Posts Tagged ‘Canadian Rugby’

Yes we know there are three other big games this weekend, but as we only have team sheets for the Canada/Tonga and Argentina/South Africa matches, our usual previews of Australia/New Zealand and the European World Cup warmups will have to wait till tomorrow.

Canada finish up a difficult Pacific Nations Cup this weekend, and if they don’t get an elusive win against Tonga tomorrow night then you’d have to wonder what they’ve actually learnt if anything over the last three weeks in terms of their World Cup preparations.

Meanwhile South Africa travel to Argentina, to try and seal their first Southern Hemisphere title since 2009. There is no denying that the Springboks are looking sharp this year and after dispatching Australia with ease and holding New Zealand to a draw, they find themselves at the top of the Rugby Championship table as they head into this weekend’s final round of games. Argentina will be no pushover though, and themselves put New Zealand under enormous pressure in the tournament opener. What exactly happened to them a week later in Australia is anyone’s guess, as we watched a dismal spectacle riddled with errors from both sides – quite frankly one of the worst games of rugby we’ve watched in this last World Cup cycle. Argentina are better than that – much better- and on home ground expect them to once more become the smoking gun that everyone is inevitably talking about as the World Cup draws closer.

Like we say we’ll cover the European warmups tomorrow along with Australia vs New Zealand in Bledisloe 1, but in the interim here’s what got us talking about these two matches.

Tonga vs Canada – Friday, August 9th (August 8th for Canadian TV viewers) – Fiji

Poor against the USA and a completely inept second half against Fiji, means that Canada have never really looked the part in this year’s Pacific Nations Cup which for all intents and purposes has been a warmup for the World Cup more than anything. Sadly Canada would appear to have learnt little about their strengths but a great deal about their weaknesses. Whether or not there is sufficient time between now and their World Cup opener against Italy to address these issues is a million dollar question. As a result, Canada know that tomorrow’s game will require a huge performance in order to restore some confidence to a team that has not enjoyed a winning culture for a very long time now.

With no disrespect to Tonga, who sadly we know very little about, Canada should at least be competitive and hopefully decidedly more polished than they were against Fiji and the USA. The game against Fiji was simply painful to watch. Canada spent the first half aimlessly box kicking to a team that is renowned for their ability to run the ball and who possess some of the most mesmerizing ball handling skills in open play in the modern game. Canada then spent the second half continuously trying to use rolling mauls which the Fijians brought to ground with almost joyful abandon. Canada seemed completely without a plan B, and simply stuck doggedly to two tactics that got them no traction whatsoever for the full eighty minutes. What was going on in the coaching box was beyond us.

This week, we are not exactly holding our breath after looking at the team sheet.

Michael Sheppard take a bow

We were really surprised to not see the Toronto Arrows tank in the starting lineup for last week’s match, and although we were devastated for Justin Blanchet who had to leave the field after only 2 minutes due to injury, the opportunity that it provided Sheppard was golden. In a match where Canadian standout performances were hard to find, the big second rower was one of the few who stood up and were counted. As a result we are delighted to see him get a starting berth for this match, and expect him to make life difficult for Tonga as well as provide some much needed inspiration and go forward ability for the rest of his colleagues.

Also in the forwards Tyler Ardron makes a welcome return

Like Sheppard against Fiji, Ardron was one of the few players who stood out in the game against the USA. With himself and Sheppard on the field tomorrow Canada should not be short in the inspiration department.

Tonga’s forward pack have plenty of Top14 experience in France so Canada will really need to be at their best here, but overall Canada are fielding perhaps their best forward pack of the competition. Lucas Rumball and Kyle Baillie shore up a solid back row.

The halfback combinations are not working and we don’t see much room for improvement tomorrow either

This week sees Gordon McRorie moved from scrum half to fly half, and when he moved to the role in the second half last week Canada did seem to gain a bit more fizz in their attack. Sadly we feel that McRorie brings absolutely nothing to the scrum half position and if his service was any slower off the base of the scrum and rucks then it would be more akin to lawn bowling than rugby. He allows the opposition so much time to set their defensive structures that Canada is going nowhere on attack. Phil Mack brings much more energy to the position, but his performance in the USA game was riddled with errors. We would really prefer to see Jamie Mackenzie get a starting berth at 9 in preparation for the World Cup and once more are dismayed to see him start on the bench. He did add some value in the last quarter against Fiji, and him at scrum half and McRorie at fly half does seem a better combination unless Mack has one of those games we all know he is capable of.

Canada will be looking to DTH to once more save the day

He is undoubtedly Canada’s only genuine world class player, but all too often he is expected to perform miracles by the rest of his teammates. Furthermore, to be honest the outstanding winger has been ominously quiet in Canada’s most recent outings. We really hope that won’t be the case tomorrow.

Verdict

Canada has a hard road to hoe tomorrow, but surely their luck has to turn at some point, even if doing it in the heat of the South Pacific is a tall order. Tonga have a better winning record than Canada at the moment, and have managed to beat Fiji last year. However, much like Canada they seem to be a very hit and miss outfit. Playing in Fiji will be much more like home turf for them than Canada, as well as being more used to playing in the humidity. It’s a close call but based on form we’d have to hand it to Tonga. Nevertheless, Canada should be able to run them a lot closer than perhaps they expect. However, we’re still giving it to the Pacific Islanders by three while still hoping for a big performance from Canada!

Argentina vs South Africa – Saturday, August 10th – Salta

Like we say we are really not sure what happened to Argentina in Australia, but hopefully by now they have figured it out. South Africa on the other hand while still having some work to do, are no doubt feeling rather pleased with their World Cup preparations which seem to be on a very positive trajectory.

Argentina are not in the hunt for any silverware but that is clearly not much of an agenda item for them, as they seek to use the tournament to gel overseas based players back into the squad, and Saturday’s match is no exception.

Argentina’s scrum has struggled and Saturday’s Test will see just how much progress Coach Ledesma has made in fixing it

South Africa bring two powerhouse front rows to Argentina on Saturday, with tight head prop Frans Malherbe being the only possible weak link. We’re not overly convinced that the Pumas outfit will be able to go the distance. The only real consistency and competitiveness we see here for the Pumas is at hooker with Agustin Creevy and Julian Montoya. The rest of it we fear will just be going backwards on Saturday.

