Posts Tagged ‘Pacific Nations Cup 2015’

Put your hand up if you’re a frustrated Canadian supporter – as I get the impression there are an increasing number of us!  Once again Canada loses a game they easily should have won, and sure there were some impressive performances but they simply cannot justify a track record of just 4 wins in 15 games over the last two years.  In fairness to some of Canada’s excellent players the time for constant experimenting and tinkering with combinations must surely be over with literally weeks to go before we are to compete on the World stage.  There is no point in almost winning game after game if you are just not finishing them.  Canada was up against a woefully disciplined American side on Monday night in Burnaby whom they should have easily dominated especially as the Eagles played large periods of the match with just fourteen men.  As heroic and impressive as the performance against Samoa was last week it doesn’t count for much if you can only play 70 minutes of an 80 minute game.  This is a side which desperately needs confidence going into a World Cup where they potentially will get eaten alive by Ireland and France and stand a good chance of being humiliated by their other opponents Romania and Italy, especially as they have lost both encounters with Romania in the last two years as well as their last match with Italy.  To say that Canada needed to get at least one win out of the Pacific Nations Cup is the understatement of the year, and one can only feel empathy for a squad heading into the biggest challenge of their rugby careers with very little to show for their efforts.  If there is not a crisis of confidence yet within the Canadian camp then it is surely coming at a time when they can least afford it!

Canada vs USA
Final Score – Canada 13/USA 15

Once again, like many Canadian supporters I was left scratching my head at the final whistle as to how we managed to lose yet another game in the last 10 minutes. The USA was not particularly flash, and their discipline was truly appalling, but they somehow managed to do the basics when it mattered most better than Canada, and if anything the three yellow cards they got pulled them closer together and focused them on the task at hand. Canada only once managed to make any gains against the Americans in the 30 minutes of the match that the Eagles were reduced to fourteen men. To rub salt into the wound the Americans actually managed to score a large proportion of their points with only fourteen men.

Canada was the only side to score a try, and it was certainly an impressive score by Nick Blevins who continued his impressive form from the game against Samoa. However, that in all reality was about the only thing to get excited about in a match where Canada failed to ever really put the Americans under any kind of sustained or consistent pressure.

Canada as usual started the match well and many of the improvements witnessed against Samoa were kept up, with greater intensity and support at the breakdowns and crisper passing. However, after fifteen minutes the errors started to creep back in and the discipline started to once more slip. Canada when able to use him properly were making excellent use of winger Jeff Hassler. Connor Braid was having a solid day out in centrefield and was making some fine passes and line breaks for the most part to put Hassler into space. But in all honesty that was about it. The Americans pushed Canada hard in the set pieces and scrums, their lineouts left a lot to be desired and as the game wore on the intensity started to slide even despite the arrival of Phil Mack at scrum half for the last quarter. Canada were increasingly unable to maintain possession beyond more than one or two phases and as this continued the passing skills and overall organisation started to look suspect. The Americans could sniff victory as a tired and disorganised Canada allowed the Eagles to take up residence in their 22 for the last five minutes of the game and Eagles fly half AJ MacGinty had acres of space to loiter in the pocket to set himself up for a last-minute drop goal that would once again rob Canada of a game they should have easily won.

There is little question in my mind that the yellow card handed out to Eagles lock Greg Peterson early in the match should have been a red, as the video replay clearly shows a deliberate and malicious punch to the head on Canada’s Brett Beukeboom. It was the epitome of poor sportsmanship and has no place in the modern game. Had Peterson seen red and the Eagles been forced to play with just 14 men then perhaps it would have been a better day for Canada. However, the fact still remains that Canada failed to make any inroads against the US in the ten minutes Peterson spent in the sin bin and what’s worse conceded a penalty which resulted in 3 points for the Americans. In today’s game and given the often inconsistent standard of refereeing present in the global game at the moment, as a side you have to take such calls on the chin and move on. Canada should have had the edge in discipline by a country mile in this match but instead they gifted 12 points to the Americans through penalties. As Canada prepare to open their World Cup campaign against an Irish side who are probably the best in the world at forcing opposition teams into disciplinary mistakes, such weaknesses really need to be addressed and time is simply running out.  A tournament that promised so much for Canada and should have really set the team on a solid footing for the World Cup has sadly gone begging. Some serious reflection is now needed by both players and coaching staff as Canada makes its final preparations for the World Cup and their opening game with Ireland.

