Wednesday, October 29, 2014

RWC 2015: Assessing Canada's Chances a Year Out

Photo Rugby Canada
The final of Rugby World Cup 2015 is just over one year away. The tournament will come to a close in London on October 31st 2015 making the upcoming autumn internationals the final tour for most teams before the World Cup. The Americas is a powerful player in global rugby as four of the twenty teams are from either North or South America. Despite providing 20% of the teams the Americas is the only continental region yet to be allocated hosting rights to a Rugby World Cup. In the second of four installments Argentina 2023 takes a close look into what awaits the Canadians at the World Cup, who the players will be and the outcome.

Path to Rugby World Cup 2015
Canada qualified for Rugby World Cup 2015 as Americas 1. The North Americans defeated the USA by scorelines of 27-9 and 13-11 in the home-and-away series in South Carolina and Toronto. With the draw having been made in 2012 Canada knew it would be in Pool A facing autmoatic qualifiers France, Ireland and Italy and the Europe 2 qualifier.

Canada in Rugby World Cups
Canada has a proud tradition at Rugby World Cups. So much so that, unlike Fiji, Georgia, Samoa, South Africa, Tonga and the USA Canada has played at every Rugby World Cup. Canada joins Japan and Romania as Tier Two teams to have featured every tournament. Canada has also achieved good results by winning matches at every World Cup execpt for 2007 and reaching the final eight of Rugby World Cup 1991.

Matches Won
Matches Lost
Ireland, Wales
Third in Pool
Fiji, Romania
France, New Zealand
Quarter Finalists
Australia, South Africa
Third in Pool
France, Fiji
Third in Pool
Italy, New Zealand, Wales
Fourth in Pool
Draw with Japan
Australia, Fiji, Wales
Fourth in Pool
Tonga, Draw with Japan
France, New Zealand
Fourth in Pool

Matches in England 2015 
For Rugby World Cup 2015 Canada is to be the only non-European country in Pool D. The Canadians are up against three Tier One nations and one Tier Two member. Canada has been allocated matches in four different cities, three being in England and one in Wales. The distribution of matches will see the Canadians playing a match in each of the North, East Midlands and the South-West.

The match schedule awaiting Canada is less than ideal as the North Americans will play four matches in seventeen days. By way of comparison France, Ireland and Italy will each have twenty-two days and Romania will have eighteen. The authorities, clearly, did not provide Canada with an even chance and made a tought pool more rather than less complicated.

September 19
Canada v Ireland
September 26
Canada v Italy
October 01
Canada v France
Milton Keynes
October 06
Canada v Romania

The opening Pool D fixture will be that of Ireland v Canada in Cardiff. Ireland is, arguably, the top seed in the pool given the results that France has achieved in the years since reaching the final of Rugby World Cup 2011. It is a match in which Canada can provide a lasting impression but a win is very unlikely.

The last time the teams met was in Toronto in 2013 with Ireland running out comfortable winners. The 40-14 scoreline was the third largest ever in a history which has seen Canada winning six matches and the other fixture having been a 27-17 draw in 2000. Their one match in Rugby World Cups took place in 1987 with Ireland winning 46-19 in Dunedin, New Zealand. 

According to IRB World Rankings there is not a lot separating Canada from Italy. At this point in time the proximity of the nations could be said to be a relatively accurate sinopse of the quality of the two teams. Italy has been struggling in recent times. The Europeans lost all three tests this past June despite the tour, in theory, being well suited as tests in Fiji, Samoa and Japan.

Italy's team is suffering from a lack of player production with two weak sides in the Guinness Pro 12 and the best players in many positions now being into their 30s. Italy's thirty-man squad for the upcoming November internationals features just Andrea Masi and Luke McLean as backs playing at the top level outside of Italy. Canada, it can be argued, has superior outside backs to that of Italy and this will enable the North Americans to play for a win.

Standing in the way of a win is the front-row. Italy excels up front and, although, Canada does have front-rowers in England's second division and in New Zealand the area remains a concern. The second-row and back-rows are different with Canada matching Italy in this department and arguably having better players. A win in Leeds is therefore within Canada's reach and the match ought to be the target.