Talking of hookers is Mbonambi bringing the accuracy the Springboks are missing at lineout time?

Don’t get us wrong we are HUGE fans of Malcolm Marx, but there is no denying his lineout throwing has been poor to say the least, and to make up for it we haven’t quite seen the kind of barnstorming heroics that made him such a household name in Test rugby eighteen months ago, to make up for his discrepancies at lineout time. Consequently, up steps Mbonambi who for the most part appears to be a pretty accurate dart thrower. He’s no slouch at the coalface either and Coach Rassie Erasmus clearly sees him as Mr. Dependable heading into the World Cup, with Marx coming in to shake things up when the opposition could really do without it.

Argentina’s Europeans didn’t quite make the cut in Australia but history is unlikely to repeat itself this weekend

We really felt that Argentina looked poor against the Wallabies, and we certainly weren’t expecting it. We are putting it down to the overseas based players’ unfamiliarity with a unit that essentially has operated as one for the last six months in the shape of the Jaguares. There was no denying that Facundo Isa and Santiago Cordero looked slightly out of sorts and unsure of how to function in a unit that had a genuine track record of success under their belts. We very much doubt that will be the case this Saturday, and despite a wobble against Australia Nicolas Sanchez should also be back to his best, especially after putting in such a strong performance against New Zealand last month straight off the plane from France.

Is this the kind of game where Kwagga Smith finally lights up the pitch?

As regular readers of this blog know, we are big fans of the Springbok utility forward who is an expert at putting his sevens experience to good use. Unfortunately he hasn’t quite had the opportunity to do so in his last few outings in a Springbok jersey but this could be his chance to shine. Given the slightly frenetic pace of any match against the Pumas, Smith could well find himself with the kind of open space he excels at exploiting. Talking of open space for the Springboks, we also feel that Pieter-Steph du Toit deserves honourable mention here as well, after his chip kick exploits against New Zealand a fortnight ago, with the big utility forward clearly becoming one of the Springboks most valuable players. Much like Smith we’ve rated him from day one in a Springbok jersey.

The rise of the small men

Springbok winger Cheslin Kolbe has become something of a legend here at the Lineout, and we don’t think we are the only ones who hold him in such high regard. He may be one of the smallest men on the pitch, but you would never think it. The sight of him hauling New Zealand’s Brodie Retallick to the ground needed to be seen to be believed. The man simply has no fear, and his tackling game is something to behold. Add to that his vision and pace and there is no doubt that the diminutive winger has developed into one of the finest all round players in the modern game. Debutant scrum half Herschel Jantjies has also become one of the finds of the year. Having scored a try in each of his two matches to date in a Springbok jersey, he is also a player playing well above his weight and experience grade. We can’t remember when we saw such a natural transition to Test level rugby. In a team renowned for giant bone crushing leviathans, the Springboks have finally found a place for 5 foot tall 75 kg titans!

Verdict

Beating Argentina’s Jaguares on home soil has become next to impossible, however beating the Pumas for some reason on home soil doesn’t quite hold the same challenge. However, despite their present form, South Africa have struggled with this task more than their other Southern Hemisphere rivals. Argentina has not been a happy hunting ground at times for the Springboks and Saturday should provide more of the same in terms of a challenge. Nevertheless South Africa seem to be going from strength the strength while the Pumas are still finding their feet after a disappointing season last year. With the added bonus of some silverware on offer and the confidence booster this provides ahead of a World Cup, expect the Springboks to be well and truly up for this one. Argentina will give them a very good run for their money in the process, but we expect South Africa to take the game by five!

Test Rugby is now in full swing and will remain so till the beginning of November and the final whistle of the World Cup. As a result there is plenty of action to be had this weekend. The Rugby Championship and Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa’s unofficial warm up for Japan continues in its abbreviated format this weekend. South Africa travel to Wellington to attempt to repeat their historic win against New Zealand on the same ground a year ago. Meanwhile Argentina travel to Australia to take on the Wallabies in Brisbane and also hope to repeat their famous victory on Australian soil last year. Lastly Canada travel to Denver before heading down to the South Pacific and take on the USA for the second time this year.

Unfortunately due to the pressures of work this week, we’ve been unable to do our usual five talking points for each match, but here’s a quick summary of what we’re looking at for all three games.

New Zealand vs South Africa – Saturday, July 27th – Wellington

Without a doubt given the thrill of last year’s spectacle, this is THE big fixture of the weekend. South Africa are fielding an exceptionally strong squad for this encounter as are New Zealand who will be keen to seek revenge for their defeat on home soil last year by the Springboks. South Africa arrive brimming with confidence after a comprehensive thrashing of Australia last weekend, made all the more impressive without some of their key players. Admittedly Australia are not exactly setting the world on fire at the moment, but it was still an important win that saw a well disciplined and cohesive Springbok performance. New Zealand on the other hand, although not fielding their strongest side, struggled to keep Argentina at bay last weekend, and were lucky to come away with a narrow win.

This weekend sees both sides field their first choice lineups, and given the form of both teams, promises to be an exciting encounter and a mirror image of both sides’ opening match in the World Cup in two months time.

Looking at the lineups, a couple of things stand out for us most notably the appearance of the two main contenders for the All Black 10 jersey on the field together. Beauden Barrett reverts to the fullback position for this match, while Richie Mo’unga takes up his usual spot with the Crusaders and New Zealand at fly half. Barrett ultimately got the job done last weekend but we felt that Argentina often had his measure and it wasn’t his greatest day at the office. In the case of Mo’unga we have yet to see him have a bad day this year, and if he can translate this form to Test level in an intensely physical and demanding Test, then the race for the selectors first choice will be that much tighter between the two fly halves. Barrett has not played fullback at Test level for quite some time, almost six years ago to be precise against Japan, and he has only played three times in the 15 jersey for the Men in Black. There is no doubting his versatility but to shift one of your key play makers to such a relatively unfamiliar position for such a big game, will really be a testimony to Barrett’s abilities if he pulls it off with flying colors. He’ll be up against one of Test Rugby’s best in the shape of Willie le Roux and we’d argue that in the aerial contests the South African may come off better given his familiarity with the position.

