Archive for the ‘Americas Rugby Championship’ Category

Canada got a useful win against Chile in Round 2 of the ARC but at times looked sloppy, and against the Americans a week later, despite some positives, it was a poor overall Canadian performance that showed Canada clearly playing second fiddle to their North American rivals.  Canada managed to score a respectable five tries but once again a lack of kicking accuracy meant valuable points went begging for both penalties and conversions against the Americans. Meanwhile the Americans were much more effective and a complete lack of concentration in the opening ten minutes of the game meant that the Americans were able to build a healthy lead early on. Canada was then forced to play catch up rugby for the full eighty minutes and their composure, discipline and momentum suffered as a result. The win against Chile was useful in ensuring that Canada still remains third on the table, but even that looked labored at times. In short some players really stood out, but overall Canada seems to be struggling to emerge from the poor run of form as a team that has plagued them for the last three years now.

Canada vs Chile
Final Score – Canada 36/Chile 15
Langford, BC

For the first twenty minutes of this match Canada looked decidedly sloppy. However, by the end of the first quarter they were managing to exert some consistent pressure on the Chileans which resulted in a yellow card for Chilean fly half Francisco Cruz. The resulting lack of personnel on the field for Chile enabled Canada to turn their dominance into points as winger Taylor Paris ran in his first of three consecutive tries. Canada were the more composed of the two sides and the back row unit of flankers Oliver Nott, Lucas Rumball and the outstanding number eight Admir Cejanovic were really starting to make their presence felt as they dominated Chile at the breakdowns and in the loose.

Taylor Paris’ third try in the opening ten minutes of the second half appeared to seal Chile’s fate. However, they came back fighting and produced an impressive run of play for the next fifteen minutes that saw them catch Canada off guard repeatedly especially on defence. However, order was restored by replacement centre George Barton as he scored a fine try sparked off by the always impressive replacement scrum half Phil Mack who always brings an added sense of urgency to Canada’s efforts especially on attack. Canada’s intensity through Mack continued with winger Dan Moor easily eluding a tired and disorganised Chilean defence.

It had been a good performance from Canada, against spirited but much weaker opposition. However, a win is a win and provided much-needed confidence to an otherwise beleaugered Canadian side. The impact of Phil Mack was plain to see from the minute he came on and regular readers of this blog know that we think he should be playing a much greater role in Canada’s fifteen a side game than incumbent scrum half Gordon McRorie who seems all too pedestrian for our tastes. However for us it was that back row trio that is rapidly becoming the shining light for Canada in this tournament. Cejanovic, Rumball and Nott all provide some real power and go forward ball as well as tackling everything in sight, with Cejanovic being the clear leader of the pack and a very bright prospect for Canada for the future. In Canada’s next fixture the point these three are making was further reinforced.

Canada vs USA
Final Score – Canada 34/USA 51
Burnaby, BC

There were some positives in this match for Canada and it was definitely a highly entertaining contest between two traditional rivals. However, ultimately the USA looked like they were making much more progress than Canada in terms of their future development. Once again a shocking lapse in concentration by Canada in the opening five minutes which saw the USA score two tries in quick succession, would ultimately give the USA the edge they needed all match on the scoreboard forcing Canada to play catch up rugby for the full eighty minutes. As mentioned above the back row trio of Cejanovic, Rumball and Nott impressed yet again with Cejanovic in particular playing out of his skin and like a man possessed for Canada. Phil Mack was also impressive and it was his speed and intensity that kept Canada in the match albeit trailing 25-15 at the break.

However it was discipline and some shocking defence particularly on the fringes that led to Canada’s ultimate demise. While winger Taylor Paris may be a try scoring machine, scoring his second consecutive hat trick in this match, we can’t help feeling that Canada’s defence out wide is shaky at the best of times which ultimately diminishes the value added of Canada’s two impressive wingers Taylor Paris and Dan Moor. Furthermore once scrum half Phil Mack left the field in the second half, Canada lost a lot of its momentum and intensity in attack. Scrum half Gordon McRorie may be a useful points kicker but his game management is just too slow and conservative, making it relatively simple for opposition sides to unpick Canada’s relatively limited and easy to read game plan. Add to that little if any consistency in Canada’s lineouts and scrums despite the best efforts of the back row trio of Cejanovic, Rumball and Nott and Canada is still struggling with too many of the basics to enable it to put in a consistent match winning performance.

