Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

PNC Preview – Optimism for Canada

Time to switch our attention from the Rugby Sevens in Canada to 15s and the lead up to Rugby World Cup in September.

Canada’s segue into world cup is the Pacific Nations Cup (PNC), being played starting on Saturday for roughly the next month. The tournament is held mostly in Canada and the US except for a game being held in Fiji, hosting rivals Tonga.

Canada’s matches are not going to be easy ones. Having struggled through much of 2014, their job is going to be to play 80 solid minutes of rugby each and every game, and if they can beat Japan on Saturday in San Jose, California, they will be on the front foot, which the team responds well to going into the next leg. It’s hard to say who will win this one, as both teams tend to fizzle in the second half and either have crackers of a game or not. But I would say that Japan is more inconsistent – though they have definitely been gradually improving as a result of so many professional players doing stints over there and teaching them a lot. My money is on Canada to win this one, because Canada will know they have to come out strong.

6 days later on the 24th Canada is in BC hosting Tonga at Swangard Stadium, and this will be a very tough match up for the boys, but again is winnable for them. First they have the home field advantage, and second they will have had the 6 days to work out the mental kinks that come with playing together internationally for the first time in many months. They will get their heads’ screwed on straight and go to Swangard and let the crowd cheer them to victory.

The 29th in Toronto is more tricky. It’s only 5 days later for one thing, hard on any team, and is against Samoa, which is definitely NOT an easy team to play at the moment (those Pisi’s!). It’s also at the end of a long day of triple header excitement at BMO Field, and most players will tell you that a late match is never the preferred way to go. Although, one positive here is that by 830 the home crowd will be primed, settled in their seats, and should be loud and supportive for the team. That may make a difference.

The players that will make a difference will be the inclusion of the handful of internationals back in the fold. They are fit and closer to the game-day mindset that will come slowly to those who haven’t played as regularly as the summer progresses. Yes the CRC was important game-time for many of the others, and they are all playing at club level as well. But we know as well as they do that it isn’t the same pressure or the same level of adrenaline.

Today it was rumoured (from good sources) that the Big Bear Jamie Cudmore is back with the team. There is no argument that he is one of the long-standing players that makes a difference to the squad on and off the pitch. He’s got experience and wisdom, and hey, I’d listen to him on the field. Sadly, the rumours have proven to be false, and Jamie is not scheduled to play with the squad for the Pacific Nations Cup. Whether or not he makes the World Cup is another hope. And something we will know down the road.

Jeff Hassler and DTH Van Der Merwe had incredible seasons, if not hard on them physically. If both of them are as sharp as they were in their professional teams then they are a definite asset to help Canada score those all-important tries. Other pros are a little less certain, with Jebb Sinclair recovering and Phil Mackenzie missing a lot of action this season.

Tyler Ardron is now in his second year at the helm as Captain. I am confidant that his players player of the year award at Ospreys is tantamount to the person and the player that he is. He made us proud captaining Ospreys as well this past season. He’s a great player, incredible tackler, usually keeps his discipline well in check, and is a good playmaker. He has the respect of the players which is important in the locker room before the match. Connor Braid and Liam Underwood appear ready to have great tournaments, as do Brett Beukeboom, Aaron Carpenter, and Ciaran Hearn.

Richard Thorpe was to be a great addition to the team but that has yet to materialize, mostly because the team just hasn’t had the time for it to happen. This series will be telling. If Thorpe’s going to make a difference come world cup time, we will know by August 3 when the PNC wraps up in Burnaby.

The new caps going into the tournament are all great players and are ready to play their part to victory. Thyssen de Goede is definitely one to watch.

The other great news is that the line-up was just announced and all those amazing 7s players that we’ve been celebrating are back in the fold, from John Moonlight, Nathan Hirayama, Conor Trainor, to the fan-favourites Phil Mack and and Harry Jones. This is especially great news because these boys have already been playing as a team, so they are going to bring back a level of comfort to the fold.

The only thing is that Sean Duke and Sean White weren’t mentioned, even as unavailable due to injury. My guess is that there are only so many spots for scrum halves as far as White is concerned, but not sure about the story with Duke.

I mentioned discipline. We have to watch ours. The boys can’t get sloppy and give up territory with silly calls for obstruction or not rolling away. They have to stay on their feet, and keep the flow of play going. If they can do that, for 80 solid minutes, I don’t think it’s overly optimistic of me to say that I think Canada can manage a good showing on the Tournament.

If Canada plays the PNC well, it will buoy them up fantastically going into September. They are a group of guys who want it very much. If their will can compensate for the fact that they don’t play together as often as they should, then pretty much anything can happen.

Right now let’s just hope for a couple of steps up the world ranking ladder. 17 when in recent history they were 14 and holding for a good while is a hard pill to swallow. Ideally we would like to finish the year in a better position. The next few months will determine if that can happen.

Of course, I’ve put the cart before the horse. First, Ardron and team has to beat Japan on Saturday.

Will they do it? Yes I truly believe they will.


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