|Photo This is Cornwall: |
Will Carpenter play hooker for Canada in 2014?
Having secured a place in Rugby World Cup 2015 last year rugby for the Canadian test players and management in 2014 will be all about consolidation and preparation ahead of the global tournament in England and Wales.
Canada is to play in Pool D of Rugby World Cup 2015 and in doing so be the only non-European participant. The group features the pre-qualified countries of France, Ireland and Italy as the first, second and third band sides while Canada is the fourth and the fifth will be the runner-up from the 2013-2014 European Nations Cup (ENC).
The ENC will conclude on March 15 with Portugal v Spain, Belgium v Russia and Georgia v Russia. It is the third of these fixtures which will be of greatest interest to Canadians and, indeed, global rugby followers. Currently Georgia and Romania are tied for first place on nineteen points ahead of Russia on fourteen points while the fourth placed Portugal sits on seven.
In theory any of the teams could qualify as Europe 1 and Europe 2 but it is highly likely that Georgia will come out on top followed by Romania. The reasons being that they have more players in top leagues, better international records and, overall, friendlier schedules for the second half of the competition. Georgia will host both Romania and Russia and will be expected to win both as well as its three other matches.
Canada is therefore likely to be joined by Romania in Pool D for Rugby World Cup 2015. It is an interesting prospect considering how the match between the nations panned out last November. Unlike Romania Canada scored tries but the team that finished as winners was not from North America. Canada was also defeated by Georgia in November. The Canadian team was not at full strength for either match but those on the field are expected to be in the squad for the World Cup.
Missing were the likes of Aaron Carpenter, Jamie Cudmore and DTH van der Merwe while there was also some experimenting. Overall Canada had more success in the backs than in the forwards but with Rugby Canada actively pushing players to ply their trade abroad and Canada having a larger pool of players abroad now than previously there is reason the believe that come 2015 the Canadian pack will be much improved.
Canada already has better backs than Romania and Georgia and indeed a case can be made to argue that Canada also has better backs than Italy. The Canadian wingers certainly have been outshining the Italians in European competitions this season and with Canada having others involved in the IRB Sevens World Series continued player development will give Canada more options to be used at international level in 2014.
Of note is that none of Italy, Georgia or Romania play as core teams on the Sevens circuit while Canada has its leading domestic backs and loose forwards involved. So far in the 2013-2014 competition names from the senior team including Connor Braid, Nanyak Dala, Ciaran Hearn, Nathan Hirayama, Harry Jones, Adam Kleeberger, Phil Mack, John Moonlight, Mike Scholtz and Conor Trainor have all featured.
Emphasis will therefore be placed on Rugby Sevens in 2014 with Canada to play in events in the USA, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, Scotland and England from January - May. The official international program will begin a month after its completion with Canada to host Scotland and Japan in test matches and also face the USA. The match against Scotland is being heavily promoted with Rugby Canada looking for a full house in Toronto to break the record attendance of 22,566 set last November.
Canada pushed Italy in Toronto in June 2012 but was not able to compete so well against Ireland twelve months later. For Scotland in June 2014 Canada should be better prepared and will not have to juggle players as was the case in 2013 as the Irish test occurred in the middle of the Pacific Nations Cup. Unlike in 2013 Canada will have a simple three test schedule in June which will take place when all players are available.
From a Canadian perspective player availability is critical due to the Canadian Rugby Championship (CRC) taking place in the summer. Although dates for the 2014 competition are yet to be confirmed it is certain that the event will not take place before the test matches in June. The 2013 competition was played in August and September. The dates of the CRC underline just how important Rugby Sevens and having players abroad means as they are the backbone of the test team. Those based in Canada will therefore only have played at club level.
On the international stage Canada will have a disappointingly low number of test matches. Considering that Canada played ten tests in 2013 the total of six in 2014 is a significant drop. The two reasons for the inferior number are firstly that Canada had two additional tests in 2013 due to playing Rugby World Cup qualification matches against the USA and secondly because of the structure of the 2013 Pacific Nations Cup. In 2013 all five sides faced each other but with Samoa returning the 2014 tournament will be divided into north and south with Canada facing Japan and the USA.
The winner of the north will face the winner of the south in a match rumored to be played on November 8 to open the autumn international window for the two regional winners. Should Canada defeat Japan and the USA it would therefore face the winner of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga in November and then play two test matches in Europe. There is, however, the possibility of Canada playing a fourth match. Indeed in 2013 the Canadians played a fourth match against the Maori All Blacks in a non-international while in 2010 Canada toured Belgium, Spain, Georgia and Portugal in November. In other words Canada could have a seventh test match added in 2014.
2014 Key Dates
24-26 USA Sevens, Sam Boyd Stadium Las Vegas
7-8 New Zealand Sevens, Westpac Stadium, Wellington
22-23 Japan Sevens, Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium, Tokyo
28-30 Hong Kong Sevens, Hong Kong Stadium, Hong Kong
3-4 Scotland Sevens, Scotsoun Stadium, Glasgow
10-11 England Sevens, Twickenham Stadium, London
7 Canada v Japan (venue tba)
14 Canada v Scotland, BMO Field, Toronto
USA v Canada (in USA in June. Date and venue tba).
Canadian Rugby Championship (dates tba)
Canadian Rugby Championship (dates tba)
Americas Rugby Championship (dates tba)
8-22 Autumn Internationals