Canada's Roster Takes Shape

Now that the MLR season has wrapped up it is time to focus on the international calendar. It will be a busy summer for Team Canada as they prepare for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. Up first will be the Pacific Nations Cup. Canada will take on the USA, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and RWC hosts Japan in a cross-pool formatted tournament. Canada will be placed in Pool B and face Tonga, Fiji, and USA in the tournament. The winner of the PNC will be the team with the most points after 3 games. Canada will open the tournament with a match against the USA Eagles on July 27th, 2019 at Infinity Park in Glendale. On Tuesday afternoon Head Coach Kingsley Jones announced the 44-man extended squad for the tournament.

The influence of the MLR and the Toronto Arrows is all over this roster. Of the 44 players, 26 currently ply their trade in MLR. Of those 26, 13 of them play for the Arrows. The rest of the squad is a mix of amateurs and overseas professionals. The 44-man roster as selected by Kingsley Jones is as follows:

Forwards:

Tyler Ardron (Chiefs), Kyle Baillie (NOLA Gold), Noah Barker (Glendale Raptors), Justin Blanchet (Unattached), Rob Brouwer (Toronto Arrows), Hubert Buydens (NOLA Gold), Luke Campbell (Toronto Arrows), Paul Ciulini (Toronto Arrows), Dustin Dobravsky (Castaway Wanderers), Matt Heaton (Darlington Mowden Park), Eric Howard (NOLA Gold), Jake Ilnicki (Seattle Seawolves), Cole Keith (Toronto Arrows), Conor Keys (Unattached), Josh Larsen (Austin Elite Rugby), Travis Larsen (Austin Elite Rugby), Evan Olmstead (Unattached), Nakai Penny (Seattle Seawolves), Benoit Piffero (Blagnac SCR), Andrew Quattrin (Toronto Arrows), Lucas Rumball (Toronto Arrows), Djustice Sears-Duru (Seattle Seawolves), Mike Sheppard (Toronto Arrows), Matt Tierney (Unattached)

Backs:

George Barton (Seattle Seawolves), Nick Blevins (Calgary Hornets), Guiseppe du Toit (Toronto Arrows), Andrew Ferguson (Toronto Arrows), Doug Fraser (Austin Elite Rugby), Jeff Hassler (Seattle Seawolves), Ciaran Hearn (Unattached), Ben LeSage (Calgary Canucks), Kainoa Lloyd (Toronto Arrows), Phil Mack (Seattle Seawolves), Jamie Mackenzie (Toronto Arrows), Gordon McRorie (Calgary Hornets), Dan Moor (Toronto Arrows), Peter Nelson (Unattached), Shane O’Leary (Nottingham Rugby), Patrick Parfrey (Toronto Arrows), Taylor Paris (Castres Olympiques), Conor Trainor (USON Nevers), DTH van der Merwe (Glasgow Warriors)

The most notable omission is Seattle Seawolves winger Brock Staller. With 6 tries, 48 conversions, and 26 penalties for 204 total points, Staller was the leading scorer in Major League Rugby this season. Although Canada has plenty of depth on the wing it’s still surprising to see Staller excluded from the squad. Staller also leads the league in kicking percentage. Canada does have other options for goal kicking such as Ciaran Hearn, Shane O’Leary, and Gordon McRorie. O’Leary actually leads the RFU Championship with 186 points this year. However, with the year Staller has had it is very surprising that Jones isn’t even willing to give him a chance to prove himself. Other wingers (or guys that can play wing) in the squad include Dan Moor, Jeff Hassler, Taylor Paris, Conor Trainor, DTH van der Merwe, and Kainoa Lloyd. Paris and van der Merwe are locks for the RWC squad making this a very challenging team to make for the rest of the wingers. Lloyd will understand this challenge well as he struggled to earn an Arrows’ starters jersey behind Moor, Avery Oitomen, and Uruguayan Leandro Leivas all season. Much like the Arrows, Canada’s wing is one of their deeper positions, but to excluded Staller is shocking.

After being an absolute beast for the Toronto Arrows all year, Rob Brouwer has made the 44-man squad. After not being selected for the ARC team, Brouwer has put together a stellar campaign in blue and white. He is the most in-form loosehead on the roster right now and has truly played his way onto this squad. As the MLR season wore on, it became clear that the Arrows had one of the best scrums in the league. The scrum was a major reason for the club’s success this season. Jones was clearly paying attention to this and has included nearly the whole Arrows pack on the squad. Andrew Quattrin, Cole Keith, Mike Sheppard, Paul Ciulini, Lucas Rumball, and Luke Campbell all join Brouwer in the squad. Of course, the pack will receive some reinforcements from overseas professionals such as Benoit Piffero, Evan Olmstead and Tyler Ardron to reinforce it. Ardron, the only Canadian currently playing in Super Rugby was also named Captain with Phil Mack and Lucas Rumball serving as Vice-Captains.

A notable addition to the squad is former Ulster utility back Peter Nelson. Nelson qualifies for Canada based on his heritage. He is capable of playing fullback and flyhalf. Flyhalf has been a difficult position for Canada to fill lately, so perhaps Nelson can inject some new life into the position.

Lucas Rumball’s inclusion in the squad could suggest that his knee injury will be healed up by the time the PNC rolls around. Theo Sauder is still dealing with a shoulder injury and was not included in the squad.

The Pacific Nations Cup will get underway on July 27th when Canada battles the USA Eagles.

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