Coach Mark Anscombe clearly still has his work cut out for him, as Canada face a tough trip to Uruguay and Brazil for the last two rounds of this year’s Americas Rugby Championship. Canada still sit comfortably in third spot on the table but Uruguay at home will be hard to beat and let’s not forget that Brazil caused one of the big upsets in last year’s tournament by beating the USA. There is plenty of potential in this young Canadian side and once it starts to gel and Anscombe has a better understanding of his players, Canada should be much more competitive come next year’s edition of the Americas Rugby Championship. For now though it is likely to remain a work in progress and at least for this year continue to be a school of hard knocks at times.

This year’s Six Nations got off to a superb start this weekend, and the tournament’s billing as one of the most closely competitive tournaments in years seemed to be spot on the money. As Tournament favourites along with England, Ireland got an exceptionally rude introduction to this year’s Six Nations as Scotland finally delivered on the promises they have been making for so long in a superb victory at Murrayfield. At Twickenham a decidedly average looking England for much of the match up until the final quarter, were pushed to the wire by a French side that is clearly on the way up after years of false starts. Meanwhile in Rome, Italy looked exceptionally competitive in the first half against Wales only to dramatically implode in the second as a Welsh side looked to answer their critics and prepare themselves for a bruising showdown with England this coming weekend. There were plenty of thrills and spills with some exciting attacking rugby on display at times, no doubt egged on by the introduction of the bonus points system this year. However, the message was clear – after the damp squib of last year’s tournament – the Six Nations is back with a bang and we’re only just getting started!

Meanwhile although it lacked the spectacle and grand stages of the Six Nations, the second annual Americas Rugby Championship got underway. Canada found themselves up against Argentina in very challenging wintry conditions, but the snow certainly didn’t slow down the men from South America and Canada were given a salutary lesson as Argentina once again showed the depth and talent that is making it such a powerhouse in the modern game.

Six Nations

Scotland vs Ireland
Final Score – Scotland 27/Ireland 22
Murrayfield

In a tournament that could provide many banana skins, Ireland were the first slip up. While few if any were under any illusions about the challenge facing Ireland in their opener against a Scottish side that has some blistering pace in attack, most were still predicting a tight Irish victory based on the supposed superiority of their forward pack. While that threat was there it was often negated and definitely held in check by some solid Scottish efforts up front which then provided the platform for their exceptional set of backs to really cut loose. Scotland were deserved winners last Saturday in Murrayfield and Ireland have only themselves to blame for a shambolic first half performance which gave Scotland the momentum which ensured they never looked back. Ireland fought a valiant rearguard action to get themselves right back into the match and even the lead in the second half, but they had ultimately left themselves with too much to do.

It was a great Six Nations opener between two highly competitive teams and provided the spectacle and excitement which will hopefully set the tone for the rest of the tournament. As expected Scotland were having a torrid time in the scrums especially in the early stages of the match, but their open play was full of exuberance and flair. They put the  Irish defences under huge pressure right from the get go as Ireland just could not get to grips with Scotland’s explosive start. Scotland were just as competitive at the breakdowns and in the loose and were the more effective of the two sides in creating the opportunities to unleash their back line who revelled in asking the Irish defences questions they seemed to struggle to answer. Scottish fullback Stuart Hogg’s opening try was a joy to watch no matter which side you were supporting.