It saddens me that despite occasional flashes of brilliance from Canada in this match, and to be honest the two players who really stood out for me were Conor Braid and Jeff Hassler both of whom are reaping the rewards of their time in Europe, the tone of this piece is overwhelmingly negative. Canada needs some miracles in the three remaining games they have before the World Cup – I don’t regard the game against a third string Glasgow Warriors side at the end of August as anything more than a glorified practice session. The Americans will be keen to make it three from three when they meet Canada again in Ottawa in a fortnight, and the warm-up games in England against Fiji and Georgia will be exceptionally stern tests of character for Canada. On a positive note I still believe that Canada has a nucleus of exceptionally talented and motivated players, but there does seem to be a fundamental disconnect in how we are coaching these players to get the results needed to instill some much-needed confidence into a side heading into a World Cup. There is no question that Canada’s players are motivated and committed to doing their country proud come September/October, but have we really set them up with the confidence and organisation they need going into an exceptionally competitive World Cup? Looking at the evidence before us right now, I would sadly have to answer no.

We will know more once Canadian coach Kieran Crowley announces his World Cup squad on August 5th, and from there Canada has an exceptionally difficult albeit not impossible, given the spirit in the team, task of turning two years of misery into World Cup glory. I am sure everyone reading this wishes them the very best of luck and, as I have been saying since I started writing this blog, the men’s team would do well to spend some time  before leaving for England with the women’s team who did so well last year at the Women’s World Cup to tap into what a winning culture really feels like!

Canada finally puts in an almost complete performance in a thrilling encounter at BMO field in Toronto against Samoa, but a last-minute lapse in concentration sadly sees them just miss the victory they so desperately needed.  Nevertheless, there were a ton of positives to take out of Canada’s performance on Wednesday night.  The majority of the problems they faced in the opening two games of the Pacific Nations Cup seem for the most part to have been fixed.  It was a tight and energetic performance from Canada, despite the sweltering heat of a Toronto mid-summer evening.  Canada played with heart and commitment and matched the Samoans’ intensity for the full 80 minutes.  Phil Mackenzie’s brilliant try after defeating several Samoan defenders seemed to have the game sewn up for Canada at the 75th minute.  It was then five minutes of nail-biting tension to see if Canada could keep their composure till the very last whistle, something which they have consistently come short on in the last year.  Once again a lapse of concentration at the death cost Canada a game they really should have won, despite concerted Samoan pressure in the Canadian 22 for the last few minutes.  Still as disappointed for Canada as I along with the other several thousand fans at BMO field, we could all take heart from a dramatically improved Canadian performance and it is this that will hopefully carry them forward into final preparations for a tough World Cup.  To lose by only 1 point to a side as good as Samoa is heart-wrenching but every Canadian player stood up and was counted on Wednesday night and it was the most complete team performance from the Red Nation that I have seen in the last ten months – so hopefully it’s upwards and onwards from here on!

Canada vs Samoa
Final Score – Canada 20/Samoa 21

Wow this one hurt! In a truly superb afternoon of rugby at BMO field in Toronto on a sweltering summer’s day, which yours truly got to attend, Canada put in their best performance of the year only to fall agonizingly short at the final whistle. The crowd had been treated to two superb games prior, which saw Tonga decimate a poor US Eagles outfit, while Fiji just squeaked past an ambitious and skillful Japanese team. By the time Canada and Samoa came onto the field the excitement had been built for an epic encounter which is exactly what the crowd got. Canada may have lost this match but they played out of their skins and can take a lot of confidence from this game especially if they can turn it into winning ways going into the World Cup. On the basis of that performance they should have no trouble dispatching the USA on Monday night in Burnaby as the two sides battle it out for the wooden spoon.

