Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Aaron Carpenter: Hooker Bound?

Photo: IRB Clever v Carpenter

In eleven days time the USA wll play host to Canada in the first of two Rugby World Cup Qualifying matches. The winner of the two matches, on aggregate, will qualify for England 2015 as Americas 1. As shown in the above photograph the prize is a place in Pool D together with France, Ireland, Italy and a European qualifier - possibly Romania. The runner-up of the North American qualification matches will face Uruguay in November with the winner entering Pool B together with Samoa, Scotland, South Africa and Asia 1 which is certain to be Japan. The two matches between the North Americans are to be played on the same dates as the first two rounds of the 2013 Rugby Championship. 

Also shown in the photograph is the looming battle of the North American captains who are both backrowers - Todd Clever and Aaron Carpenter. Both have been used by their national coaches in the same position so far this year - number eight. The chances of them facing off from the back of the scrum on August 17 in Charleston, South Carolina and August 24 in Toronto would therefore appear strong. The selection history of Canadian headcoach Kieren Crowley and the strengths of his squad in certain posititions would appear to suggest that he may well adopted an entirely different strategy. 

Interesting to note is the team that defeated Tonga 25-20 in Rugby World Cup 2011 was one that saw Canada´s leading forwards at the time all starting together with Crowley opting to field backrowers in the secondrow rather than play a specialist secondrower in the run-on XV. This saw Canada field a starting forward pack of Hubert Buydens, Pat Riordan and Jason Marshall in the frontrow, Jebb Sinclair and Jamie Cudmore in the secondrow and Adam Kleeberger, Chauncey O´Toole and Aaron Carpenter in the backrow. Both Sinclair and Cudmore had previously started at test level in both the second and backrows with Sinclair having played more in the backrow than the secondrow and Cudmore having started against all of Fiji, Japan and Wales in the secondrow in Rugby World Cup 2007. 

The Sinclair-Cudmore pairing would appear possible to return against the USA with at least one starting in the secondrow. Both players are in the Canadian squad and Cudmore himself confirmed on twitter that he is on his way from Clermont to Canada this week. Should both start in the secondrow Tyler Hotson could again find himself on the bench as could one of Brett Beukeboom, Jon Phelan and Cameron Pierce. This would mean two specialist secondrowers would be amongst the replacements and no backrowers. It is, however, a reflection of the strength of Canadian rugby in this position. Missing are both O´Toole and Kleeberger with the former taking time off rugby and the later having had injury complications. The alternative is for Nanyak Dala to be on the bench, but his skills ought to, arbuably see him starting due to Kleeberger and O´Toole´s situations.

Dala was a replacement against Tonga in Rugby World Cup 2011 as was Ryan Hamilton who covered Riordan at hooker. Following the retirement of Riordan Hamilton has split the hooker position with Ray Barkwill while Carpenter has been the captain from number 8. Canada´s scrum has not been its strongest component during this time but Canada has found some highly promising young backrowers such as Tyler Ardon who has signed for the Ospreys in Wales and John Moonlight. The fifty-two time capped Canadian would appear to be a crucial part of solving the problem. Carpenter could well move to hooker, a position he has played in previously for Canada. Two of his caps in 2007 were as a replacement hooker. He did not subsequently play there due to two reasons -  his command of the number eight position and Riordan´s of hooker. 

Should Crowley opt to use Carpenter at hooker then he could he effective in a similar manner to Argentina´s Agustín Creevy. This being the case then Ardron could play at the back of the scrum giving Canada more fire power and putting the team in the right direction for Rugby World Cup 2015. With Buydens unavailable due to him playing for Manawatu and not Canada this month it would also see more experience up front. In his place Canada is likely to start Andrew Tiedemann at loosehead prop. 

Possible starting Canadian team 
1 Andrew Tiedemann, 2 Aaron Carpenter (C), 3 Jason Marshall
4 Tyler Hotson, 5 Jamie Cudmore
6 Jebb Sinclair, 8 Tyler Ardron, 7 Nanyak Dala

9 Phil Mack, 10 Nathan Hirayama 
12 Phil MacKenzie, 13 DTH van der Merwe
11 Matt Evans, 15 James Pritchard, 14 Jeff Hassler

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