Scotland would soon strike again through that man Hogg, after a spirited charge from Ireland into the Scottish 22 led by flanker Sean O’Brien. Scotland would work the ball back up the field to ultimately unleash Hogg into space, with the fleet-footed fullback selling Ireland a dummy which two Irish defenders bought hook, line and sinker. Twenty-four minutes in and Scotland were ahead 14-0. Ireland once more mounted an assault on the Scottish defences, but unlike the Scots it appeared unstructured and lacking in committment at times. Some heroic Scottish defending kept the Irish in check but ultimately a highly risky pass by Irish winger Simon Zebo was fortunate in finding his colleague Keith Earls on the outside and Ireland would get their first five pointer. Scotland would then get themselves right back in the driving seat in a passage of play that left Ireland scratching their heads in disbelief and showing a naiveté in defence that we are not accustomed to seeing from the Men in Green. With a Scottish throw in to the lineout close to the try line, Scotland loaded the lineout with three backs. The Irish defences obligingly left Scottish centre Alex Dunbar an exceptionally inviting gap to charge through after he had snatched the ball out of the air. The play was so obvious it had probably been on the front pages of the sports sections in papers in Scotland the day before, leaving us utterly perplexed at Ireland’s seeming confusion and lack of defensive organisation as the ball was thrown in. A bewildered and clearly rattled Ireland headed for the changing rooms at half time while Scotland revelled in a 21-8 point lead.

Irish Coach Joe Schmidt’s words in the changing room at half time were obviously not for the faint-hearted as the Irish side which came out for the second half was a very different beast. The intensity went up by several notches and all of a sudden it seemed to be the Irish side that made the headlines last year in Chicago that was once more on the field. Ireland looked better organised and mounted a ferocious assault on the Scottish defences. The Irish forwards were once more playing like men possessed resulting in a try from Irish lock Ian Henderson. The game would swing back and forth between both sides with some bruising battles in the forwards and some exceptional running from both sides. There was no shortage of excitement with Ireland seeming to gain the upper hand. Irish fly half Paddy Jackson would score an excellent try of his own putting Ireland just in front at 22-21. With ten minutes to go a nail biting finish was on the cards. However, Irish discipline and composure once more started to crack while Scotland’s held. Ireland would give away two penalties which Scotland Captain and scrum half Greg Laidlaw didn’t hesitate to turn into points. Those last six points would break Ireland’s thrilling comeback and the stands in Murrayfield erupted in joyful pandemonium and a fair amount of emotion as the final whistle saw Scotland start their campaign with a superb 27-22 victory over Ireland.

Scotland if they keep it up are more than just dark horses and do have a genuine shot at lifting the trophy if they can keep their momentum. They played a brilliant game of rugby and have become such an exciting team to watch especially once their backs start chewing up the mileage on the pitch. Ireland are unlikely to play as poorly as they did in the first half again this tournament and while still clearly in the hunt they can ill afford any more nasty surprises like the one they received at Murrayfield, and a bonus point win in Rome this weekend against Italy is surely a non-negotiable objective.

England vs France
Final Score – England 19/France 16
Twickenham

While not quite as entertaining as the match between Celtic rivals Ireland and Scotland, this match provided one of the more exciting encounters between age-old rivals France and England. After their extraordinary successes of 2016, England didn’t look quite as polished and composed as we have come to expect under new Coach Eddie Jones and at times were stretched to the limit by a French side that showed some clear signs of a return to the glory days of French rugby. England managed to regroup and after a decidedly average opening sixty minutes finally found their stride by depleting the benches and putting in a much more energetic and convincing performance to ultimately seal the deal and start their Six Nations campaign off with an important win.

England looked just a little sluggish in the opening stages of this match and all the momentum appeared to be with France. Furthermore England seemed to lack confidence and lapses in discipline allowed France to pull ahead with a penalty in the first ten minutes. This was soon answered by England’s Owen Farrell getting his own penalty goal to keep the scores level. An unfortunate error by winger Johnny May saw him sit out ten minutes in the sin bin for a sloppy tip tackle on French centre Gael Fickou. French fly half Camille Lopez kept racking up the penalty goals as another tackle by English lock Maro Itoje on the rampaging figure of French number eight Louis Picamoles was deemed high. Nevertheless despite France having the more damaging attacking runs especially in the shape of number eight Louis Picamoles, who was a wrecking ball all night, and French fullback Scott Spedding, the scores would be level at half time. However, alarm bells were ringing for England particularly defensively as had the French passing been a bit better and their ball in hand work been a bit more precise, France would have crossed the English white line on at least two occasions in the first half. It was an uncharacteristic display from a usually confident English side, with their defense seeming to be more than just a little porous and disorganised at times.

The second half continued in much the same vein, although England were unlucky to not get a try after a superb passage of play that left winger Elliot Daly’s foot just nudging the touch line as he put the ball down after some excellent cover defence from his opposite number Noa Nakaitaci. France would get the first try of the game through the exceptional replacement prop Rabah Slimani. With less than twenty minutes to go, there was a sense that another upset of tournament favorites was on the cards. However, England called in wholesale changes from the bench and England’s fortunes suddenly went from zero to hero in the blink of an eye. Leading the charge was flanker James Haskell who immediately tore huge holes in the rapidly tiring French defences. English centre Ben Te’o was also making his presence felt off the bench and in the 70th minute put England back in contention with an outstanding try. Owen Farrell would kick the conversion and England would take the lead that they would doggedly hold on to for the remaining ten minutes, as they emerged the winners from a nervous contest at 19-16.

It hadn’t been the most convincing performance from England by a long shot, but in the end they did enough to avoid an upset that could have been the talking point of the weekend. They know they will have to up their game considerably if they are to avoid the next banana skin that awaits them in the shape of Wales in a difficult encounter away in the cauldron of Cardiff at the Principality Stadium. For France it was a gut-wrenching loss after such an impressive performance at times. France are starting to look exceptionally dangerous and once the finishing skills are in place they are going to be a very difficult team to beat especially at home, something Scotland are no doubt keenly aware of as this weekend’s set of fixtures approaches.

Italy vs Wales
Final Score – Italy 7/Wales 33
Rome

While few doubted the end result of this match, not many would have predicted a scoreline favouring Italy by 7-3 at half time. If anything Italy were perhaps the better and more enterprising of the two sides for the first 40 minutes, making their rapid demise in the second half all the more frustrating for supporters and new Coach Conor O’Shea. The usual suspects played a huge role in Italy’s first half heroics, with Captain Fantastic Sergio Parisse once more stealing the headlines. Wales however, pulled rapidly away in the second half, and much like England the day before it was the bench that seemed to make all the difference.

Italy put in a powerhouse first half performance and their scrum was clearly getting the better of the Welsh outfit. The confidence this was giving Italy was reflected in the decision to avoid kicking for points after spending long periods camped in the Welsh half, and instead kick for touch and rely on their forward power to crash over for a five pointer. Perseverance finally paid off and on the half hour mark some concerted forward pressure on Wales would see Italian scrum half Eduardo Gori crash over for the first try of the match. However, Italy’s renowned problems with discipline would see them come short once more as they gave away a costly penalty allowing fullback Leigh Halfpenny to slot the three points and keep Wales in touch of the scoreline. Italy were clearly the more buoyant side heading into the changing rooms as they ended the half leading 7-3.

However, Italy’s age-old problems of struggling to play a game of two halves and ongoing discipline issues would plague them throughout the second half, allowing Wales to comfortably deal a series of death blows in the final quarter. With half an hour to go, an increasingly exhausted looking Italy were struggling to contain a Welsh side really starting to find some rhythm. The benches were emptied for both sides and Wales clearly had the advantage. Leigh Halfpenny had been making the Italian lapses in discipline count on the scoreboard in Wales’ favour and in the last quarter Wales began running in the tries as Italy ran out of gas and ideas. In the last quarter Wales would run in three unanswered tries in rapid succession, starting with centre Jonathan Davies and then one each from the wings through Liam Williams and George North. The final whistle blew and Italy were left to reflect on what could have been if they had played a game of eighty minutes. Wales would have been disappointed to not bag the bonus point through a fourth try but it was still a confidence boosting game heading into the difficult clash with tournament favourites England this weekend. With Wales topping the table at the end of a riveting opening weekend of Six Nations rugby, they surely must feel a justified sense of optimism about their chances against England let alone the rest of the Six Nations sides.

