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Written By: Doug Crosse
As the November Repechage tournament looms ever closer for Canada, all the stops are being pulled in order to prepare the players for the task at hand.
Domestically, the Canadian Rugby Championship is giving the top players in the country a chance to get some meaningful games in. But the upcoming tour to France by the Canada Selects will be both helpful and informative for coach Kingsley Jones on what kind of a team he will be taking back to France in November for the last chance World Cup qualifying games.
Jones is likely not worried about fan expectations on this two-game swing to take on pro squads in the midst of their pre-season preparations. Jones will be missing key components from his backline, such as DTH van der Merwe and Jeff Hassler, and Taylor Paris. The intent is also clear that the 7s program will not be giving up any players for the November campaign.
Jones has identified this mini-tour for what it is: A unique chance to get some high-quality pressure on the domestic-based players. They shouldn’t expect to win against teams, who despite it being pre-season, have a cohesion from playing together 26 times a season.
“We’re looking to give domestic-based players as much experience of high-level rugby as possible. It’s the best way to improve ahead of our November three-match series,” Jones offered in a Rugby Canada press release. “The selected roster blends our regular starters alongside exciting talented young players who we are targeting for future development.”
What Jones and his lieutenants learn on and off the field will go a long way to picking the 27 best players in the fall. There are a bunch of sayings that fill the bill, but the most basic is “you’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelette.” Trite but true.
These players may need to get smacked in the mouth once or twice, but it will harden them and get them playing for each other. The fact is you can’t worry about winning on this type of tour. Take it for what it is. A fact-finding mission pure and simple.
In Castres, the first game of the tour, Canada faces a team that finished a respectable 5th in the extremely competitive Top 14, in a 15-11 season and a team packed with French, Tongan and South American players. And one Canuck. Taylor Paris is in the side for another season, though it is unclear if he will be tasked with taking on his own country. Paris will be looking to slot into the full squad for the repechage, so it would not make much sense to risk injury against his own team.
A five-day turnaround after the first game sees another tall task in the French summer heat as Canada plays Clermont. Another quality team packed with internationals. Clermont finished in 9th place in the previous campaign, 11-14-1. Remember this was a team that just won the Top 14 in the spring of 2017, so not an easy task.
Players to watch in the Canadian side are numerous. Phil Mack has shown a continued high level of performance and has benefited from playing a week in, week out schedule with Seattle of Major League Rugby and your 2018 champs. But his analysis game has stepped up as well. He ended up being player/coach for the season and even managed to play a pair of games for Canada in the midst of the MLR season (and one against Chile in March).
Ray Barkwill, one of the vintage players of this team, provides the grit the front row needs. His lineout game is pretty solid now, but it is the work he does around the pitch that makes him a key component. Not the fastest, not the biggest, but you wouldn’t want to play without him.
This will be a big tour for Giuesppe du Toit. He needs to know, along with Kingsley Jones, if he is ready for the next level of playing fly-half. He has the tools but has yet to have a breakout performance.
Kainoa Lloyd has been fun to watch as his progression from the Ontario Arrows to a Canada jersey has been quick and deserved. He is fearless with the ball in hand and he is always prepared to get under a high ball in traffic.
Everyone on this squad will go under the microscope and learn a lot about themselves as a player and a team.
What fans of this team can do is be patient. No wins on this tour will not be a disaster. It is what they do after that which will count.
Canada Selects Tour:
Canada Selects Roster for France Tour: