|Photo: Rugby Canada - Jeff Hassler|
The countdown to Rugby World Cup 2015 heats up this year with key nations beginning their qualification campaigns. Next month will see the likes of Georgia, Romania and Russia in action while Canada and the USA will face off several months afterwards with the winner qualifying for England 2015 as Americas 1. The exact dates of the home and away series is yet to be made official though it is expected that the games will be played in July. Unlike Europe, the games will see a team qualify for Rugby World Cup 2015 this year. The runner-up will face the winner of CONSUR A (Brazil, Chile and Uruguay), probably in November. The winner of that fixture will qualify for Rugby World Cup 2015 as Americas 2.
Just who will play for both teams remains unknown. Both Canada and the USA have lost a number of players to retirement and have young players who have already debuted at international level or who are likely to do so. Traditionally there is a clean-out of players between Rugby World Cup´s which takes place two or three years after a tournament. Players are often given one extra year after a Rugby World Cup before retiring. Canada did this after 2007 where it lost some big name players such as Mike James, Mike Pyke and Morgan Williams. It was able to rebuild to have a stronger team in 2011 with a host of new players emerging from 2008-2011. The likes of Matt Evans, Phil MacKenzie, Chauncey O´Toole, Jebb Sinclair and Conor Trainor all made their debuts during this period. All were key for Canada in Rugby World Cup 2011.
Canada has lost a number of players from the squad that played in New Zealand 2011. Ed Fairhurst, Ander Monro, Pat Riordan and Ryan Smith have all retired while there are also players still around who may not be in contention for England 2015. If Jamie Cudmore, for instance, is to play in a fourth Rugby World Cup he will be doing so as a 37 year old. Before Rugby World Cup 2011 Cudmore and centre DTH van der Merwe were singled out as the only two in Canadaps squad who were playing professional rugby at the top level and getting regular game time. It was argued that Canada had a below par squad. It proved to be incorrect as Canada defeated Tonga and drew against Japan. There is room for optimism ahead of 2015 as more players are being signed by professional clubs and there are a number of promising players coming through at Junior Level.
Canada´s November 2012 Tour of Europe featured some new players. One of which was Calgary, Alberta´s Jeff Hassler. He made his debut against the USA in Kingston, Ontario as a replacement. He also played off the bench against Georgia and Samoa in 2012 and played for his country at the IRB Junior World Trophy in Utah. In November he earned his first run-on cap, playing on the wing Canada against Russia in Colwyn Bay, Wales. He impressed by scoring two tries and set up a try for his Canadian Under 21 teammate, Taylor Paris. The pair were selected due to the non-availability of regulars including DTH van der Merwe, Phil MacKenzie and Conor Trainor. While all three have played wing in the past for Canada Kieran Crowley prefers them all as centres. As such, a player like Jeff Hassler coming along offers Canada significant options.
It would be no guess nor exaggeration to suggest that Hassler and Paris could be Canada´s starting wingers in 2015 nor that they will be in the starting team as the wingers in 2013. Hassler´s brief history shows a player of great potential and one who is already good enough despite his young age. While he left his mark on Russia in 2012 the year 2013 looms as one of greater opportunities and it could well be a preview of 2015. These are optimistic times for Canada and Hassler is one player to watch out for.