The most important home test for Canada this year and for quite some time will take place at the country´ largest city, Toronto on Friday evening as Canada host Italy. For Canada it is a key match due to it being a rare home match against a Tier One opponent. Canada, in participating every June in the now defunct Churchill Cup missed out on hosting European test sides at home. This has all changed now with Canada (and the USA) both hosting sides from the Six Nations with visitors scheduled for the next three years. The first, Italy, have sent a team that is below full strength and, on paper, the side does not look better than that of Canada.
Italy will be led by Argentina´ Martín Castrogiovanni in place of another player lost to Los Pumas, Sergio Parisse who is out of action injured. Castrogiovanni will be key for Italy as the Canadian scrum could well be the teams weakest point. But the other frontrowers, Michele Rizzo nor Tommaso D’apice are regular starters for Italy. The secondrow is also very low on experience with Antonio Pavanello and Joshua Furno to start. It will be an interesting match for Robert Barbieri who is from Toronto but plays his rugby for Italy. He will play in the backrow and joins the impressive Alessandro Zanni and Simone Favaro. The backs are from from being ideal from an Italian perspective with Tito Tebaldi starting at scrumhalf. He has been in and out of the side for several years.Outside him will be Kris Burton who had a forgetful match in San Juan this past Saturday vs Argentina.
Such is the lack of options in the position that his replacement, Riccardo Bocchino, was unwanted by both Treviso and Aironi this past season. Italty simply is not producing good enough flyhalves. The country does have some good options, though, for the back-three and centres but not all are touring. Italy´s best option vs Canada looks like benig Tommaso Benvenuti who will play left wing and join Giovambattista Venditti and Alberto Benettin in the back-three. The backs are completed by two centres who have had opportunities before but have not been able to keep their places permanently. Alberto Sgarbi will play inside centre with Andrea Pratichetti playing one outside him. The backs, howver, have good enforcements from the bench with Edoardo Gori and Giulio Toniolatti both being better players than those starting in front of them. Italy´ option of resting some due to the six day turn around and long flight from Argentina may well be a mistake.
The Canadian team is very close to being at full strength. There is no palce for Jamie Cudmore who has opted not to play in the June internationals due to him having had a very long season which included the World Cup, Heineken Cup and Top 14 for Clermont Auvergne. Another player of note missing is Adam Kleeberger who is out with injury. But Canada has depth in the backrow with the pair of Aaron Carpenter and Chauncey O'Toole having been amonst Canada´ best performers over the past four years. Other key Canadian forwards include Jebb Sinclair and Jason Marshall. The pair have returned, after not starting vs the USA last week, to take their places in the starting XV, giving Canadian rugby fans reasons to think Canada can collect a Tier One Scalp. Sincalir will pack down alongside Tyler Hotson in the secondrow while Marshall will join Mike Pletch and Hubert Buydens in the frontrow. 20 year old Tyler Ardron will make his test debut in the backrow joining O'Toole and captain Carpenter.
While Italy have not selected a team packed with first choice players the forwards named should, nonetheless, be good enough for the Canadians. A Canadian victorty will very much depend on how the backlien goes. The players selected seem to suggest this is going to be a team chasing victory with coach Kieran Crowley having named an attacking group of players with Matt Evans playing flyhalf. Evans played in the position vs the USA on Saturday and has done so before but he has mostly played as a winger or fullback for his country. At flyhalf Canada are certain to attack the Italian line. Canada´ three best runners will all be starting with DTH van der Merwe playing outside centre, Conor Trainor on the right wing and Phil MacKenzie on the left. They give Canada better runners than Italy for this match. The three other backs are also strong performers with Sean White having been a good servant for Canada at scrumhalf, Mike Scholz being a good inside centre and James Prichard being a good defensive fullback and an outstanding goalkicker.
Key Match up: Robert Barbieri vs Aaron Carpenter is an interesting one not only because both are outstanding players but because Barbieri is a Canadian and both players are from Ontario. Kris Burton vs Matt Evans is two different styles trying to control play. The real clash of note, however will be that of Tommaso Benvenuti vs Conor Trainor. Benvenuti is Italy´ best attacking back in years and has a huge future ahead of him as Italy´ starting outside centre. Vs Canada, he is to face Trainor, however, with Trainor being a future Canadian star. This battle could well be a preview of a World Cup clash in England 2015. The better of the two will contribute significantly to the result of this match.
Prediction: Given the players both teams will be fielding and how both played last Saturday the match looks like being a very close one. Either side can win it. The large crowd expected and the motivation factor will give Canada an edge. Canada to win by 2 points.
1 Hubert Buydens (Prairie Wolf Pack)
2 Mike Pletch (Ontario Blues)
3 Jason Marshall (Stade Aurillacois, France)
4 Jebb Sinclair (Stormers, South Africa)
5 Tyler Hotson (London Scottish, England)
6 Tyler Ardron (Ontario Blues)
7 Chauncey O'Toole (The Rock)
8 Aaron Carpenter (Plymouth Albion, England)
9 Sean White (BC Bears)
10 Matt Evans (Cornish Pirates, England)
11 Phil Mackenzie (London Welsh, England)
12 Mike Scholz (Ontario Blues)
13 D.T.H. van der Merwe (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland)
14 Conor Trainor (BC Bears)
15 James Pritchard (Bedford Blues, England)
Reserves: 16. Andrew Tiedemann (Prairie Wolf Pack), 17 Tom Dolezel (Ontario Blues),18 Jon Phelan (The Rock), 19 Nanyak Dala (Prairie Wolf Pack), 20 Ed Fairhurst (BC Bears), 21 Liam Underwood (Ontario Blues), 22 Ciaran Hearn (The Rock)
15 Alberto Benettin (Aironi)
14 Giovambattista Venditti (Aironi)
13 Andrea Pratichetti (Treviso)
12 Alberto Sgarbi (Treviso)
11 Tommaso Benvenuti (Treviso)
10 Kris Burton (Treviso)
9 Tito Tebaldi (Aironi)
8 Robert Barbieri (Treviso)
7 Simone Favaro (Aironi)
6 Alessandro Zanni (Treviso)
5 Antonio Pavanello (Treviso)
4 Joshua Furno (Aironi)
3 Martin Castrogiovanni (Leicester Tigers, England)
2 Tommaso D’apice (Aironi)
1 Michele Rizzo (Treviso)
Reserves: 16 Carlo Festuccia (Parma Crociati), 17 Lorenzo Romano (Aironi), 18 Marco Fuser (Mogliano), 19 Mauro Bergamasco (Aironi), 20 Edoardo Gori (Treviso), 21 Riccardo Bocchino (I Cavalieri Prato) 22. Giulio Toniolatti (Aironi)