Americas Rugby Championship

Canada vs Argentina
Final Score – Canada 6/Argentina 20
Langford

In truly appalling conditions Canada and Argentina got their Americas Rugby Championship underway in the snow in Langford. Argentina seemed to adapt much better to the conditions than the Canadians, despite the conditions being a more regular part of the winter landscape in Canada than Argentina. Although Argentina are fielding a non-Test side in the competition, the gap between the two countries was plain to see. Argentina were infinitely more structured and composed than the Canadians and their forward prowess and line speed in the backs left Canada wrong-footed for the full eighty minutes.

Canada struggled to contain the prowess of Argentina’s big forward pack and discipline suffered as a result, with Argentina taking a three-point lead after only the second minute through a penalty kick. Ten minutes in flanker Lucas Rumball made the unfortunate mistake of playing an Argentine player in the air under the high ball and ended up leaving Canada a man short for the next ten minutes. Despite this Canada put in one of their better shifts in the game and were able to put some serious pressure on the Argentine defences leading to Canada’s first successful penalty kick. For the rest of the half both sides would attempt to probe each other’s strengths and weaknesses while adapting to the challenging conditions. Nevertheless, Canada headed to the changing rooms feeling pleased with a 3-3 tie after forty minutes.

In the second half however, Argentina gradually began to turn the screw on Canada and seemed to have a better understanding of the conditions and how to play them to their advantage. A remarkably soft try in the 50th minute saw Argentina take the lead at 10-3. Canada struck back once scrum half Phil Mack came off the bench to replace fly half Robbie Tovey, with starting scrum half Gordon McRorie moving to the fly half position. As readers of this blog are well aware we feel that Mack always adds some much-needed pace and vitality to the scrum half position in place of McRorie’s rather pedestrian and predictable service. Mack immediately made his presence felt, spearheading a passage of play which almost saw Canada score a try, but replacement centre George Barton was unable to hang onto the pass in the slippery conditions. McRorie would still make a successful penalty kick shortly after to keep Canada in touch trailing 10-6.

However, Canada had been missing tackles on Argentina’s energetic backs all night, making McRorie’s decision to kick to an area of open field that had three Argentinian backs loitering with intent, perplexing to say the least. Canada paid dearly for this moment of indiscretion as Argentine replacement fullback Segundo Tuculet was waiting with open arms. Tuculet is the younger brother of Pumas superstar fullback Joaquin Tuculet, so the pedigree is there for all to see. As he slipped through three Canadian tackles the difference in depth between the two sides especially in terms of their respective benches was painfully obvious. Canada would scrap it out to the end, despite Argentina still being the more enterprising in attack in conditions that continued to deteriorate. For the last three minutes Argentina would be a man down after a yellow card, but despite a valiant effort Canada simply couldn’t find any answers or means of adding to their points tally against a resolute and clearly fitter Argentine defence.

Canada’s next encounter this weekend with Chile should be a much tighter affair and the weather will hopefully be more conducive to the type of game Canada wants to play. Still in order to be competitive against their next big challenge, the USA, Canada has a very long to do list. We hope that some of the talent that really impressed us last year really comes to the fore by then. For now we still continue to like the look of flankers Lucas Rumball and Admir Cejanovic, and really hope that scrum half Phil Mack gets a shot at starting in Canada’s next few fixtures. If the conditions had been better we probably would have seen much more from an impressive set of backs, most notably winger Taylor Paris and centre Nick Blevins, but also feel that centre Brock Staller and winger Dan Moor will impress as much as they did last year as the tournament progresses. Early days yet for Canada but hopefully it’s onwards and upwards from here!

Endnote

Here’s an excellent video wrap up from Bspor TV on YouTube, of all the Round 1 action so give them a big thumbs up!

Here are TSN’s highlights of the snowball fight between Canada and Argentina in the Americas Rugby Championship.

