start with an emphatic win over Uruguay. The significance of this win after the ultimate disappointment of the World Cup cannot be understated. A Canadian side of relative unknowns took to the field in Langford last Saturday ably supported by a handful of veterans and the team exceeded expectations in a composed and clinical performance. It all bodes exceptionally well for Canadian fortunes in this tournament and will inspire confidence as Canada looks to the future. Interim Coach Francois Ratier feels justifiably pleased with the performance of his young charges and Jamie Cudmore’s influence as defensive Coach clearly paid off on Saturday. Canada has started 2016 with a winning mentality and long may it stay that way.
Fixtures this weekend
USA vs Canada
Saturday, February 13th
Canada can take great heart from their performance against Uruguay as they prepare for a much tougher challenge against the USA in Texas on Saturday. I unfortunately missed the live stream of the match by Rugby Canada but from what I can see of the highlights video, see link below, it was an impressive outing by a host of new caps for Canada and they acquitted themselves well under the guidance of a handful of Canadian veterans from the World Cup.
Uruguay fielded a squad that featured most of the players who gained the respect of Australian Coach Michael Cheika when they went up against his Wallabies in the World Cup last year, which meant that Canada’s inexperienced youngsters were going to be up against it from the get go. However, to their credit they held firm especially in defence. Captain and prop Hubert Buydens, along with Hooker Ray Barkwill lent their experience in ensuring that Canadian defences held together exceptionally well under pressure from the Uruguayans. The intensity of the Canadian tackling in defence had all the hallmarks of defensive Coach Jamie Cudmore as Canada put in one huge hit after another on their Uruguayan counterparts, with as always Buydens proving to be a tower of strength and source of inspiration to the rest of his team. Debutants lock Paul Ciulini and number 8 Clay Panga looked especially promising as future resources for Canada while flanker Alastair Clark scored an impressive try straight from the bench after replacing Lucas Rumball who had also looked solid for Canada.
In the backs Canada looked like they had plenty of pace with veterans, center Nick Blevins and the irrepressible Phil Mackenzie on the wing both bagging well executed tries and creating countless opportunities for their fellow teammates to capitalise on. Debutant Winger Dan Moor provided plenty of speed on the wing and scored a superb try of his own as he left the Uruguayan defence in the dust. Veteran scrum half Gord McRorie provided solid service off the back of the scrums and at the breakdowns but his poor run of kicking continued as he missed four shots at goal. This is something Canada will really need to address in a much tougher contest this weekend with the Eagles where every point on offer will be of vital importance if Canada hopes to keep within reach of the Americans for the full eighty minutes.
There is no question that the Test this weekend in Austin against a full strength USA side being coached by former All Black Coach Jon Mitchell will be an infinitely tougher proposition. The USA looked good against tournament favourites Argentina last weekend as they held the South Americans to a hard fought draw. Argentina still ultimately look like the side to beat in this competition and are going to be an extremely daunting proposition for Canada when they face them at home in Argentina. However, the USA must surely be considered as the other contender for this inaugural tournament’s top honors. Boasting a healthy contingent of seasoned European professionals, at home the Eagles are going to be very hard to beat. This and the Argentinian game are going to have to be a big step up for Canadian Coach Ratier and his young charges. While a win is not beyond the realms of possibility for Canada, given the names likely to make up the Eagles match day 23 and Canada’s poor record against the Americans in the last two years, Saturday will be a very tough encounter. For an idea of what Canada is going to be up against in the next few weeks against Argentina and the USA, have a look at this:
However, now that Canada has tasted once more what a winning culture feels like, while a win may be slightly out of reach when you compare the experience of the two squads, I genuinely believe that Canada will put in a big performance that will severely test the Eagles at times. Ultimately the USA should come out the winners from a tough contest but the experience will further strengthen the confidence and self-belief in this young Canadian side. Led from the front as always by Canadian Captain Hubert Buydens, Canada could cause an upset and were the game being played in Canada I would even tip Canada to notch up win number two. It will be a stern test for Canada on Saturday in Austin and one which this young squad will benefit greatly from, but I am going to have to give Jon Mitchell’s Eagles the clear edge here and see them take a tightly fought contest. Therefore, in another positive outing for Canada, the USA to edge it by seven points. As valuable as a win would be for Canada on Saturday, the experience will be more important and as a result in only their second outing a loss is far from the end of the world as long as a solid challenge is laid down for the future. If Canada can really build a platform over the next few weeks, then with a new Coach, the remainder of the year should prove very promising with a home fixture against Italy and a settled side going into the Pacific Nations Cup! Canada have started on the right foot in 2016 and it should only get better as this exciting mix of youth and experience can hopefully be kept together and really build the cohesion and self-confidence needed to get the results Canada has been lacking for so long!