TJ Perenara gets the starting scrum half berth this weekend, and deservedly so in our opinion for a match of this stature. We’d argue he is New Zealand’s form number 9 by a country mile at the moment, and his rival Aaron Smith didn’t really do anything last weekend to make us sit up and take notice, and was often outplayed by Argentina’s Tomas Cubelli. Perenara will need to be on his toes as he goes head to head with South Africa’s live wire Faf de Klerk and with try scoring debutant machine Herschel Jantjies on the bench New Zealand will really have to keep their wits about them in this part of the park.

The back row for South Africa sees the highly anticipated return of one of our favorite Springboks Kwagga Smith. For us he is the try scoring equivalent of New Zealand’s Ardie Savea who we are surprised to see sit this one out. Whenever Smith is on the field South Africa’s X-factor goes up another few notches. He may not be the whirlwind wrecking ball that Savea is, but he is one of Test Rugby’s most glorious opportunists. Add to the mix the figure of flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit, whose emotions at the end of last year’s match on the same ground so effectively summed up what that victory meant to the Springboks, and South Africa will be hard to beat up front.

Our last big surprise for a game with so much riding on it was the decision by New Zealand to start Sonny Bill Williams. This surely must be the last chance saloon for the All Black centre, as in our opinion, with no disrespect to the great man we feel he is past his sell by date and brings nothing particularly dynamic to an area of the park that will be hotly contested, with South Africa’s Lukhanyo Am being an exciting prospect for the Springboks and Damian de Allende having dramatically upped his game since last year.

Lastly we feel South Africa pack an absolute power house bench. New Zealand’s offering from the sidelines is respectable make no mistake, but we feel if South Africa have the edge by the time the bench becomes a factor it could swing the game in the Springboks favor.

Verdict

Either way a huge match in prospect and one you won’t want to miss. Despite their shock defeat last year, the likelihood of New Zealand losing at home twice in a row and at the same venue to boot seems on paper to be rather remote. We think South Africa is fielding a team more than capable of matching up to the All Blacks, but New Zealand will have a fairly hefty point to prove in front of a home crowd who will make sure they remember why they’re there. Consequently in a hard fought match we’re giving it to New Zealand by five, perhaps more than anything on the premise that lightning rarely strikes the same spot twice!

Australia vs Argentina – Saturday, July 27th – Brisbane

Last year Australia got ultimately shown the door by a better disciplined and structured Pumas side. We’d argue the Pumas are even better organised and focused than they were last year, and despite their loss last weekend will be buoyed by the fact that they made the best team in the world work for a full eighty minutes last Saturday. Australia to be honest, seemed no better than they were last season and if anything a tad worse. Their match against South Africa was riddled with schoolboy mistakes, handling errors and a general lack of cohesion and poor execution. To get past a Pumas side that is really starting to click nicely they are going to have to be a lot better, and home advantage alone is unlikely to address the error count we saw last week.

Argentina seem to have finally addressed their scrum problems, while we have seen little if any evidence that Australia have got their house in order in this department. Argentina still have plenty of work to do, but guiding proceedings at the coalface is the exceptionally capable Julian Montoya. Argentina to make some much needed progress here on Saturday, most likely at Australia’s expense, with the Wallabies misery likely to be compounded in the second row, as Argentina’s Guido Petti and Tomas Lavanini show them how it’s done.

Australia’s problems are unlikely to improve in the back row, with the talking point of the week being the eagerly awaited return of Facundo Isa to the Pumas number eight jersey. Throw in the wrecking ball that is Pablo Matera who is likely to make mincemeat of the Wallabies Michael Hooper and we just can’t see Australia making any inroads here. In short, when it comes to the battles up front we have a hunch that Australia may find themselves completely outclassed.

Things get better for Australia in the backs, but even there we’d argue Argentina don’t have too much to worry about, especially given Australia’s lack of ball handling skills last weekend. The one positive we did see for Australia was the welcome return to the scrum half berth of Nic White, and in one of the very few standout Wallaby performances last weekend, White has given Will Genia a lot to think about this Saturday as he makes his bid for the first choice scrum half berth. Australia pack some very big, powerful and mobile units in their set of backs both on the wing and the center channels this weekend, and Kurtley Beale  immediately made his presence known last Saturday when he came off the bench. He has also proven himself handy in the fullback position which is where he starts this week. Argentina though possess some devastating speed merchants and Saturday also sees the long overdue return of European based winger Santiago Cordero who made plenty of headlines for the Pumas at the last World Cup. With the exception of perhaps the physical aspect, it is very much a question of Argentina being able to say to Australia, “anything you can do, we can do better” in back play.

Verdict

Australia may be at home, and on paper have a very good looking spreadsheet from 9-15, but up front we feel they just don’t have parity with Argentina. Add to that the fact that the Pumas are no slouchers from 9-15 themselves, and we’d argue that Argentina look much more like the finished product. With the exception of their two overseas based players this is a very settled and familiar unit, that has already proved that it can rise to the occasion. Australia may have home advantage but we feel that Argentina have a better understanding of what game they want to play. Consequently in what should be an absolutely fascinating contest we’re handing it to the Pumas by 2!

USA vs Canada – Saturday, July 27th – Denver

We’ll be completely honest, after two months of cheering on the Toronto Arrows close to home, we were a little disappointed to see less players from the successful MLR side than we were expecting for such a crunch match, unless Coach Kingsley Jones is saving his best for arguably one of Canada’s most challenging encounters this year – the game with Fiji. Canada is boasting some very big names for this match, most notably the incomparable winger DTH van der Merwe who is truly world-class. However, we felt that Toronto Arrows scrum half Jamie Mackenzie was certainly worth inclusion over the remarkably pedestrian Gordon McRorie.