Canada started this match full of intent, and I was delighted to see Phil Mack selected to start as scrum half.  Against a powerhouse side like Samoa his intensity would prove vital and he did not disappoint being easily one of Canada’s best players on a night where many of his teammates put in equally big performances.  Canada completely dominated Samoa in the first half and you couldn’t help feeling in the stands that Canada were on the way to a historic victory.  They were doing everything right, the intensity at the breakdown as controlled by Phil Mack was outstanding as was the support play.  Canada were matching the big Samoans in the scrums and lineouts.  On top of that the passing by Canada was truly sublime at times and the wayward passing of games gone by seemed to have been stamped out.  Furthermore, the loss of inspirational Captain and number 8, Tyler Ardron after just five minutes due to injury did not seem to diminish the Canadians’ composure or intensity in the slightest.  Canada was avoiding a pointless kicking game and choosing instead to hold onto possession and take the ball and game to the Samoans.  In short, the first half was an inspirational performance with a superb try scored by centre Nick Blevins and at the half time whistle Canada were very much in charge at 13-3.

Samoa however started the second half full of intent and their efforts soon began to pay off as Canada seemed to lose some of the momentum they had in the first half.  Samoa used their immense strength in the shape of hooker Anthony Perenise to crash his way through the Canadian defence and get Samoa’s first try on the board.  Samoa then kept up the physical pressure on Canada and got themselves into the lead with two successful penalties as Canadian discipline started to crack under the weight of the Samoan onslaught.  With ten minutes to go it was 16-13 for Samoa and that sinking feeling was once more setting in with the home crowd.  Then a piece of Canadian magic happened that raised the roof at BMO field.  Phil Mackenzie managed to keep a Samoan kick to touch from their 22 in the field of play through some dazzling foot and hand work and then he was off, beating at least five Samoan defenders.  It was truly world-class and if Canada can play like that on a regular basis then they can hold their heads high.  Fullback James Pritchard converted and all of a sudden it was 20-16 for Canada with five minutes to go.  The crowd held its breath.

Samoa dug in and then proceeded to put immense pressure on Canada.  With a mere thirty seconds left on the clock, Canada stole a Samoan lineout on the Canadian 22, but then in a moment of confusion and a serious lapse in concentration, two Canadian players collided spilling the ball.  Replacement Samoan hooker Sakaria Taulafo pounced on the loose ball and talk about being in the right place at the right time.  Samoa missed the difficult conversion, but it didn’t matter the Pacific Islanders had just edged out the Canadians 21-20 and as predicted will now battle it out with the other tournament favorites in the final on Monday night.  The heartbreak for Canada’s players who had put in a truly heroic shift was there for all to see.  They had played well and this was a performance to be immensely proud of despite the loss by the narrowest of margins.  Still it all comes down to holding your composure to the very last second and that is the one area Canada really needs to fix.  I personally would have kept scrum half Phil Mack on the field till the end and not taken him off with ten minutes to go, his composure and organisational skills at the breakdown may have kept Canada from making that last-minute fatal lapse in concentration.  Readers of this blog know that I clearly regard him as Canada’s first choice scrum half, and I hope to see him play as such come the World Cup.

As I said as much as the loss was a crushing disappointment, Canada upped their game so much in this match that there is a lot to be excited about.  Samoa are the best side in the Pacific Nations Cup this year and to run them this close is a major achievement.  Some of the skills shown by Canada on Wednesday night were world-class and showcased some of the obvious talent in the squad.  This was a solid and composed performance and clearly demonstrated a concerted effort to fix problems we have seen in Canada’s game since last November.  If Canada can just find that little bit extra to close out big games like this then the future looks bright.  Although perhaps overdue Canada has finally found a game plan that works and the 23 players involved in this turnaround on Wednesday night can hold their heads high as they hopefully continue to take the cause of Canadian rugby onwards and upwards!

