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Canada faces key rugby summer schedule

The Canadian Press

5/22/2013 3:11:19 PM

Coach Kieran Crowley and the Canadian rugby team are about to embark on a key summer, one that will sorely test their resources and ultimately determine whether Canada returns to the Rugby World Cup.

The former All Black has more than 40 players at his disposal, but some are injured or still playing for their club sides in Europe. Given the sport's nature in Canada, others are juggling work commitments.

Canada -- ranked 13th in the world -- faces seven test matches over the next 13 weeks, an itinerary that will take the team to Edmonton, Ottawa, Kingston and Toronto before jetting off to Nagoya, Japan, and then heading to Charleston, S.C., and finally Toronto again.

There are three-day and four-day turnarounds, a brutal schedule for a punishing sport like rugby.

The journey starts and ends with the U.S. Eagles, but in two different capacities.

Saturday's game in Edmonton against the 17th-ranked Eagles marks the start of the newly expanded Pacific Nations Cup, part of the International Rugby Board's bid to boost competition for so-called Tier 2 nations.

Canada continues play in the five-team tournament June 5 in Ottawa against No. 16 Fiji and June 8 in Kingston, Ont. against No. 9 Tonga. The competition wraps with a June 19 visit to No. 14 Japan.

"We've been fighting for these sorts of tournaments," said Crowley. "Anything we can get like this is great. Even if the schedule's difficult, it allows us to develop depth.

"It's not all about the results, these sort of tournaments. You obviously go out and you try there and win but with no professional competition in Canada we don't get the chance to expose our boys to this sort of level ... We want as much of this sort of rugby as we can get."

The world rankings of the Pacific Island nations can be misleading, given they often play Tier 1 nations, says Crowley.

"All their players play in the European (club) competitions," he noted. "So they all have a little bit more structure around their training regime and diet etc. We're improving, I think, but so is everyone else and they're going to be a massive challenge for us."

The game in Nagoya is sandwiched between a June 15 match in Toronto against No. 8 Ireland and an August home-and-away World Cup qualifying series with the U.S. The two-game total-points qualifier opens Aug. 17 in Charleston and concludes Aug. 24 at Toronto's BMO Field.

The visiting Irish side will be missing nine stars who will be touring Australia with the British and Irish Lions, as well as several injured players, but will still be a formidable opponent.

The Canadian coach is having to manage his resources, with a few serious injuries cutting into his roster.

Conor Trainor is recovering from a broken leg while star back DTH van der Merwe had an ankle operation and Jeff Hassler was hurt on the last stop of the world sevens circuit.

The Canadian coach hopes to be reunited with London Irish forward Jebb Sinclair and Bedford Blues fullback James Pritchard for the game in Kingston.

Lock forward Jamie Cudmore was expected to play Saturday for Clermont-Auvergne in the Top 14 semifinals in France but has been ruled out with a hand fracture.

London Welsh back Phil Mackenzie will miss the first few weeks of the summer action due to injury.

Canada's impressive showing on the world sevens circuit is both a plus and a minus for Crowley, who has to manage the sevens players' time after a long run in the increasingly physical series.

Sevens players Sean Duke (recovering from injury) and Nathan Hirayama (work) will miss the Edmonton game.

"We're being flexible with these guys," said Crowley. "They do have lives outside rugby."

Complicating matters are the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy, which runs May 28 to June 9 in Chile, and the Rugby World Cup Sevens, slated for June 28-30 in Moscow. Crowley will lose talent to both.

Canada isn't the only Pacific Nations Cup team with some scheduling concerns. Fiji hosts Japan on June 1 and then must travel 14 time zones to face Canada on June 5 in Ottawa.

After hosting Ireland at Toronto's BMO Field on June 15, Canada travels 13 times zones to Nagoya for a June 19 date with Japan.

"It's the same for everyone," said Crowley. "Most teams are having one turnaround like that, with a bit of travel involved.

"It is what it is. You just have to manage it."

Should Canada failed to beat the U.S. in the August World Cup qualifying series, it will have two more chances to move on, either in a playoff with a South American team or via a last-chance repechage.

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Canada lineup vs. U.S. (with club side and hometown)

Hubert Buydens, Saskatoon Wild Oats; Ray Barkwill, Oakville Crusaders, Niagara Falls, Ont.; Jason Marshall, Atlantique Stade Rochelais (France), Vancouver; Brett Beukeboom, Plymouth Albion (England), Lindsay, Ont.; Tyler Hotson, London Scottish (England), Vancouver; Tyler Ardron, Brantford Harlequins, Lakefield, Ont,; John Moonlight, James Bay AA, Pickering, Ont.; Aaron Carpenter (capt.), Cornish Pirates (England), Brantford, Ont.; Sean White, James Bay AA, Victoria; Harry Jones, Capilano RFC, Vancouver; Taylor Paris, Glasgow Warriors (Scotland), Barrie, Ont.; Pat Parfrey, Swilers RFC, St. John's, N.L.; Nick Blevins, Calgary Hornets, Calgary; Ciaran Hearn, Castaway Wanderers, Conception Bay, N.L.; Connor Braid, Doncaster Knights (England), Victoria

Reserves

Ryan Hamilton, Capilano RFC, Vancouver; Andrew Tiedemann, FC Auch Gers (France), St. Albert, Alta.; Doug Wooldridge, Lindsay RFC, Lindsay, Ont.; Jon Phelan, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Montreal; Cameron Pierce, Section Paloise (France), Coldstream, B.C.; Nanyak Dala, Castaway Wanderers, Saskatoon; Phil Mack, UVIC Vikes, Victoria; Liam Underwood, Queens University, Toronto.

U.S. Eagles

Tom Coolican, Todd Clever (capt.), Peter Dahl, Brian Doyle, Zach Fenoglio, Eric Fry, Troy Hall, Graham Harriman, Luke Hume, Seamus Kelly, Toby L'Estrange, Mike MacDonald, Liam Murphy, James Paterson, Shawn Pittman, John Quill, Chris Saint, Blaine Scully, Robbie Shaw, Adam Siddall, Louis Stanfill, Andrew Suniula, Phil Thiel, Nick Wallace.