Rugby Canada head coach Kieran Crowley knows his team faces a tough task to defeat England Saxons in the Churchill Cup final on Saturday (1630) at Sixways, Worcester, live on Sky Sports.
And while injury and unavailability have limited some of his selection options, Crowley has picked a mix of muscle up front and experience out back which he hopes will get the job done.
The squad to face the Saxons features eight players from the starting line-up that defeated Russia 34-18 and twelve starters from Canada’s 26-12 win over Italy A.
“It’s the best squad available to us and it’s a matter of managing the players we have,” Crowley said. “They’re ready to go. If we can match them around the set piece I believe we’ll be right in this game.”
The Saxons enter the game as favourites, having lifted the trophy five times in the last nine years, and Crowley knows their forward pack will be the launching pad for their attack.
“That is a massive challenge on Saturday,” he said. “England base a lot of their game around their scrum and they’ve scored four penalty tries in their first two games. We’ve got to work as a unit. We’ll be up against a strong pack.”
Having said that, Crowley felt the Canadian forward pack handled itself well against Italy A and has named almost an identical line-up from one through eight, with the exception of the addition of Jamie Cudmore.
The front row sees the return of captain Pat Riordan to the starting lineup, bolstered by props Hubert Buydens and Jason Marshall.
Crowley gave praise to the front row, saying they were the men for the job.
“It’s good to have the experience of Riordan back in the starting lineup,” he said. “Marshall has come on in leaps and bounds and Buydens has been one of the most improved players of the tournament.”
Erichsen returns to the starting second row after being left out of the squad against Russia and is joined by Cudmore, who returned to the Canadian jersey last week for the first since 2007.
Not surprisingly, the back row of Jebb Sinclair, Chauncey O’Toole and Aaron Carpenter retain their starting jerseys, as they have in all of their team’s games this tournament.
The only forward in the squad unavailable for selection is Ryan Hamilton, who has been rested due too a strained knee ligament.
In the backs, both wing Justin Mensah-Coker and scrum half Ed Fairhurst have had to return home due to work commitments.
With that in mind, Sean White will return to the starting scrum half position, pairing with Ander Monro at fly half.
The remainder of the back line has been rejigged by Crowley, who feels added experience was necessary to deal with the impending threats from the Saxons.
For this reason, the centres pairing has changed back to Phil Mackenzie and Ryan Smith.
Crowley said he enjoyed the dynamic centres pairing of Conor Trainor and Mike Scholz, but that Mackenzie and Smith were better fits for Saturday’s game.
“The other two have done really well, but we feel with the way the English play, Smith and Mackenzie will handle it better,” he said. “Both Conor and Scholz are inexperienced. Smith and Mackenzie bring a few more assets at this level, but on the other hand Scholz and Trainor create things.”
Meanwhile, the back three sees James Pritchard moved to the wing, Ciaran Hearn on the other wing and Matt Evans at fullback.
“We’re looking for our wingers to have more involvement,” Crowley said of the change. “Matt’s a very good counter attacker and James has played both fullback and wing. Hearn’s been playing well. He’s really having a go and hopefully he gets an opportunity to show that.”
On the bench Crowley has opted for four forwards and three backs.
Andrew Tiedemann, Scott Franklin, Tyler Hotson and Nanyak Dala make up the forward replacements, while Jamie Mackenzie has been brought into the squad to back up the scrum half position, a fit Nathan Hirayama is in to bolster fly-half and Conor Trainor takes up the last bench spot.
As well as being a rematch of last year’s Churchill Cup final and an opportunity for Canada to win the tournament for the first time, Crowley said Saturday’s game will be a good indication of how well the team is building toward the Rugby World Cup in September.
“I think we’ve made massive strides in the level of our performances,” he said. “This game is going to be the biggest measurement in terms of where we are for the World Cup.”
Churchill Cup finals, Saturday June 18, Sixways.
Bowl final: USA v Russia 1200
Plate final: Tonga v Italy A 1415
Cup final: England Saxons v Canada 1630
1. Hubert Buydens
2. Pat Riordan (Captain)
3. Jason Marshall
4. Brian Erichsen
5. Jamie Cudmore
6. Jebb Sinclair
7. Chauncey O’Toole
8. Aaron Carpenter
9. Sean White
10. Ander Monro
11. James Pritchard
12. Ryan Smith
13. Phil Mackenzie
14. Ciaran Hearn
15. Matt Evans
16. Andrew Tiedemann
17. Scott Franklin
18. Tyler Hotson
19. Nanyak Dala
20. Jamie Mackenzie
21. Nathan Hirayama
22. Conor Trainor