After coming short against Tonga, Canada has to come up with the goods this Wednesday to avoid the wooden spoon in this year’s Pacific Nations Cup.  In an exciting Triple Header at BMO field in Toronto which yours truly will be fortunate enough to attend, we also get to see the USA take on Tonga and probably the competition’s most exciting match-up in terms of running rugby will see Fiji do battle with Japan.  Buoyed by their success against Canada, Tonga will be a hard nut for the Americans to crack particularly in the sweltering heat that Toronto is currently experiencing but which will no doubt make the Pacific Islanders feel right at home.  Fiji and Japan have shown plenty of exciting running in this tournament and expect more of the same.  Canada meanwhile has to win their tussle with Samoa after a string of defeats in the last year and as a vital confidence booster going into the World Cup.  It is my hope that the home crowd really gets behind Canada and gives them the bonus of the sixteenth man.  On paper Canada has a team that should have been competitive but which in reality has not lived up to its potential.  The Canadians have now left it to this encounter with Samoa, who gave New Zealand’s All Blacks a serious scare at the beginning of the month, to prove themselves as a team – in short it doesn’t get any more challenging than this.  If Canada can turn it around and use the massive underdog tag that they now seem to be wearing to their advantage in front of a home crowd, then it will do wonders for their confidence heading into a World Cup.  If they can’t then it will be hard for them to build the confidence they need to compete in a very tough and unforgiving pool at the World Cup.

Canada vs Tonga
Final Score – Canada 18/Tonga 28
Burnaby, BC

Another puzzling performance from Canada, as they showed what they could do, but only for 20 minutes. Nevertheless after the weak performance against Japan, there were many aspects of Canada’s game that did improve dramatically, namely the breakdown work and the passing. However, even here there was still plenty of room for improvement, especially if Canada wants to face up to a Samoan side that is hitting all the right targets so far this year. Tonga on the other hand despite some of their trademark lapses in discipline at the end of the match showed an ability to regroup after Canada’s initial onslaught and effectively use their strength and speed to take the game away from Canada.

Canada started this match full of intensity, and played a brilliant first fifteen minutes of rugby which clearly caught the Tongans by surprise. After only 5 minutes Canada was holding a strong 10-0 lead thanks to some excellent work at the breakdown on the Tongan line by Canadian scrum half Aaron Carpenter. After the fairly dismal performance against Japan a week earlier you almost had the feeling that Canada had addressed all the areas where they had been shown up. Their discipline was better, the passing work and intensity and support at the breakdown were all showing dramatic improvements. It was hard not to think that this Canadian team which has so much promise on paper had finally shown up and was about to make a statement. Carpenter went on to score a second try after a superb passage of open running play by the Canadians and in just under twenty minutes Canada was ahead 15-3.

It was there however, that the music quite literally stopped for Canada. The Tongans regrouped and began to physically push the Canadians around the park. In such a physical encounter it was always going to be a test of nerves in terms of discipline and the Tongans contrary to form seemed to have the edge here. The Tongans were starting to out muscle the Canadians in the set pieces and particularly at scrum time. You could see the frustration growing amongst the Canadians and their discipline start to slide. While I think that the yellow card awarded to Canadian fly half Liam Underwood was a bit of overreaction from Argentine referee Federico Anselmi it led to a further chink in an already weakened Canadian armor as they ended the first half and began the second with just fourteen men. Before the half time whistle Tonga got themselves right back into the match with a successful penalty kick and then the Tongan scrum half Sonatane Takulua produced his own magic off the base of a Tongan scrum and some weak Canadian defence. At the break it was 15-10 for Canada.

In the second half, the Tongans proceeded to dominate the Canadians across the park and the Tongans would produce another two fine tries through some porous Canadian defence to effectively put the game out of reach of Canada as the penalty count continued to mount and Tonga led 23-18. As they always seem to do, Canada suddenly found a last-minute injection of intensity and pace as the last five minutes saw a spirited fight back from Canada, but even against a Tongan side reduced by ill discipline to thirteen men, Canada couldn’t find a way through. There is no question Tonga were the deserved winners, but Canadian supporters walked away scratching their heads as yet again a team that promised so much delivered so little.

