Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Rugby World Cup Qualifier North American Preview - Q&A with Jeff Hull

Jeff Hull 
With the countdown on to see whether it will be Canada or the USA qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2015 as Americas 1 Argentina 2023 has been in contact with prominent North American contributors to the global game. In the first of two interviews Argentina 2023 caught up with Jeff Hull. 

PT: Canada is coming off some good wins over Fiji and Tonga but was less fortunate against Ireland and Japan. How is Canada placed right now?

Canada's summer wins against Fiji and Tonga were more what the Canadian management would like to point to. There is no question that those wins came when the Canadians were closer to full strength. They weren't against Ireland and were even less so against Japan. Canada are developing a greater attacking style, incorporating a number of their cutting-edge back-line talent, but underneath all that offence lies some worries about defence.

If you look at all the matches Canada played over the summer, there were worrying signs around the 60 minute mark. Both Fiji and Tonga very nearly came back to win those matches. Canada was certainly in the Ireland match, until the Irish ran away with it in the final quarter. Having names like Cudmore, Mackenzie, Van der Merwe and Evans back in the line-up will help with depth and some more muscle in defence. If Canada can continue to build their offensive capabilities, while avoiding those late collapses, they will be fine moving forward.

PT: A lot of talk surrounds Jamie Cudmore. Just how important is he to Canada?

Hull: Jamie Cudmore is to Canada what Todd Clever is to the USA or what Richie Gray is to Scotland. He is the alpha-male. When he is absent, Canada don't feel as muscular in the pack and they play as muscular a style. At this point in his career, he is certainly bringing more charisma and leadership to the table, and perhaps a little less on the performance side, but he will still be a crucial player at the breakdown, against a big and athletic USA back-row.

PT: Cudmore has missed plenty of test matches as has Samu Manoa for the USA. Both will play this weekend but Hubert Buydens will not.Could you clarify why Buydens is not available?

Hull: Professional opportunities for Canadians in particular and North Americans in general are extremely limited, especially as you can't claim an ancestry visa, like many of our players have in the UK.

Hubert Buydens was awarded Canada's "Player's Player Of The Year" for 2012 and has been crucial in making sure the Canadian scrum can compete internationally. Canada may have lost heavily in the end against Ireland, but their scrum was equal or better to the Irish at times. He was offered a chance to play in New Zealand following that performance, and that offer was subject to him being able to stay there full-time.

Canada's management know that the development of a player like Buydens is key to them being able to compete with the strong scrums they are likely to see at the 2015 World Cup, so they are willing to let him go. Its a huge opportunity for a player that deserves just such a chance.

PT: Is Buydens the only thing preventing Canada from being at full strength or are others missing?

Hull: The other big name missing for Canada is Sevens star Connor Trainor. Trainor broke his ankle in the final weekend of the 2012/13 IRB Sevens Series and is a big loss for Canada's XV's back line as well. For now, Canada will probably cover with either Ciaran Hearn or DTH Van der Merwe at #13, but the power of Trainor in that outside channel is something that makes the back-line more threatening, when he is healthy.

PT: Besides Cudmore who else does Canada have to confront the monstrous USA backrow of Clever-LaValla-Manoa?

Hull: Canada has been looking at this issue a lot. They know they want to play with quick-ball, and have seen what that kind of back-row was able to do against the Irish. Look for Canada to dress a hulking forward pack of their own with Cudmore, Tyler Ardron of the Ospreys and London Irish forward Jebb Sinclair all being tasked with confronting that threat.

John Moonlight is the form flanker at the moment for Canada, and can compete with Clever for size and pace. There has been talk about Canada Captain Aaron Carpenter being under pressure from players like Ardron and Moonlight, in trying to retain his place in the back-row. We will see what Coach Crowley decides.

PT: What else does Canada need to do to raise its game?

Hull: As I've mentioned, Canada hase had defensive issues of late, especially in the second-half. Specifically, they have been dressing a very small 9-10-12 channel; with players like Phil Mack and Nathan Hirayama occupying those areas in defence. These channels have been targeted by enemy runners in the recent past, and Canada will need to be on their guard to ensure that the Americans aren't able to take advantage of potential size mis-matches in those areas.

PT: What is your prediction for this Saturday´s encounter in South Carolina?

Hull: Going back to the 2011 qualifiers, the USA were able to win their home-leg against a partially depleted Canada side. They will certainly have a home crowd supporting them, but in the end, I believe Canada will secure enough possession to see them through to a narrow win. Canada by 7-10 points.

When the scene shifts back to Toronto's BMO Field, Canada will be playing at what is quickly becoming their national stadium. One would think this would be a big advantage, but the narrow pitch does something to limit the effectiveness of the Canada back-line. Here I believe Canada will benefit from a much stronger start, which should see their winning margin increase.

Canada by 10 - 15 at home.

Canada by 17 - 25 on aggregate.

PT: The prize for the winner is RWC qualification as Americas 1. The Pool features tough opposition in France, Ireland, Italy and Europe 2 (posisbly Romania). Americas 2, in contrast, will play in Pool B against South Africa, Samoa, Scotland and Asia 1 (Japan). Is Americas 2 therefore not favorable for Canada?

Hull: I think many would agree that Canada's best shot at three wins in the 2015 Rugby World Cup would be to beat Japan, Scotland and Samoa in Pool B. By that logic, you would want to be named Americas 2.

However, sadly, that is not really an option. National pride and sheer competitiveness will demand that Canada play to win against the USA, which will likely see them claims the Americas 1 slot; much to their chagrin. Three wins are not impossible for Canada as Americas 1, but they are a great deal harder; especially with the way Italy has been playing as of late.

PT: Lastly, should Argentina host Rugby World Cup 2023?

Hull: Argentina have had some problems as of late, in terms of their rugby administration. The Americas Rugby Championship was moved to Canada and they were forced to temporarily abandon their efforts to secure a stop on the IRB Sevens Series. This was do to the enormous challenge of integrating the nation into the Southern Hemisphere's Rugby Championship.

However, all of this can certainly be expected to be ancient history by 2023. By then, Argentina should be on level with New Zealand and South Africa in terms of their ability to administer the game and its major events.

As your own wonderful work has shown, Paul, it would be a tragedy if Argentina were not awarded a the 2023 World Cup. They are not just a rugby nation on the rise, they are THE rugby nation on the rise.

Thank you so much Jeff for your time.

Mr. Hull is a Press Officer and Freelance Contributor for Rugby Canada, and the CNN´s Bleacher Report as well as being a member of the Pan American Rugby Writers. He can be followed on Twitter @rugbyscribe

1 comment:

  1. I have a bottle of Tito's against a bottle of your fave Canadien Whiskey that says your scoreline prediction is worng, Jeff!