Canada and the U.S. have authored vastly different stories against the same teams during the June rugby international series.
The 15th-ranked U.S. Eagles began by thumping No. 19 Russia 62-13 before edging a young Scottish side 30-29 to notch their first win over a Tier 1 nation in 94 years.
Canada, meanwhile, was beaten 48-10 by No. 7 Scotland in Edmonton and then came apart in a lopsided 43-20 loss to Russia in Ottawa last Saturday. As a consequence, the Canadian men have dropped one spot to No. 22 in the world rankings.
“It was pretty disappointing,” Canada coach Kingsley Jones said of the loss to Russia.
“It was a really poor performance in many many aspects. Young guys didn’t quite go as expected but the experienced players didn’t help them. And we came second in every aspect. It was a shock, really, to be honest with you.”
It doesn’t get any easier Saturday in Halifax where a strong U.S. side will be looking to extend its record winning streak to seven test matches.
“Let’s hope there’s a bit of a response from the players,” said Jones.
Jones has been without injured veterans Taylor Paris, Matt Evans, Conor Trainor and Ciaran Hearn. Captain Tyler Ardron was unable to contribute after failing concussion protocols while Gord McRorie and DTH van der Merwe went down during the series and Phil Mack’s time with the team was restricted doing to his club coaching duties.
Connor Braid, Admir Cejvanovic and Andrew Coe were with the national sevens squad.
And while Jones had been encouraged by the training ground performance of his domestic players, he knew full well that the jump to the test rugby from the Canadian club stage is huge.
The evidence was plain to see in the 43rd minute when young Canadian fly half Theo Sauder, in his first start, missed touch on a penalty kick with Russia holding a 26-10 lead.
Instead of holding an attacking position with their own throw-in on a lineout at the Russian 22-metre line, the Canadians found themselves losing a game of aerial ping-pong.
The Russians returned a more accurate kick back to Sauder, whose return boot was too long. Russia spun the ball wild and outpaced the lone Canadian defender to score on a grubber kick.
A “killer blow,” said Jones.
The visitors were reduced to 13 men at one point in the second half with a pair of yellow cards, but still romped to victory.
The Canadian defence was ragged and the offence inconsistent with Canadian line breaks often were nullified by handling errors. Jones was also unimpressed by some of his team’s decision-making.
There was good and bad from the 22-year-old Sauder. It’s a measure of Jones’ belief in the UBC player that he left him on to figure things out. He had a quicker hook for the forward pack, sending in subs early to stiffen a poor scrum.
Looking to reverse Canada’s fortunes, Jones has made eight changes — nine if you include a positional switch — to the starting lineup he used against Russia.
Djustice Sears-Duru and Jake Ilnicki come in at prop and Matt Heaton enters the back row.
Only inside centre Nick Blevins and winger Jeff Hassler retain their positions in the backline. Mack — made available for the game by the Seattle Seawolves — and Shane O’Leary come in at scrum half and fly half, respectively, with winger Kainoa Lloyd, outside centre Ben LeSage and fullback Patrick Parfrey joining them. Parfrey missed last week’s game through injury.
Flanker Lucas Rumball retains the captaincy.
Canada can move up to No. 21 in the world rankings with a win.
Saturday’s game is the 60th between the two North American rivals in a series that started with a 17-6 Canada victory in May 1977 in Burnaby, B.C.
Canada leads the overall series 38-19-2, although the American have dominated in recent years with a 7-0-1 record since losing a 13-11 decision at BMO Field in August 2013.
Saturday’s game at Wanderers Ground marks the first test match in Halifax, although there was a World Cup warmup there between Canada and the Glasgow Warriors in August 2015.
Djustice Sears-Duru, unattached, Oakville, Ont; Ray Barkwill, Seattle Seawolves, Niagara Falls, Ont.; Jake Ilnicki, Yorkshire Carnegie (England), Williams Lake, B.C.; Josh Larsen, Otago (New Zealand), Parksville, B.C.; Evan Olmstead, Auckland (New Zealand), Vancouver; Lucas Rumball (capt.), Balmy Beach RFC, Mississauga, Ont.; Matt Heaton, Darlington Mowden Park (England), Godmanchester, Que.; Luke Campbell, James Bay AA, Victoria; Phil Mack, Seattle Seawolves, Victoria; Shane O’Leary, Ealing Trailfinders (England), Cork, Ireland; Kainoa Lloyd, Mississauga Blues, Mississauga, Ont.; Nick Blevins, Calgary Hornets, Calgary; Ben LeSage, UBC Thunderbirds, Calgary; Jeff Hassler, unattached, Okotoks, Alta.; Pat Parfrey, Swilers RFC, St. John’s, N.L.
Eric Howard, New Orleans Gold, Ottawa; Noah Barker, James Bay AA, Courtenay, B.C.; Ryan Kotlewski, Westshore RFC, Calgary; Paul Ciulini, Aurora Barbarians, Vaughan, Ont.; Dustin Dobravsky, Castaway Wanderers, Hanover, Germany; Jorden Sandover-Best, UBC Old Boys, Abbotsford, B.C.; Guiseppe du Toit, UVIC Vikes, Maple Ridge, B.C.; Theo Sauder, UBC Thunderbirds, Vancouver.
Eric Fry, Vannes (France); Dylan Fawsitt, Glendale Raptors; Paul Mullen, Houston SaberCats; Samu Manoa, Toulon (France); Nick Civetta, Newcastle Falcons (England); Ben Landry, Glendale Raptors; Hanco Germishuys, Austin Elite; Cam Dolan, San Diego Legion; Shaun Davies, Glendale Raptors; A.J. MacGinty, Sale Sharks (England); Nate Augspurger, San Diego Legion; Paul Lasike, Utah Warriors; Marcel Brache, Perth/Western Force (Australia); Blaine Scully (capt.), Cardiff Blues (Wales); Will Hooley, Bedford Blues (England).
Chris Baumann, Leicester Tigers (England); Titi Lamositele, Saracens (England); Olive Kilifi, Seattle Seawolves; Greg Peterson, Glasgow Warriors (Scotland); Vili Toluta’u, Seattle Seawolves; Ruben de Haas, Free State Cheetahs (South Africa); Will Magie, Glendale Raptors; Bryce Campbell, Glendale Raptors.