Forthcoming fixtures

Canada vs Samoa
Wednesday, July 29th

With Canada out of contention for any of the silverware in this year’s Pacific Nation’s Cup, Wednesday’s fixture against Samoa is all about pride and a desperate need to end the losing streak the team has been on since their match against Namibia in France in November last year. The week after that victory Canada lost to Samoa in France after dominating the Pacific Islanders for much of the match. The question on everyone’s lips is what has happened since then?

We all hope the answers will have been found by Wednesday night, but let’s face it – Samoa is on fire right now and a very different team to the one Canada faced on a rainy afternoon in France nine months ago. After giving New Zealand’s All Blacks the fright of their lives three weeks ago, Samoa are so far undefeated in this year’s Pacific Nations, although only managing a draw with the other tournament favourites Fiji last weekend. Samoa are big, fast, powerful and very motivated. Canada are no less motivated but have so much to prove still as a complete unit unlike the Samoans who seem very settled as a side. Add to that a hot humid evening in store, conditions which should suit the Pacific Islanders down to a tee, and Canada has an exceptionally challenging task ahead of them.

Canada despite the loss last weekend against Tonga did show some definite improvements in their performance from the game against Japan. As I mentioned above their intensity, breakdown work, passing skills and overall support play were much better. However at times their defence was still disorganised and they were missing far too many first phase tackles, an area which Samoa will cut them to pieces on if not fixed. Furthermore their scrum buckled too many times under pressure and Samoa is putting a very big and powerful pack onto the field. If Canada can tighten their discipline, keep the intensity up for a full eighty minutes and put wingers DTH van der Merwe and Jeff Hassler into space and allow them to use their exceptional speed and agility then it could be a good day out for Canada. Hassler and Van der Merwe are world-class players and will get any crowd on their feet given the opportunity. If they are able to do this and the Toronto crowd gets behind the team then Canada could end their current run of poor form.

I sincerely hope this will be the case and will certainly be doing my part to cheer them on. However, I can’t help feeling that unless Canada have managed to really turn things around in the space of four days, which is a ridiculously short time in international rugby, they are facing an almost impossible task against Samoa. Samoa is building nicely for the World Cup and are relishing the tag of being possible giant slayers in their pool against Scotland and South Africa. On Wednesday it will have to be Canada trying to emulate the Samoan’s reputation as the Canadian David takes on the Samoan Goliath. Here’s hoping for a great contest!

Canada opened their Pacific Nations Cup campaign in San Jose, California this weekend against an impressive looking Japanese outfit.  This was also Canada’s first step on the road to the World Cup in England in two months time and although outplayed by the Japanese for much of the match there was a glimmer of hope for Canada in the final ten minutes, and it is this last gasp performance that the squad must really build on and take into the next game against a very physical Tonga.  Let’s be honest it wasn’t a great day out on the park for Canada, but you could see that their recent success in winning the gold for Sevens Rugby at the Pan Am games in Toronto, was causing some players to have difficulty in switching gears to the fifteen a side game, as well as lasting a full eighty minutes.  Hopefully by the time we play Tonga on Friday at home in Burnaby, BC the coaching staff will have done some solid work with the squad and many of the glaring errors we saw on Saturday against the Japanese will have been rectified – if not this could be a painful and potentially demoralising period of preparation for the World Cup!

Canada vs Japan
Final Score – Canada 6/Japan 20
San Jose, CA

I have to confess at being a puzzled spectator as I watched this game.  Although Canada were effectively outplayed by Japan, I was still surprised by the scoreline.  Canada exhibited many strengths in the Californian sun on Saturday, but somehow you never really felt that they were in the match as a coherent unit, as opposed to the Japanese who seemed to be highly organised and working very effectively as a team.  As I mentioned above, I think that it is inevitable that with so many of Canada’s first choice players having just won gold the weekend before in the Sevens game at the Pan Am games, it is a definite challenge to suddenly switch your playing style to the fifteen a side game.  However, one area which I was concerned about on Canada’s end of year European tour in 2014, seemed still to be an area of serious concern and that is passing skills.  There is no doubt that some of the passing techniques demonstrated by Canada on Saturday would have worked splendidly on a Sevens field, but against a well organised Japanese 15 man defence it just looked wayward and nervous.  Canada has enormous talent on the wings in the shape of DTH van der Merwe and Jeff Hassler, but there seemed to be little idea as a team as to how best to use these two fine players.  You could even sense the frustration in both the wingers as they were on the end of yet another wayward pass and were somehow expected to perform miracles with it.

