With just two months left until the Canadians launch their 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign in Japan, the team will play the U.S. this weekendThere are no bigger rugby rivals for Canada than her neighbours to the south.So, with just two months left until the Canadians launch their 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign against Italy in Fukuoka, Japan, why not start preparations for that Sept. 26 match by playing the United States?Saturday in Glendale, Colo., (TSN1, 8 p.m.) Canadian coach Kingsley Jones will get his first look at how the national squad is shaping up. With a chance to bang heads with the U.S. and make an impression for RWC consideration, Jones knows his team’s motivation won’t be lacking.“There’s certainly no need to be talking about that against a historic rival,” he said this week. The Americans have had Canada’s number of late; in fact, the red and white squads haven’t beaten the U.S. since 2013, a run of 11 games that includes 10 defeats and a draw.But Jones is defiant. He believes his side is ready to find its winning groove again.“Obviously it’s a big game. We feel we’re at a similar level,” he said. “I’m hoping there’s no need for extra motivation.”Canada nearly broke the streak in March in Seattle, when they lost 30-25.Jones has picked 31 players to travel to suburban Denver for the opening game of a three-match Pacific Nations Cup series. Canada will then travel to Fiji to face the Fijians as well as Tonga before returning home.Wins are the goal, but just as important will be what Jones sees in some of the combinations he’s going to be experimenting with. He’s taken nine front rowers, for instance, to determine what the best mix will be for Japan.“There’s three games in a short space of time, so we’ll see a few different faces,” he said.
Fans cheer as Canada’s Nick Blevins drags Blaine Scully of the U.S. while scoring a try during Pacific Nations Cup action at Swangard Stadium in 2015. Blevins will be on the team in Colorado taking on the Americans.
RICHARD LAM /
The coach also had to leave a dozen players behind in Langford, Rugby Canada’s B.C. training centre.When he started the head coach’s job in late 2017, his list of 31 might have been easy to fill out, he said. No longer.“The gap has closed considerably,” he said.Credit Major League Rugby, now two years in operation.“Go back 18 months, think of the number of Canadian players who weren’t getting exposed to daily training environments,” he said. “Now there’s probably 45 players in the MLR who weren’t in daily training back then — they were working daytime jobs.”Both the Toronto Arrows, still Canada’s only entry into the U.S.-based league, and the Seattle Seawolves, who have kept a number of Canadians on their roster, are a big part of the story, he said.“Also, we had 10 guys playing overseas, but only (Jeff) Hassler was getting picked regularly,” he pointed out. “We had three guys at Newcastle who never got a game. Now, all our guys have been playing rugby. Tyler Ardron is doing well in Super Rugby, Evan Olmstead at Auckland.”Jones has until Sept. 2 to name his 31-man squad that will travel to Japan, and there will be changes, he insisted.He’s only got 13 backs on the current tour, for instance. The likes of Guiseppe Du Toit and Andrew Coe will likely earn further looks. And so will young scrum half Will Percillier, who was a standout star for Canada U-20 earlier this month, even as the junior squad stumbled to a fifth-place finish at the World Rugby U-20 tournament.“There are still places to be won.”CANADA SQUADTyler Ardron (captain), Kyle Baillie, Justin Blanchet, Nick Blevins, Rob Brouwer, Hubert Buydens, Luke Campbell, Jeff Hassler, Ciaran Hearn, Matt Heaton, Eric Howard, Jake Ilnicki, Cole Keith, Conor Keys, Ben LeSage, Phil Mack, Jamie Mackenzie, Gordon McRorie, Peter Nelson, Shane O’Leary, Evan Olmstead, Patrick Parfrey, Taylor Paris, Benoit Piffero, Andrew Quattrin, Lucas Rumball, Djustice Sears-Duru, Mike Sheppard, Matt Tierney, Conor Trainor, DTH van der Merwepjohnston@postmedia.comtwitter.com/risingactionCLICK HERE to report a typo.Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email firstname.lastname@example.org