Furthermore the fact that neither second rower Mike Sheppard or winger Dan Moor even made it to the bench left us puzzled. One thing we were delighted to see though was the return of number eight Tyler Ardron, who always brings such shape and presence to a Canadian side, while newcomer Ben LeSage gets a worthy call up to the centers.

The Americans are also open to experimentation, but having watched the last half of the MLR season with interest, there are a lot of very familiar looking and exceptionally capable American players in this starting XV. Based on what we saw this year, Canada are really going to have to work hard to contain the threat posed by second rower Nick Civetta, flanker John Quill, and number eight Cam Dolan.

After a very successful season with English Premiership side Sale Sharks, Eagles Irish import fly half AJ MacGinty returns to service for the USA, and his game management skills are going to really put Canadian newcomer and fellow Irish import Paul Nelson to the test.

Verdict

Canada need a big performance on Saturday, but their away form has for quite some time now been poor. However, the one saving grace is that they did manage to run the United States close in their last encounter which was also on the road. If the likes of DTH van der Merwe can find the gaps in what would appear to be a fairly solid US defense, then Canada could come out of this on a positive note in their build up to the World Cup. However, we can’t help feeling that it’s still a tall order especially for some of the less experienced players in the squad, as well as those whose continued selection leaves us slightly puzzled. Consequently, in front of a home crowd, and with some serious talent in the mix, the USA should ultimately pull ahead and get the job done by eight points!

 

 

 

 

 

After a disastrous 2018, only salvaged by Canada’s last-ditch stand to grab the final spot up for grabs in this year’s World Cup, it was with a sense of hope and optimism that we looked ahead to this year’s Americas Rugby Championship (ARC). Although there was slightly more to cheer about at times this year, Canada still couldn’t progress beyond a fifth place ranking once the dust had settled on the tournament for another year. Fifth last year and fifth again this year, with humiliating losses at home to Argentina and on the road to Uruguay, Brazil and the USA it was hard to see much progress for Canada from 2018. The 56-0 thumping of Chile brought some comfort, along with the fact that at least Canada ran the USA and Uruguay relatively close. But overall it was another cold start for Canada in the lower reaches of Tier 2, and not exactly the kind of confidence booster you want heading into the World Cup in less than six months time. So let’s have a look at how it panned out and what if anything we learnt from the whole process.

Uruguay vs Canada – Uruguay 20/Canada 17 – February 2nd – Montevideo

Remember how Canada seemed to take a commanding lead of games before the last World Cup and then somehow would inexplicably throw away a match in the final quarter? If you do then this match would have provided you with an overwhelming sense of deja vu. Plain and simple this is a match that Canada should have and could have won. To add insult to injury Uruguay played with only 14 men for three-quarters of the match.

Canada you felt had a grudge against Uruguay going into this match as it was the South Americans who robbed them of their first shot at World Cup qualification last year. With half of Canada’s squad now playing professionally either in North America with the newly formed Major League Rugby setup or in Europe, there was a genuine sense of optimism that the new infusion of professionalism would raise the standard of Canadian rugby.

Uruguay looked full of intent and were rewarded with a solid opening try, but then on the 16th minute a nasty tackle from Uruguayan scrum half Santiago Arata on Canadian winger Andrew Coe would see the South Americans a man down for the rest of the match. Canada would score three fine tries that showed some genuine enterprise on attack with the back three and centres looking particularly impressive. Jamie Mackenzie had a solid outing and the Toronto Arrows scrum half was rewarded with an excellent try for his efforts. Ciaran Hearn and Ben LeSage hooked up nicely at centre, though the latter’s yellow card in the last quarter of the match put a blemish on an otherwise positive showing. Andrew Coe and Kainoa Lloyd  put in some blistering pace out wide and expect to see big things from Toronto Arrows winger Lloyd in years to come, along with his fellow Arrows teammate Theo Sauder at fullback.

However, up front Canada for the most part looked clumsy and poorly organised and as the match wore on, discipline started to collapse and execution started to slip. Uruguay even with a man down set up a relentless physical assault on the Canadian defences in the final fifteen minutes and on the final whistle scored the try that would seal the win for the South Americans. Canada were left wondering how they let a match they appeared to be in control of slip away from them at the death. Still it was early days and overall it had been a positive showing for Canada and something to build on as they headed to Brazil.

Brazil vs Canada – Brazil 18/Canada 10 – February 9th – San Jose dos Campos

This in theory should have been a comfortable win for Canada after having summarily dismissed the Brazilians last year. However, apart from a superb opening ten minutes from Canada and Ciaran Hearn in particular as a last-minute change to fullback, Canada simply never looked like they were in this match. Whether it was the Brazilian heat and humidity and gruelling travelling that wore the Canadian players down is still up for debate, but it was a poor and lacklustre performance from Canada whichever way you cut it. Their discipline was atrocious as Brazil slotted six unanswered penalty goals. The Canadian defence was solid enough to prevent Brazil from crossing the whitewash but in so doing it gave away its fair share of penalties. In short there were no positives for Canada from this match, and it must have been a rather subdued flight home.

Canada vs Chile – Canada 56/Chile 0 – February 22nd – Langford

Canada’s first home game, gave them an emphatic victory over a courageous but completely outclassed Chilean outfit. Once again Canada’s wingers, Andrew Coe and Kainoa Lloyd had an absolute field day, with Lloyd scoring a hat trick. It was also a good day out for the forwards, and lock Kyle Baillie in particular had a superb outing and was rewarded with a fine try of his own. In short it was a performance all about Canada and one which they dominated from start to finish. However, there was no getting away from the fact that Chile were weak opponents, and thus it was hard to judge just what the 56-0 thumping really meant in terms of where Canada was really at.

Canada vs Argentina – Canada 23/Argentina 39 – March 1st – Langford

Argentina have always been a problem side for Canada in the tournament and this year would prove to be no exception. Argentina would ultimately emerge as undefeated champions in this year’s Championship so Canada were always going to be up against some serious opposition in this match. Argentina play a fast and brutally physical game and Canada’s inexperienced youngsters could not have asked for a better Test.

