Canada rugby coach Kingsley Jones has been working the phones in recent days, contacting clubs and players in Europe about assembling all his weapons for a crucial World Cup qualifying series against Uruguay.
So far, so good.
Jones and a contingent of domestic-based players left Friday for London and a training camp with his European-based talent.
Overseas pros DTH van der Merwe, Taylor Paris, Jeff Hassler, Tyler Ardron, Matt Heaton, Shane O’Leary, Djustice Sears-Duru, Matt Tierney, Benoit Piffero, Evan Olmstead, Kyle Baillie and Brett Beukeboom have all been included in the camp.
“It’s still a moving picture,” said Jones, his fingers no doubt crossed that his players get through weekend matches.
“Good to see the guys all ready,” he added. “I think everyone understands the importance of these fixtures for us and for Canada. I’ve been really supported by all the club coaches.”
While World Rugby’s Regulation 9 mandates clubs have to release players for World Cup qualifying matches, Jones has been talking to coaches about how much time he can have the players and how much work they will get going into the key international series.
Canada, ranked 21st in the world, stumbled at its first attempt at making the 2019 World Cup when it lost a two-game aggregate series in the summer to the 17th-ranked Americans. The teams tied 28-28 in Hamilton before the U.S. romped to a 52-16 win in San Diego.
That cost coach Mark Anscombe his job and sent the Canadians to a matchup with No. 18 Uruguay with the winner slotting into Pool D along with No. 4 Australia, No. 7 Wales, No 10 Fiji and No. 12 Georgia at the 2019 tournament in Japan.
The Canada-Uruguay loser has one last chance to qualify at a global repechage tournament, with one tournament berth at stake.
Canada hosts Uruguay on Jan. 27 at Vancouver’s B.C. Place Stadium before travelling to Montevideo for the Feb. 3 rematch in the total-points series.
“They’re a really good side,” said Jones, a former Welsh international who took over as Canada coach in September. “They’re confident. They haven’t lost in a long time. They fancy their chances. So it will be a challenge. But you’ve got to be very positive when you’re the coach, but also have respect and be real about the challenge.
“So I’m very confident that we can do the job but we need to go well.”
The London training camp includes a joint training schedule with the English club side Harlequins, along with a controlled game against Oxford.
Ciaran Hearn and Andrew Coe, both injured in Canada’s final November test match against Fiji, along with Conor Trainor and Matt Evans are unavailable due to injury.
But sevens veterans Connor Braid and Admir Cejvanovic are back with the 15s team.
Also in February, the Canadian men will take part in the Americas Rugby Championship along with the U.S. Uruguay, Chile, Brazil and Argentina ‘A.’ The round-robin tournament runs Jan. 27 to March 3 at multiple locations in North and South America.
Canada opens Feb. 10 against the U.S. in Sacramento before hosting Brazil on Feb. 17 at Langford, B.C.. Canada visits Argentina on Feb. 24 and Chile on March 3.
Many of the oveseas pros are likely to return to their clubs after the World Cup qualifying series although Jones said that is up to negotiation.