Japan on the other hand for much of the match barring a few minor lapses in discipline which resulted in unnecessary yellow cards, looked the model of composure and a team that had thought out exactly how they were going to dismantle Canada.  In fairness, with the coaching know how of former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones in charge of the playbook, the Japanese are coming into this tournament and their preparations for the World Cup in very capable hands.  Furthermore, with the investment in the game in Japan, especially now they are hosting the 2019 World Cup, and the fact that many foreign-born players are now eligible to play for Japan, the country is increasingly able to put together a solid squad.  Japan has always been known for its courageous and pacy backs, but their age-old problems at scrum time if this Saturday’s performance is anything to go by seem to be a thing of the past.  They were able to compete effectively with Canada at the scrum and were far more dangerous and well organised at the breakdown than the Canadians.

Canada looked like they might ultimately be the team to run in the tries at the outset of the game as DTH van der Merwe quickly showed off his impressive skills right from the get go at the eighth minute as Canada looked to strike back after an initial successful penalty kick from Japan.  In a superb piece of passing, one of the few we got to see by Canada, Canadian number 8 Tyler Ardron offloaded to DTH van der Merwe who was forced off by a Japanese defender just as he made a solid offload to Canada’s other winger Jeff Hassler.  The pedigree that these two players have gained after several seasons in Europe was there for all to see but too often the rest of their team would blindly try to give them the ball and expect them to perform miracles with it.

Four minutes later, the Japanese showed the Canadians how to play a passing game.  Straight from a Japanese lineout, and through a brilliantly worked set of passes, Japanese centre Kotaro Matsushima who was impressive all afternoon was able to put winger Yoshikazu Fujita into space and onto a superb try.  You had to be impressed by the Japanese seamless passing and their speed and support at the breakdown.  All areas which until the last ten minutes of the game Canada seemed to be struggling with.  The Japanese passage of play also showed up how many first phase tackles the Canadians were missing and this is an area they will really have to work on against the fast and physical Pacific Islander sides in the remainder of the competition.  As I say it got better in the last ten minutes of the game for Canada in terms of addressing these problems but was too little too late and let’s hope that we play like we did in the last ten minutes for the full eighty minutes against Tonga on Friday.  In the meantime, Canada’s coaching staff would do well to study this video clip of Fujita’s try as in a nutshell it showed everything the Japanese did well on Saturday and everything Canada did poorly.

Despite the loss it is not all gloom and doom for Canada. As I said above I can’t help feeling that many of Canada’s problems last Saturday were due to the sudden transition for some of the players from the Sevens game to the full 15 a side game. In particular, the lack of pressure and support at the breakdown. On a positive note, Jeff Hassler and DTH van der Merwe on the wings and Captain Tyler Ardron at number eight all put in a massive game for Canada and are very exciting prospects for the World Cup. The instant impact that replacement scrum half, Phil Mack made from the moment he came on needs to be capitalised on in the game against Tonga and he should get the starting 9 berth. Cut down on the handling errors, fix the penalty count, dramatically improve the passing skills and be more effective at the breakdown are the items that should be on Canada’s to do list as they prepare this week for the match against Tonga in Burnaby on Friday. Despite the disappointment and the obvious frustration of the players at not being able to capitalise on opportunities that Canada did create, I am confident that this Friday’s match will be a much different prospect for Canada and hopefully a much more positive experience!