Despite the loss Canada for the most part acquitted themselves well against such quality opposition. Argentina came out of the blocks firing and, as they would throughout the match, exposed some of the defensive frailties of Canada’s back line. Argentina dominated the first half and Canada was clearly struggling to keep pace with them.

A halftime chat clearly did Canada some good and they struck back with a vengeance, and once again it was that man Kyle Baillie who led the charge through the forwards. The first quarter of the match was all about Canada and saw them play some of their best rugby of the tournament, with winger Andrew Coe following up Baillie’s try scoring efforts six minutes later. Thereafter though it was once more all about Argentina as their physical prowess came to the fore, leaving Canada exhausted and literally on their knees in the final quarter. Discipline started to slip and saw yet another costly yellow card against Canada with four minutes to go. By that point it was all over bar the shouting and Canada would end the contest 16 points behind, with Argentina hoisting the trophy after four rounds. There had been some positives in Canada’s performance, and to score 23 points against such a potent side is no mean achievement, but from a discipline and defensive point of view Canada just looked far too vulnerable.

USA vs Canada – USA 30/Canada 25 – March 8th – Seattle

In one of the Americas greatest rivalries, it is getting hard to remember the last time Canada beat the USA. However, the intensity of this fixture was there for all to see in this final match of Canada’s ARC campaign for 2019. It was a solid effort from Canada and one that should have got them the win as they had a slender lead at the seventy minute mark. Once more it simply wasn’t good enough as the USA put the chokehold on a clearly exhausted Canadian side in the final 10 minutes. Yet again Canada looked naive defensively when it mattered most.

In a game that saw plenty of ebb and flow and the lead changing hands several times, Canada put in one of their better performances. They got an early lead through the first try of the match and both sides would then engage in a tit for tat scoring fest for the rest of the game. It was a fast paced encounter with plenty of punishing physical contact which to Canada’s credit they handled well. However, perhaps one of the saddest moments of Canada’s whole 2019 ARC campaign was seeing lock Kyle Baillie sent off in the 76th minute with a yellow card for an unfortunate high tackle. Baillie had been one of Canada’s star performers all tournament, and to see such a quality player end the Championship in such circumstances seemed harsh medicine. However, once again Canada caved under pressure in the final ten minutes and it cost them – a trend which has become all too familiar in the last few years and something they seem no closer to fixing. Nevertheless it had been an exceptionally equal contest and Canada can feel pleased that they were able to hold the Americans so close for most of the game. The forwards did some outstanding work, perhaps best epitomised by newcomer number eight Luke Campbell who really caught our eye in this match.

So where to from here?

After eighteen months in charge Canada’s fortunes have sadly not improved under Coach Kingsley Jones, and if anything they have got worse. Nevertheless, we feel that despite the results this year’s ARC showed Canada in a slightly better light. They were competitive against the USA and Uruguay and fought hard against ultimate champions Argentina. There is a group of exciting and talented young backs who simply need to lose their defensive naivety, but with their increasing exposure to professional rugby at club level in the MLR and elsewhere this will come. The forward pack is impressive, but perhaps needs to lose some of the veteran stalwarts, while retaining a core group of younger experienced heads such as Lucas Rumball and Kyle Baillie to mentor the likes of promising youngsters like Luke Campbell. Canada have finally identified a scrum half with pace and vision in the shape of Jamie Mackenzie, but the fly half berth still remains a conundrum. Gordon McRorie has often been drafted in at fly half from his usual position of scrum half, but it has not worked well, and as regular readers know we don’t really favor his rather pedestrian and conservative playing style in either position. Canada’s front row also would appear to be a liability with no real sign of who might take up the mantle of veterans like Ray Barkwill and Hubert Buydens, although we thought prop Jordan Olsen showed some real promise in the USA match.

Canada now has only three games before the World Cup, and all of them take place away from home, as they face first the USA and then Fiji and Tonga. All three are very tough opponents who could also leave Canada with an injury list from hell as they head to Japan. Given that Canada’s depth is exceptionally limited, this must surely be a concern. Canada’s draw at the World Cup is the stuff of nightmares with both New Zealand and South Africa in their pool. Their first match against Italy is surely one they are targeting but then so will the Azurri as they know that their only real chances of victory in the World Cup are against Canada and Namibia. Consequently, Canada’s only real shot at World Cup glory is against Namibia, but sadly this will be Canada’s last match of the tournament and one can only hope that the injury gods will have been kind to them up to that stage.

It wasn’t a great ARC for Canada but we felt that as it wore on Canada got better to the point where there is some hope for the future. That future is unlikely to materialise at this year’s World Cup. However, come 2020 and beyond Canada is starting to look like they have the kind of talent that could help them claw their way out of the international rugby wilderness that they have found themselves in since the last World Cup. With the growth of the game at a professional level in North America now through Major League Rugby, we’d argue that the future looks a lot brighter than it did a year ago. Time will tell but we hold that the results will come even though we may not necessarily see them in Japan in September.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whichever way you cut it – 2018 was a long and painful year for Canada and one which they will no doubt want to forget. It was salvaged at the death by a solid performance in the World Cup repechage tournament, which saw them snatch the last place up for grabs in this year’s global showdown in Japan. However, apart from that Canada’s track record in 2018 makes for depressing reading. 11 matches played, 6 lost and 5 won doesn’t seem so bad on paper but of the six they lost 2 were critical and almost lost Canada a place in the World Cup. A summer series saw Canada whitewashed, and the team appear rudderless in both shape and direction. They acquitted themselves well in their bid to secure a place in the World Cup in November in three matches played in France, but this was tempered by the fact that at one point this year Canada sank in the world rankings to 23. At the time of writing they still only sit at 20. This is a side that now finds itself sitting in a Pool with two of Test Rugby’s genuine contenders for World Cup glory this year – New Zealand and South Africa. The World Cup always seems to produce something special from Canada despite the odds, but there is no denying that after 2018, Canada and Coach Kingsley Jones have a phenomenal amount of work to get through in only nine months to make Canada genuinely competitive once more.

Canada – 4/10

Like we say it was hard to find positives this year for Canada, and we’re hoping that the spark we saw in November in France carries through into Canada’s opening games of a World Cup year, as they head into the Americas Rugby Championship in two weeks time.

