Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Great Canadian Search for a Fly half

Harry Jones breaks v USA in Toronto in August
Sunday´s match at Toronto´s BMO Field saw Canada field an understrength team against the best New Zealand players of native descent who were not wanted for international duty for the All Blacks end of year tour. The result was a squad of fully professional players faced a Canadian side missing many to club duty and after a good start the Canadians fell off the pace to be defeated cleanly.

For a number of players it was a rare opportunity to start against a team with Tier One credentials. Coach Kieran Crowley was also using the opportunity to experiment with certain players. The lack of depth in the second-row saw Tyler Ardron playing out of position while three fly halves were in the starting lineup with Matt Evans playing fullback, Harry Jones inside centre and Liam Underwood was given the pivotal 10 position. This occured with another fly half, Connor Braid being on the bench 

Crowley has used all players at fly half previously and he has also started Nathan Hirayama. None of them were the 10 at Rugby World Cup 2011 though. Rather the player was the now retired Ander Monro while the flyhalf / inside centre Ryan Smith was also in the squad and has also hung up his boots. Joining Monro and Smith were Evans and Hirayama but Crowley has made it evident that neither player is desired to play fly half at international level. 

The great Canadian search for a flyhalf continues this month with Underwood and Jones being the squad members selected for the away tests against Georgia, Romania and Portugal. Evans has been selected as an outside back while Braid and Hirayama are not included. Underwood started against the Maori All Blacks at fly half after previously starting against Fiji and Japan in the position earlier in the year. Hirayama started the big test against Ireland while Jones started both Rugby World Cup 2015 qualifying matches against the USA. Others were used in the Americas Rugby Championship with Jack Fitzpatrick, Guiseppe Du Toit and Pat Parfrey starting the non-capped matches.

Underwood had a mixed performance against the Maori All Blacks. His first attempt at goal on Sunday was far from impressive as nerves appeared to get the better of him. His attempted conversion failed to reach the posts. The Canadian record points scorer James Pritchard should be the starting fullback in Georgia which will provide Canada with its best goalkicking option. In general play Underwood showed signs of having potential as he was able to provide good ball to the backline but against the quick defensive line of the New Zealanders there were errors which saw turn-over ball. In one incident Underwood was hit hard by Tim Bateman who he did not see coming. The speed of the Maori All Blacks was something Underwood is not familiar with due to the Canadian game lacking the same velocity found in New Zealand.

Canada is yet to name its lineup to face Georgia this coming Saturday in Tbilisi but it appears that Underwood will hold on to the position with Jones possibly dropping to the bench to allow Conor Trainor and Phil MacKenzie to be the starting mid-field combination. Evans and Jeff Hassler would appear the likely starting wingers to join Pritchard in the back-three. Underwood should have far more time to make decisions and have a greater impact on the game against Georgia. The tour is ideal for Canadian rugby and could allow Crowley to answer the question on the mind of many a Canadian rugby follower - who is the man for the 10 shirt?

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