Fixtures this weekend

Canada vs Tonga
Friday, July 24th
Burnaby, BC

Canada’s campaign in the Pacific Nations Cup only gets harder with each outing, making the need to quickly get the problems sorted out that we saw against Japan all the more pressing. Canada’s next opponent, Tonga will be a serious challenge after Tonga managed to run Fiji close in a thrilling encounter last week. Fiji came out on top, but had to work exceptionally hard and Tonga’s three tries were well worth the price of admission. Tonga is a very physical side but as seen against Fiji they like all the Pacific Island sides are blessed with some very fast but exceptionally strong backs. Canada will have to improve their speed and composure at the breakdown and keep the ball in hand much more than they did against Japan. Some of the wild passing that we saw against Japan will be seen as gifts by the Tongans and must be kept to a minimum.

I am confident that we will see a much more settled Canadian side on Friday, and backed by a fervent home crowd, hopefully Canada will start to click into a rhythm that they can keep up for the rest of the tournament and going forward into the World Cup. I personally, would prefer to see Phil Mack start at scrum half as I feel his intensity, speed and accuracy particularly at the breakdowns will be key in a very physical encounter against Tonga. Canada should be under no illusion that Friday’s game will be a significant challenge, but if they can keep their composure and get the basics right I feel that home advantage could just end up being the factor to give them that first win of the tournament and some positives to build on as they prepare ultimately for the World Cup. On that note, let’s not forget that when Canada faced Tonga at the last World Cup they ultimately came out on top in a memorable match. Canada’s “beardos” from that match will not be on the field on Friday, but surely any Canadian team member watching a video of that superb Canadian performance can not help but feel inspired. Here’s to more of the same on Friday!

It is with dismay and increasing frustration that as Canada start their Pacific Nations Cup campaign on Saturday in San Jose against Japan, I have to report that Canadian supporters will have to resort to trawling the Internet a few days after the game to find any kind of video content of the match, despite TSN’s bold claim that they are covering all of Rugby Canada’s matches this year.  Well people that seems limited to the World Cup money grab – sorry!  Not only that but good luck finding any actual information on the game, ie player rosters, previews with the game being only three days away.

Fixtures this weekend

Canada vs Japan
Saturday, July 18th
San Jose, USA

So I get it, the focus of Canadian rugby has been on the Pan Am games in Toronto this month and the Sevens aspect of the Canadian game. Well done to both our men and women’s teams for getting the gold! However, with the World Cup only 2 months away, I am amazed at the lack of coverage of the senior men’s efforts and preparations. With the Pacific Nations Cup getting underway this weekend between Canada, USA, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Japan, and a crucial phase of Canada’s preparation for the World Cup, you would be hard pressed to know that the tournament was actually taking place. I am only hoping that Canada’s home games will generate more publicity and coverage. So far Canadian broadcaster TSN has made no mention of broadcasting the opening game in San Jose against Japan. As Canadian rugby supporters struggle to get behind their team they are left with the task of trawling the Internet to find snippets of information about the tournament.

As frustrating as this is, let’s hope that once the tournament’s closing rounds come to Canada, coverage will pick up. However, in the meantime what can Canada expect in San Jose? Japan are no slackers and the increasing corporate investment in the sport in Japan is serving to strengthen the sport in the land of the rising sun. Former World Cup winning Wallaby coach Eddie Jones is in charge of Japan’s World Cup campaign and Japan are currently ranked 13th in the world, 4 places ahead of Canada at 17.

As a result Saturday’s outing in San Jose for the Canucks will not be an easy endeavour by any stretch of the imagination. Japan have always had some pacy and courageous backs, and with some overseas players now having the right to play for Japan, their forward packs are no longer so easily dominated. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling that this will be a fairly straightforward outing for Canada, provided they keep their discipline and use the considerable advantages available to them in the size and power of their own forward pack. In the backs there is plenty of talent with one of the top try scorers in this year’s Guinness Pro 12 competition, DTH Van Der Merwe for Glasgow Warriors, likely to be leading the charge. If you want to see what this man is capable of doing against Japan then watch below at the 2007 World Cup.

In short, I expect this to be a well fought match but as Canada settles and benefits from some of the international experience of players like DTH Van Der Merwe, they should ultimately be able to see off a spirited challenge from Japan, which will set them up for a much tougher challenge against the very physical Tongans a week later and one which we here in Canada will hopefully get to see on television or at least streamed on the Internet!