Canada’s opening shots of 2018 in the Americas Rugby Championship however, did little to inspire confidence. Their first game of the year at home against Uruguay saw them at sixes and sevens as an exciting and powerful Uruguayan side ran rings around them. In the return fixture a week later in Uruguay, which also happened to be a World Cup qualifier, things appeared to be looking up as Canada ran Uruguay close and ultimately only lost by one point, but poor decision-making and discipline cost them a match they could and should have won. Their misery on the road continued as they were given a schooling by the USA. Returning home they managed to put Brazil to the sword, but then returning to South America were made to look like amateurs once more by Argentina. Pride was restored through beating Chile by a comfortable margin but they returned home at the end of the tournament having to settle for a mediocre fourth place on the table.

June saw Canada play a summer series of three home tests which Canada will want to forget. Being comprehensively thrashed by Scotland, Russia and the USA at home left the side completely demoralised, and Canadian fans with very little to cheer about. Furthermore Canada lost their second chance at World Cup qualification in the heavy defeat to the USA. Furthermore, to add insult to injury Canada’s place in the world rankings slipped to a desultory 23, the lowest it’s been in as long as we can remember. Canada simply looked bereft of ideas in all three matches coupled to a discipline problem that left you wondering if any of the players had ever seen a rule book. There were a few standout performances, but all too often it was left to the likes of players such as DTH van der Merwe to single-handedly pull Canada out of the fire. As good as such players are, without a team behind them it simply left with them with too much to do.

Consequently, it was with a sense of trepidation that Canadian supporters looked ahead to Canada’s last chance to qualify for this year’s World Cup in a repechage tournament to be held in France in November of 2018, between Kenya, Canada and Hong Kong. All games were played in Marseille and Canada was fortunate that, as the tournament fell into the official November Test window, it was able to bring in the services of its big guns who regularly ply their trade with major European club teams. As a result the likes of Taylor Paris, Tyler Ardron and DTH van der Merwe amongst a notable few were on hand.

Canada got proceedings under way with a convincing win over Kenya. Next up were Germany and despite the match being much closer Canada still walked away comfortable winners. Their final challenge saw them handle a spirited challenge from Hong Kong, but two superb tries from Van der Merwe helped Canada emerge the victors and thus secure their tickets to Japan and the World Cup. It was an uplifting performance from Canada but which also highlighted the critical importance of Canada’s European based players, without whom results seem rather few and far between. Furthermore, although Canada’s three opponents in the repechage were worthy challengers they are teams that in the past Canada would have dispatched with ease, and run in much larger scorelines. Canada find themselves arguably in one of the World Cup’s Pools of death. South Africa and New Zealand are simply out of reach while Canada has never beaten Italy. Their only Tier 2 opponent Namibia is a feisty opponent and Canada just emerged the victors in a tight tussle the last time these two countries met in 2014.

In short, Canada have their work cut out for them in 2019 in order to get things right for the World Cup. Ahead of them lies the opportunity to get some good mileage under their belt in the Americas Rugby Championship, with some real quality opposition in the shape of Argentina and the USA. The summer sees them travel to the US and then the Pacific Islands in this year’s edition of the Pacific Nations Cup, where they meet the Eagles, Fiji and Tonga. If they can get through this daunting challenge in good shape, then they will have had some solid preparation for both their target match in the World Cup against Namibia as well as hopefully a credible challenge to Italy.

There is some clear and obvious talent in Canadian rugby, both in terms of seasoned veterans and promising youngsters. While the coaching setup appears to have struggled, November showed that with the right mix of players things did seem to come together in that department. However, management of the sport as a whole in Canada and of the national team seems to be a disaster, as evidenced by the ongoing disputes with reimbursement for the sevens team, as well as very little effort at structuring the XV a side game in a way that makes Canada a Tier 2 force to be reckoned with as in years gone by.

2019 will be one of the most important years in Canadian rugby history. With the sport seemingly in free fall at a national level, continued failure this year is likely to kill off what remaining interest there is in the sport in Canada. As evidenced by the growth in popularity of sports such as rugby league, most notably the success of Toronto’s Wolfpack team, Rugby Canada really has to seize the opportunity provided by this World Cup with both hands. Should Canada fail to show up and catch the eye like they did at the last tournament in 2015, then it could well be the beginning of a very long and lonely period in the wilderness of the lower rungs of Tier 2 International Rugby for Canada. Despite the success in France last November, it would still appear that Canada will be up against it again this year. However, we reserve judgement till the results of the forthcoming Americas Rugby Championship are in. If Canada can at least finish in a strong second or third place in this tournament over the course of the next two months, then we like most supporters in this country will breathe a much-needed sigh of relief!

Player of the year – DTH Van Der Merwe

Every time he plays he seems to singlehandedly reverse the rot that has set into Canadian rugby. Blessed with some exceptional pace and skill, he is without doubt Canada’s finest player and one who consistently delivers results for a beleaguered national side – something he has been doing for quite some time now. At 32 this will probably be his last World Cup, but expect the veteran winger to sign off with a bang!

Player to watch in 2019 – Brock Staller

Blessed with a handy boot and an exceptional turn of speed when counterattacking from deep, the powerful utility back caught our eye every time he turned out for Canada this year. With his defence improving with each outing, we expect to see him play a very big part in Canada’s World Cup plans, and his reliability from the kicking tee help ensure that Canada makes a healthy return to being a solid Tier 2 opponent. If Canada can get their coaching structures right, Staller is a player who is likely to really come on song in 2019.

Match of the year – Canada vs Hong Kong – Marseille – November 24th – Canada 27/Hong Kong 10

Canada’s last game of the year finally gave us something to cheer about as they put in a solid performance to beat Hong Kong. It was a fitting end to a run of three straight victories in November and best of all ensured that after all the heartache of 2018, the last spot up for grabs at the World Cup belonged to Canada. The smiles on the players’ faces at the final whistle were a mixture of relief and happiness that a tough year was able to end so positively. From here it’s hopefully onwards and upwards for a team that in the past has been able to consistently punch way above its weight!

