Canada will be without injured backs Connor Braid and Jeff Hassler when it faces Uruguay in the second leg of a crucial Rugby World Cup qualifier in Montevideo on Saturday.
Uruguay won the opener of the two-game total-points series by a 38-29 margin last weekend at B.C. Place Stadium. So Canada has to win by 10 points to book its ticket to the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Canada coach Kingsley Jones hopes his team will harness a cauldron of emotions.
“There’s some frustrated people on the room … The general feeling is we didn’t perform to our best and there’s room for improvement in many aspects,” Jones said by way of understatement.
“The challenge is to take our frustration into a positive, improved performance this weekend,” he added.
There is little time to get better. The team has only had three training sessions, with Tuesday’s workout more about acclimatization than anything else.
And after travelling 11,250 kilometres south, Canada has had to battle the heat. Jones said the Canadians trained twice Wednesday in 34 Celsius conditions.
Jones did not have the team practise Thursday to rest some “bruised bodies.”
The Canada coach said his team has to improve on both offence and defence.
“If we improve our performance by 30 per cent, then I believe we can get the result we need,” he said. “It’s just making sure the guys don’t lose confidence, understand that we underperformed and we can improve in a week.”
He said he liked what he saw in training.
“But training on Wednesday morning is not the same as Saturday. We trained reasonably well last week and didn’t perform in the field.”
One goal is to improve line speed on defence, with Jones saying a full-time defence coach is needed in the future.
Canada was already without the injured Matt Evans, Conor Trainor, Kyle Baillie, Ciaran Hearn, Connor Braid, Andrew Coe and Matt Tierney. And the injury list grew in Vancouver.
Braid limped off with a high ankle sprain while Hassler suffered a fractured cheekbone.
Shane O’Leary, who missed the first game through injury, replaces Braid at fly half while Tayor Paris shifts from fullback to wing to fill Hassler’s spot. Brock Staller comes off the bench to start at fullback.
Jones says while O’Leary has not played for several months, he has trained well. He will take over the kicking duties.
Jones expects the Uruguayans to “bring a Cup final performance,” while trying to control the ball and play in Canada’s half.
“Our team is capable of scoring three tries in five minutes … and we need to try and bring that this week.”
Currently ranked 21st in the world, Canada has never missed a Rugby World Cup. But it failed in its first attempt to qualify for the 2019 World Cup, losing to the 17th-ranked U.S. Eagles.
That showing cost Canadian coach Mark Anscombe his job.
Jones says his team’s focus Saturday will be on the win, approaching the game like any other — at least for the opening half. Tactics will be reviewed after the first 40 minutes.
“At the moment we’re 9-0 down at halftime (playing) into the wind,” said Jones. “That’s where it’s at. We can turn that around.”
If beaten by 18th-ranked Uruguay, Canada would have one more chance to qualify via a world repechage tournament.
Hubert Buydens, New Orleans Gold (U.S.), Saskatoon; Ray Barkwill, Seattle Seawolves (U.S.), Niagara Falls, Ont.; Jake Ilnicki, Newcastle Falcons (England), Williams Lake, B.C.; Brett Beukeboom, Cornish Pirates (England), Lindsay, Ont.; Josh Larsen, Northland (New Zealand), Parksville, B.C.; Evan Olmstead, Newcastle Falcons (England), Vancouver; Matt Heaton, Darlington Mowden Park (England), Godmanchester, Que.; Tyler Ardron, Chiefs (New Zealand), Lakefield, Ont.; Phil Mack (capt.), James Bay AA, Victoria; Shane O’Leary, Ealing Trailfinders (England), Cork, Ireland; DTH van der Merwe, Newcastle Falcons (England), Victoria; Nick Blevins, Calgary Hornets, Calgary; Ben LeSage, UBC Thunderbirds, Calgary; Taylor Paris, Castres (France), Barrie, Ont.; Brock Staller, Meralomas RFC, Surrey, B.C.
Benoit Piffero, Blagnac Sporting Club (France), Montreal; Djustice Sears-Duru, Ealing Trailfinders (England), Oakville, Ont.; Cole Keith, James Bay AA, Sussex, N.B.; Admir Cejvanovic, Burnaby Lake RFC, Burnaby, B.C.; Lucas Rumball, Balmy Beach RFC, Mississauga, Ont.; Gordon McRorie, Calgary Hornets, Calgary; Patrick Parfrey, Swilers RFC, St. John’s, N.L.; Kainoa Lloyd, Mississauga Blues, Mississauga, Ont.