Sunday, July 7, 2013

Professional Canadian Rugby Players in England - 2013-2014 Season

Photo: Getty Images. Phil MacKenzie scores v Tonga in RWC 2011
The ever increasing demands of the professional season are going to have an impact on Canada´s top players. With the players only having just completed their international duty against Ireland and in the Pacific Nations Cup there is a short turn around now between taking on the USA in the Rugby World Cup Qualification home and away series and then getting back out on the field again in Europe. The Aviva Premiership will start on September 6, just two weeks after Canada hosts the USA in Toronto. In other words, the rest time for Canada´s English based players is now and their season will begin on August 17 in Charleston, South Carolina against the USA Eagles. 

The matches will determine who qualifies for Rugby World Cup 2015 as Americas 1 and who will take on Uruguay in November for the first to be Americas 2. The prize for Americas 2 is a place in Pool B at England 2015 against South Africa, Samoa, Scotland and Asia 1. It is arguably a better list of opponents than Pool D which will see Americas 1 taking on France, Ireland, Italy and Europe 2. As such the prize for winning the North American play-off in August could be defined as bitter-sweet. Form shown in recent years between Uruguay an higher ranked sides such as Canada, Russia and Spain suggests that the runner-up of Canada and the USA will be the clear favorite to win the North America v South America continental play-off. 

When Canada takes to the field against the USA Eagles in August it will be a match featuring Canadian players contracted to professional clubs abroad. The team is highly likely to be made up of a combination of players based in Canada, England, France, Scotland and Wales. Of those in England there are to be players involved in sides in the first second and third divisions, that is the Aviva Premiership, RFU Championship and the English Division One. While Canada has a larger representation in the second division than the first this does not mean the players are not up to standard. As shown in Rugby World Cup 2011 in Canada´s performances against Tonga, France and Japan there are a number of highly talented individuals who are not contracted to elite clubs in England, France or the Rabo Direct Pro 12. 

Playing at the top level will be the same two Canadian players who featured in the 2012-2013 Aviva Premiership - backrower Jebb Sinclair of London Irish and winger Phil MacKenzie. Sinclair is to play his third season for the Exiles while MacKenzie is to play his first for the Sale Sharks after he completed a transfer to the North-Western English club after playing last season for London Welsh who were relegated to the RFU Championship. In joining Sale MacKenzie can expect plenty of game time and an enhanced reputation and with both Americas 1 and Americas 2 set to play in the northern city of Leeds MacKenzie is a player people in the three northern English regions should pay attention to. Americas 1 is to play Europe 2 in Leicester, the home city of the current champions, the Tigers. Canadian born and raised under 20 player Djustice Sears-Duru is a member of the academy. 

Brett Beukemboom
Lower down a number of Canadians in the frame for Rugby World Cup 2015 selection can also be identified. Veteran wing / fullback James Pritchard remains at the Bedford Blues. The all-time leading Canadian points scorer had a solid 2013-2014 season with the club as it made it to the promotion final only to be defeated by the Newcastle Falcons who secured a return to the Aviva Premiership. Another back of note is Matt Evans who can play at flyhalf, centre, wing or fullback for both club and country. Evans is one of two Canadians contracted to the Cornish Pirates. The other being test captain Aaron Carpenter. Former Canadian international Sean-Michael Stephen plays for Plymouth Albion as does one of two Canadian secondrowers playing in the RFU Championship. Brett Beukemboom is Stephen´s club colleague while one of his partners at test level is Tyler Hotson who plays for London Scottish. Rounding-off Canada´s list of players in England is Mark Kohler who is contracted to Coventry in the third division. 

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