Next up – Argentina!

It’s been an enthralling Six Nations so far, and after the first two rounds the Tournament still looks wide open, even though England and Ireland are the only remaining contenders for a Grand Slam. However, Wales are still definitely in the mix for the Championship. Scotland also look set to make life difficult for England and Ireland, while France are more than capable of causing an upset in Paris when they take on England.

The same optimistic picture cannot be painted for Canada after three rounds of the Americas Rugby Championship. A loss to Uruguay which ultimately saw them lose yet another opportunity to qualify for the World Cup, was made worse by the fact that they then lost to the United States who they now have not beaten since 2013. There was a bright light in Round 3 which saw Canada pull off a comprehensive win against Brazil. However, it is clearly going to be another rough year for Canadian rugby with the chance of missing the World Cup for the first time in the tournament’s history becoming a real possibility.

So here’s a snapshot of some of the things that stood out for us in the opening two rounds of the Six Nations and Canada’s performance in the Americas Rugby Championship so far.

Six Nations

Ireland

While it would seem England are still the side to beat, Ireland find themselves at the top of the Six Nations table on a slender points difference. England and Ireland have both had their easiest match of the tournament so far against Italy. Ireland were more successful in the points grab that such matches are traditionally viewed as, even if a woeful lapse in concentration in the second half saw Italy rack up three tries.

Against France, Ireland had plenty of possession but failed to really turn it into points, other than from the boot of fly half Johnny Sexton. They seemed incapable of breaking an impressive French defence despite repeated assaults. In fairness to them, the final three minutes of the match and 41 phases of Irish possession was an incredible display of big match composure to snatch what seemed like an improbable win. Johnny Sexton really showed his pedigree with that remarkable drop goal and why he is rightly considered one of the best in the world.

Ireland look good make no mistake, but seem to suffer from serious lapses of concentration in the second half, something which their final three opponents will be keen to pounce on. Ireland have their three toughest matches of the tournament up next. Firstly at home to Wales and Scotland and then they head to Fortress Twickenham to take on England in what many are predicting to be the tournament decider. However, to get past an impressive looking Welsh side and a Scottish team that seems to have settled back into their groove, Ireland will need 160 minutes of the kind of composure and execution they showed in the final three minutes of the French match. If they are able to do this then the showdown with England will become the Tournament and Grand Slam decider it is being billed as, but it is going to be a big ask.

England

England looked good against Italy in their opening match, though they will be disappointed with not getting more points out of the proceedings. However, much like Ireland against France, they were lucky to get the win over a Welsh side that dominated the final 30 minutes of a tough match. England do not look invincible and the fact that their final match against their main rivals Ireland is at fortress Twickenham will be of little comfort. They have looked impressive at times but as we saw in the Welsh game, against stiff opposition they can be pressured into making mistakes.

England have a tough assignment in Murrayfield against a revitalized Scottish team, followed by a trip to Paris against a French side that is clearly building up to one really big performance in this tournament. Make no mistake, we still feel England are the team to beat. However, the aura of invincibility that has surrounded them up to now has lost some of its lustre. Add continued injuries into the mix and question marks will get raised about how far England can really go this year, in much the same way as the same questions are being asked of Ireland.

The Welsh game will have been a valuable wake up call for Coach Eddie Jones and his charges, and we expect to see England ramp up their performance for a grand finale on March 17th against Ireland, but there will certainly be no givens in the weeks leading up to it.

Wales

If Wales had abandoned the kicking game that gifted the game to England in the first 50 minutes of the match at Twickenham, we would be looking at a very different pecking order in the table. That Welsh performance in the final half hour was a phenomenal comeback, raising the question of what would that scoreline have been like if they had played that way for a full eighty minutes, as they clearly had England on the ropes. Furthermore, the Welsh demolition of a very highly rated Scottish side in the tournament’s opening fixture was a revelation in itself. Wales may be struggling with injuries but there is no shortage of world-class talent in the squad, with a back row depth in the forwards that is quite frightening and some pace and skill in the backs to take your breath away.

Their opening match against Scotland was ruthless and clinical. Their next match against England displayed a tactical naiveté that after watching the Scotland game we were rather puzzled by to say the least. We were convinced that after the first half some serious words would have been doled out in the changing room about the inefficiency of the Welsh kicking game. Consequently imagine our surprise to see Wales doing exactly the same thing for the first ten minutes of the second half, before having a Eureka moment on the fifty minute mark. Once that happened Wales became a different side and could have clearly won that match had they played like that in the first fifty minutes of the game.

Despite the loss to England, Wales are clearly in this to win it. A tough away fixture in Dublin awaits them next, but after that they have the luxury of Italy and France at home. If they upset Ireland in Dublin, then although a Grand Slam is out of the question they will clearly fancy their chances at lifting the trophy on March 17th. They have pace out wide and a fearsome forward pack, with a defence that for the most part looks solid. Cut out the reliance on a kicking game that is clearly not working for them and Wales are very much the dark horse in this year’s tournament.

Scotland

Scotland were clearly devastated by their crushing loss to Wales in the opening round of the tournament. They were a shadow of the side that put 53 points on Australia in November. We like most people were shocked at how Scotland simply didn’t show up in Cardiff as they clearly are a better side than that with talent to burn. Consequently their comprehensive dismantling of France a week later was much more to the type of form we are coming to expect from them.

Like we say we can’t really find any excuses other than opening night nerves for the disaster in Cardiff. Some argue that Scotland are simply not that good on the road, but then let’s recall that historic defeat of the Wallabies in Sydney last June. This is an excellent Scottish side, even with the injury problems they are faced with, and as we saw in the French game, a serious threat to anyone who makes the mistake of taking them lightly.

Their only real stumbling blocks to a strong finish in this tournament is the trip to Dublin at the beginning of March and their date with England next Saturday. However, they will fancy their chances against England in front of a very vocal Murrayfield crowd. If that goes well there is no question they will be up for the challenge of their away fixture against the Irish, and a relatively soft final encounter against Italy in Rome. While we have trouble seeing Scotland finishing top of the table, a strong second or third place finish is definitely on the cards. If they do beat England next Saturday though they could essentially turn this tournament on its head, so keep a close eye to next week’s Calcutta Cup fixture.