After a solid opening game against Uruguay a new look Canada, under interim Coach Francois Ratier, took their show on the road to Texas to do battle with their arch enemy the USA in the second round of the inaugural Americas Rugby Championship.  While we always thought this was going to be a bridge too far as a second outing and thus a comfortable win for the Eagles, we really had to take our hats off to the performance Canada put in.  They had the Americans on the ropes for much of the match and were competitive to the final whistle.  Their age old problem of fading out in the last quarter against quality opposition appeared to rear its head again, but then a try by replacement back Duncan Maguire really put some spark back into the Canadian effort after a blitz of tries by the Americans.  Canada’s defence held well in the last ten minutes and they can hold their heads high having lost by only eight points after an intense encounter.  So far the cohesion in this squad, especially as witnessed in the follow up game against Brazil this past weekend back in Canada, is clear for all to see and we must confess to really liking what we see.  It’s early days still, but there is definitely some promising progress taking place in Canadian rugby.

USA vs Canada
Final Score – USA 30/Canada 22
Houston

To be honest, as only their second outing, this was going to be a tough match for a new look and predominantly young and inexperienced Canadian side to win.  However, what we didn’t expect was how well Canada played and how this group were really able to take the match to the Americans for the full eighty minutes.  Apart from a lack of composure and focus towards the end of the third quarter which would see the Americans score with seeming impunity, Canada looked really solid and perhaps most encouraging of all fought their way back into the match and were always in contention.  Unlike in matches we saw last year they didn’t fade away and if anything found a second wind and spark of life just when they needed it most.  While there is still a long way to go, what we have seen in the opening three rounds of this year’s inaugural Americas Rugby Championship is exceptionally positive from this young Canadian side and bodes well for the future.

What really impressed me in this match is the pressure Canada put on the Americans in the first half, which clearly rattled their hosts and saw Canada leading 12-10 at the break.  Admittedly the Americans were making far too many mistakes but these were due in large part to the dominance Canada had in a lot of areas of play.  Canada was clearly winning the scrum battle and their lineouts were proving to be much more productive than the USA.  The Americans were being forced into costly errors and scrum half Gordon McRorie was back to form and having a field day with the boot.  Canada constantly looked dangerous on attack and were holding on to the ball much better in the contact areas, an area which proved costly to them last year.  The US defence was holding up well but the constant probing by Canada was giving the Canadians plenty of opportunities at points from penalties, which McRorie made no mistake in cashing in on.

This positive play from Canada continued in the second half but the Americans were clearly benefitting from a stern talking to by Eagles Coach Jon Mitchell at half time.  It resulted in a very purple patch for Canada at the end of the third quarter as they would leak three tries in the space of ten minutes all scored by Eagles Captain and veteran lock Todd Clever.  It wasn’t pretty and is something that no doubt will be reviewed in detail by Canadian coaching staff for the remainder of the competition.  A solid defence all of a sudden looked remarkably porous for Canada.  However, as Canada’s bench got called into action Canada came back firing and once more looked competitive.  A superb individual effort from Duncan Maguire got Canada right back in the match through a brilliant try from some scrappy ball.  This rejuvenated Canada and for the remainder of the match despite intense pressure from the USA they held firm and even tried some attacks of their own.

In short, despite the defeat and an alarming and costly loss of structure for ten minutes this was a solid outing for Canada particularly in terms of their development as they seek to rebuild after the World Cup.  The veterans, Ray Barkwill, Hubert Buydens, Gordon McRorie and Phil Mackenzie all put in as usual an inspirational performance which really helped their younger teammates really match up in a demanding encounter.  Canada put in a solid shift in Houston and all 23 players can feel exceptionally pleased with their achievements as they continue to build for an exciting looking future.

Canada vs Brazil
Final Score – Canada 52/Brazil 25
Langford, BC

All credit to Brazil, they were certainly not daunted by the challenge of playing Canada at Rugby HQ in this country.  They put in a spirited challenge and showed that Brazilian rugby has some definite potential and will only continue to get the respect it deserves as it gets more and more exposure to this annual competition.  For Canada it was an important further step in cementing cohesion amongst a very promising looking squad and one which we at the Lineout are really looking forward to seeing in action in this year’s Pacific Nations Cup.