Of the seven tests played between the countries Italy has won six compared to Italy's one. The Italian victory took place in Rovigo in 2000, the year Italy entered the Six Nations Championship while the most recent match saw Italy winning 25-16 in Toronto in 2012. There has been just one time in which the teams have met in a Rugby World Cup. On that occasion a tired Italian side, with an unsporting match schedule of four games in fourteen days, defeated Canada 19-14 on October 21 before facing Wales in Canberra on October 25.

A four day rest is what separated Canada's matches against Italy and France. The short turn-around will certainly further the chances of Canada putting everything into facing the Italians. Also of note is that five days will separate the matches against France and Romania and with Romania being a must-win occasion it is a fixture certain to see Canada fielding its strongest lineup.

Unfortunately for the Rugby World Cup Canada v France will not likely see Canada's finest players involved. Had authorities allocated the match schedule in a way which gave preference to the Tier Two and not the Tier One sides then the scenario would likely be different.

The fixture has been regular at Rugby World Cups. So much so that the teams have met three times, most recently in 2011 with France digging deep to win 46-19 in wet conditions. France won 33-20 in 1999 in a match in which Canada was, at one stage, looking set to complete an upset win. In 1991 France won 19-13. Overall France has won eight matches and lost one. Canada's win came in 1994 by a scoreline of 18-16 in Nepean.

Romania is a team which Canada is expected to defeat but it must play well to do so. Although both are Tier Two nations they have vastly different playing styles and also considerably different strengths and weaknesses. Canada's greatest weakness, the scrum, is arguably Romania's strongest area. Romania has, like Georgia, been able to bull teams in the European Nations Cup and visiting sides in November tests have regularly been put under great pressure upfront.

Canada's back and loose forwards provide the North Americans with weapons of note and their access to the Sevens World Series places them in a strong position to, together with the professional players, give Canada an advantage.

The teams have met four times and have split the results. Canada's two wins were in Rugby World Cups with the North Americans winning 19-11 in 1991 and 34-3 in 1995. Romania won 22-20 in 2005 and 21-20 last November against a below-strength Canadian side. The North Americans were very unlucky not to win the 2013 fixture and will need to prevent similar errors to win in Leicester.

Likely Rugby World Cup 2011 Returning Players
Canada has no shortage of players involved in professional rugby abroad. There are eighteen playing in Europe most of whom, however, are involved in second division competitions. Those playing in the Aviva Premiership, Guinness Pro 12 or Top 14 include Tyler Ardron, Jamie Cudmore, Jeff Hassler, Phil MacKenzie, Shane O'Leary, Jebb Sinclair and DTH van der Merwe. Hubert Buydens and Jason Marshall play in New Zealand and Jake Ilnicki does so in Australia.

Of those who competed in Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand as many as twenty players could be returning. Likely players include: Aaron Carpenter, Hubert Buydens, Jason Marshall, Andrew Tiedemann, Jamie Cudmore, Jebb Sinclair, Tyler Hotson, Nanyak Dala, Adam Kleeberger, Sean White, Conor Trainor, Ciaran Hearn, DTH van der Merwe, Taylor Paris, Matt Evans and James Pritchard.

New Faces to look out for in 2015
The Canadian squad is therefore not likely to have as many new faces as Canada's neighbor, the USA. While around two-thirds of the USA squad is set to be playing in a first World Cup Canada can be expected to field around a figure of between 50% new players.

Captain Tyler Ardron could be joined by Ray Barkwill, Brett Beukeboom, Connor Braid, Sean Duke, Kyle Gilmour, Jeff Hassler, Harry Jones, Jake Ilnicki,  Phil Mack, Gordon McRorie, John Moonlight, Jon Phelan, Liam Underwood and Doug Wooldridge as playing in a first World Cup.

Ideal Rugby World Cup 2015 Squad
Forwards (17): Ray Barkwill, Aaron Carpenter, Hubert Buydens, Jake Ilnicki, Jason Marshall, Andrew Tiedemann, Doug Wooldridge, Brett Beukeboom, Jamie Cudmore, Tyler Hotson, Jon Phelan, Tyler Ardron, Nanyak Dala, Kyle Gilmour, Adam Kleeberger, John Moonlight, Jebb Sinclair

Backs (13): Phil Mack, Gordon McRorie, Harry Jones, Liam Underwood, Connor Braid, Ciaran Hearn, Conor Trainor, DTH van der Merwe, Jeff Hassler, Taylor Paris, Sean Duke, Matt Evans, James Pritchard.

Eliminated in pool phase after winning one and losing three Pool D matches.

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