France

While France may be winless after two rounds, considering that many had written them off before the tournament, there is a lot to cheer about if you’re a French supporter. The heartbreaking loss to Ireland at the final whistle was a tough pill to swallow, but France could take a great deal of heart from a superb performance both on attack and in some truly heroic defence. Ireland could simply not find a way through the blue wall and it required 41 phases of possession before a remarkable drop goal attempt from Ireland would rob France of an historic win at the final whistle.

France went to give Scotland a stern test at Murrayfield, and the first half showed some brilliant attacking flair from les Bleus. The game then resorted to a tactical battle via the boot in the second half, and here Scotland played the smarter game, as well as putting France under pressure to the point where their discipline started to crack badly.

However, despite languishing at fifth on the table, France are clearly once more on the rise. They have a solid forward pack and some exceptional flair and pace in their backs all allied to a water tight defence. They do seem to be struggling to find the right half back mix, but this is much more like a French side of old. In our opinion there is one really big game in this French side still to come in this tournament, that could well upset the tournament pecking order. We feel it might just be in Paris when they take on England, especially if England get a serious fright from the Scots next Saturday. France are definitely the wild card this year make no mistake, and it is great to see them brandishing it once more.

Italy

Italy like France may be struggling to get some traction so far in this tournament, but they have certainly showed some promise at times. Furthermore, they have arguably had their two toughest games at the start of the tournament against the two favorites England and Ireland, and as a result it may be unfair to judge them too harshly at this stage in the competition. They can take heart from the fact that they can score tries, and did so against the two best teams in the tournament. If they can work on their defence which is clearly a real Achilles heel for them along with continued problems in terms of discipline, then they could come to the end of the tournament with a sense of real progress.

Italy’s opening encounter with England in Rome, showed a much improved Italian performance after a poor November Test window. It was still a respectable scoreline at halftime with Italy only trailing 17-10 against the second best team in the world. Italy’s defence fell apart in the second half, but they had shown some real attacking flair with some outstanding new talent in the backs, and an aggressive and effective back row.

In their second match against Ireland, some of the shine came off that opening performance but they still managed to score three superb tries, despite being clearly overwhelmed by Ireland at times. If Scotland fail to rise to the challenge of England and Ireland, then Italy will surely fancy their chances against them in Rome at the end of the tournament. Italy’s immediate concern though will be trying to test the depth of the French renaissance in Marseille next Friday. This has traditionally always been a scrappy encounter between the two sides, and if France have run out of steam after a bright start and Italy have fixed their defensive issues then the scope for a possible upset is clearly there. It’s still hard to see Italy being anything other than the traditional holders of the wooden spoon this year, but there is clearly some real improvement going on and Coach Conor O’Shea should feel pleased with the progress being made.

Canada and the Americas Rugby Championship (ARC)

Put your hands up if like us you breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the third round and Canada’s emphatic win over Brazil. It was a result that Canada simply had to get. While it may not have much impact on Canada’s overall fortunes in the tournament, the fact that a torrid run of form has finally been broken is at least a point from which Canada can attempt to start the long and painful process of rebuilding a credible 15 a side game once more.

Canada got off to a shaky start at home to Uruguay which also served as a World Cup qualifier. While they played with plenty of intensity, the execution simply wasn’t there and as a result much of their play looked frantic and poorly structured despite them dominating the possession. Uruguay on the other hand, made much better use of the possession they had. In fairness to Canada as a result of having to fit two World Cup qualifying matches with Uruguay into the ARC schedule this year, the travel plans of the Canadian squad have been ridiculous to say the least over a six-week period. They went from their opening match straight to Uruguay, then back to the US and then up to Canada for this weekend’s match against Brazil. No sooner had they untied their boot laces from this weekend’s match, then they find themselves preparing to head off to Argentina for their match this coming Saturday, followed by their final match in Chile a week later. How you fit training into all of this and cope with the effects of long distance travel is slightly beyond us.

As a result of a hectic travel schedule it was no surprise that Canada came unstuck in their second match against the USA in Sacramento, California, especially after not managing to qualify for the World Cup after losing both their matches with the Uruguayans. Add to this a constant turnover in terms of squad personnel as new Coach Kingsley Jones seeks to get an understanding of his player base, and it is no wonder that there is little in terms of consistency regarding Canada’s performances at the moment. While we understand the constraints Jones is up against we also are concerned that with two matches to go, there is still alarmingly little consistency in selection outside of Hooker and the half back positions. In the second match against Uruguay which Canada narrowly lost by one point, we were really impressed with centre Ben LeSage and have been frustrated to not see him playing a greater role in the squad.

Furthermore, while we understand the fact that Canada doesn’t have a huge player base, we are not sure that this contant flux of sevens players in and out of the 15 a side structure at the moment is constructive in terms of fixing Canada’s long term problems. In many ways this smacks of desperation for results as opposed to a well thought out strategy for long term growth and development of the larger game in Canada.

Canada need to find the core of a 23 man squad they can really start to develop between now and November, if they are to stand any chance of getting through a tough repechage tournament for their final shot at qualifying for next year’s World Cup. With only two matches left in the ARC and three June internationals we fear that time is running out to build a settled squad before the crucial November round of qualifying matches. On their present form and without a consistent selection policy, while the win over Brazil will do much to restore some confidence and pride to a battered jersey, realistically Canada is unlikely to finish better than a strong fourth in this year’s Americas Rugby Championship. Saturday’s victory over Brazil was a much-needed shot in the arm, but it is still a long and rocky road ahead of Canada to start the hard climb up the world rankings once more.

Endnote

Yes the boys are back! Steven and Gareth from the 1014 return with a vengeance for 2018 with even greater depth and content for the Six Nations. Here’s their excellent review of Round 2’s action. In our humble opinion there is no better analysis and opinion on Test Rugby out there, so make sure you get over to their YouTube channel and website and give them the support to keep this fabulous content coming!