While there were few people who doubted anything other than a resounding Canadian victory, we were heartened by the intensity and quality of the Brazilian challenge.  Although often outclassed particularly up front, they showed plenty of resilience and enterprise when running the ball in space.  Their 25 points were all well earned and the results of some solid work.

Canada chose to field some of their more inexperienced backs in this match and it showed, as defensively Canada looked shaky at times and if it had not been for their bruising forward dominance over the Brazilians, Canada may have ended up with a much less flattering score line.  What Canada can be pleased with however, was their forward play.  Hooker and Captain Ray Barkwill bagged an impressive try of his own and tries from the rest of his forward pack showed just how promising Canada is looking up front after just three outings.  Flanker Lucas Rumball has been outstanding all tournament and picked up two tries in this match.  Lock Paul Ciulini looks impressive and Clay Panga looks great value for money at number 8.  In short, with the added experience of Ray Barkwill and Hubert Buydens this Canadian forward pack looks really solid and I am expecting great things of them come the summer.

Brazil can take heart from an impressive and courageous effort in their first ever Test match against Canada.  For Canada it was a great day out that really highlighted the sense of cohesion in this young squad and obvious enthusiasm about the future.  Canada face a very significant challenge as they now make the long trip to Argentina to take on one of the best teams in the world, even if the South Americans are without most of their A list players.  As most readers of this blog know I have been advocating for a regular annual meeting between our two countries and am delighted to see that this is now a reality.  The similarities between Canada and Argentina in terms of the challenges rugby faces in both countries are significant.  Argentina has emerged from these challenges as an international powerhouse of rugby and the learning experience that Francois Ratier’s charges will get from such regular encounters between the two countries will prove invaluable as well as a source of inspiration.  It will be a tough encounter and one that for all intents and purposes favours the South Americans.  However, if Canada can compete and continue to show the kind of heart and commitment they have already shown so far this year then whatever the outcome next Saturday in Argentina, it can only be positive in terms of development and building towards the next Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019.

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
Austin, Texas

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!

The inaugural Americas Cup kicks off this weekend and is a great start for Canada’s rebuilding programme after a World Cup that left us with more questions than answers.  Set to mirror the other major Northern Hemisphere annual tournament, Europe’s Six Nations, it will feature, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, USA and Uruguay.  Although it will feature full representation from five of the participating countries, it is likely that the Argentine side will most likely be a second string Pumas squad as the majority of the first choice Pumas team will be playing with the new Argentinian Super Rugby franchise the Jaguares for the length of the competition.  Nevertheless, as other major international teams have discovered when touring Argentina, a second string Pumas side is a formidable opponent.  Rugby has developed such depth in Argentina in the last ten years that without a doubt Argentina will still be the team to beat in this Championship, with the USA and Canada challenging hard for second and third place.  Uruguay should be competitive while Chile and Brazil will enjoy the learning opportunities provided by participating in a regular international competition. 

For Canada it is a time of change and uncertainty. The recent departure of Head Coach Kieran Crowley has led to the appointment of an interim coach, Francois Ratier who has had tremendous success with the women’s team, till a permanent successor can be found.  However, in the long term this means that Canada is in somewhat of a leadership vacuum, following an inspired yet ultimately disastrous World Cup campaign.  In the last two years Canada has entertained us yet been alarmingly short of results.  Canada desperately needs to build a team that can play together on a regular basis without having to do double duty on the Sevens circuit.  It is hoped that this tournament will see the initial steps towards building a long term structure that can take Canada to the next World Cup with a solid player base that has developed the mental fortitude required to get results.  As an interim measure the appointment of Francois Ratier as Coach, is in our view an excellent decision.  As mentioned earlier Ratier brings with him a winning culture as evidenced by the Canadian Women being runners up at the last Women’s World Cup.  It is this kind of motivational culture and sense of self-belief which has been slightly lacking of late in the Men’s team.  Consequently, the appointment of Ratier even in the short term can only have a positive effect on developing the mindset necessary to get results.

As the Lineout’s primary focus will be on the Six Nations over the coming weeks, we will not be covering the tournament in full, but instead will only be able to focus on the Canadian games in each round.  As a result, we’ll start with having a look at Canada’s opening fixture with Uruguay.

Fixtures this weekend

Canada vs Uruguay
Saturday, February 6th
Langford, BC

A new look Canadian squad takes to the field for this opener in the Americas Rugby Championship as a large contingent of Canada’s match day 23 will be uncapped players.  However, Captain and veteran prop Hubert Buydens is in my mind a superb choice as an inspirational leader.  Buydens was in the thick of everything that was positive about Canada’s performances in a troubled 2015 for the national squad.  The epitome of a rugby workhorse and a player who puts his body on the line for the full eighty minutes, Buydens will set the right tone for his young charges this Saturday in Langford as they take on Uruguay, a side that despite the odds against them gained some serious respect from World Cup runners up Australia last year.

Consequently, as Canada’s opening match in a potentially exciting tournament, this will be no pushover.  Buydens experience and leadership will be amply complimented by World Cup veterans Nick Blevins, Gordon McRorie, Ray Barkwill, Djustice Sears-Duru and Phil Mackenzie.  These six individuals provided plenty of character to the Canadian challenge at the World Cup and Phil Mackenzie lit up the tournament on several occasions for Canada just as he did in the Pacific Nations Cup earlier in the year.  Mackenzie’s talents have been clearly recognized in his professional career at Sale Sharks in the English Premiership and Canada is lucky that Sale have released him to participate in this tournament.  With this wealth of experience an exciting batch of Canadian new caps should benefit greatly from the exposure that this new tournament will provide Canadian players on an annual basis.

As it is such a new look Canadian side it is hard at this stage to really make much of a prediction as to how they will perform.  The above mentioned veterans should lend some real structure to Canada’s challenge against Uruguay coupled with the coaching successes that Francois Ratier has had with the Women’s team.  As I mentioned on several occasions last year if Canada needs a winning culture then look no further than the Women’s team, hence the appointment of Francois Ratier as interim coach is a huge bonus.  Add to this the fact that Jamie Cudmore, of French rugby giants Clermont-Ferrand, is now the forwards Coach for this tournament and this group of raw recruits should be in capable and experienced hands.  Hooker Ray Barkwill like his Captain Buydens is a tiger in the forwards and his experience will be of enormous benefit to his younger colleagues, while Djustice Sears-Duru is rapidly causing a stir as a powerful front-rower.  So plenty of experience and ability sprinkled in amongst the youth of the rest of the forwards.  Meanwhile in the backs, Gordon McRorie has proved capable with the boot and reliable under pressure at scrum half despite having an inconsistent record of goal kicking last year.  As mentioned already, Phil Mackenzie lit up both the Pacific Nations Cup and World Cup last year in a Canadian jersey and expect more of the same from him in this tournament.  Lastly, center Nick Blevins scored some of Canada’s best tries in the Pacific Nations Cup last year and along with Mackenzie adds some real quality and experience to a youthful new look Canadian back line.

In short, can Canada win on Saturday in Langford?  For me the answer is an unequivocal yes.  It won’t be easy and at times is likely to be very close as Uruguay are no pushover by any stretch of the imagination.  Australian Coach Michael Cheika gave his stamp of approval to a promising Uruguayan side last year at the World Cup and like Canada this is an exceptionally youthful team with great promise for the future.  However, home advantage for Canada and a side desperate to rebuild and move on from a year that ultimately provided more heartache than most would care to remember in their rugby careers, should be enough motivation for Canada to get the job done and emerge the winners.  A strong win on Saturday should build the self belief and confidence this young squad needs to face a much greater challenge of taking on their nemesis team of the last two years on the road, the USA Eagles.  It should be a good game and the sight of Captain Hubert Buydens constantly being the last man standing should inspire his charges to make this first outing of a new phase in Canadian rugby one to remember and one that sets the tone for the build up to Japan 2019.