Phil Mack and Nick Blevins will mark a milestone Saturday, earning their 50th caps when Canada hosts Scotland in an international rugby test match at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.
But coach Kingsley Jones will be without star forward Tyler Ardron and versatile back Gord McRorie. Ardron, who can play at lock or in the back row, failed concussion protocol from a head blow sustained playing for the Chiefs in New Zealand.
“So there’s no doubt on that one. We’ve pulled him out, (we’ll) see how he goes next week,” said Jones, referring to the June 16 test against Russia in Ottawa.
McRorie, who can play scrum half or fly half, injured his ankle in training this week.
“For us it’s almost like losing two players in one, the ability to play (No.) 9 and 10,” Jones said of McRorie, who can also handle kicking duties.
Mack, a former team captain, starts at scrum half in McRorie’s absence while Luke Campbell draws in at No. 8.
Captain DTH van der Merwe, Canada’s all-time leading try-scorer, and Jeff Hassler provide punch on the wing. Shane O’Leary starts at fly half with 22-year-old UBC standoff Theo Sauder possibly making his test debut off the bench.
The hard-running Blevins starts at inside centre with the versatile Patrick Parfrey at fullback.
At No. 6 in the world, the Scots are the highest-ranked opposition the Canadians will face in the June internationals. Canada, currently ranked 21st, faces No. 19 Russia before taking on the 15th-ranked U.S. Eagles in Halifax on June 23 in Halifax.
Ardron is slated to leave before the Halifax test to rejoin the Chiefs, who play the Highlanders on June 30 in a Super Rugby match in Suva, Fiji.
Canada is using the June internationals to gear up for a key World Cup qualifying repechage tournament in November, its third and last chance to qualify for the 2019 showcase in Japan.
The Scottish touring side is missing some big names with Six Nations captain John Barclay, star fly half Finn Russell, scrum half Greig Laidlaw and lock Jonny Gray among those left at home. Richie Gray, Huw Jones, Hamish Watson and W.P. Nel are injured.
Still the Scots are a fully professional side, unlike Canada. Edinburgh lock Grant Gilchrist, winning his 23rd cap, captains the tourists.
Canada has the edge in experience with 341 caps spread out among its starting 15. The Scottish starters have just 177 combined caps with 10 players yet to reach double digits in test appearances.
The Scots are no strangers to each other, however. Seventeen of the matchday 23 play for either Edinburgh or the Glasgow Warriors.
The Canadian side is not getting much respect from at least one corner.
“This Canada side are a poor crew, but even still, the side (Scotland coach Gregor) Townsend has picked to play against them is even more experimental than we might have imagined,” Tom English of BBC Scotland wrote this week.
Harlequins centre James Lang is set to earn his first cap in a Scottish backline that has just 56 caps, with 32 of those belonging to fly half Ruaridh Jackson.
Adam Hastings, the 21-year-old son of former Scotland star Gavin Hastings, could make his debut off the bench.
The eight Scottish replacement players have 48 combined caps with 36 of those belonging to Ali Price and Mark Bennett. Canada’s bench has 77 caps, with Djustice Sears-Duru having 38 of those.
After Canada, Scotland plays the U.S. in Houston on June 16 and No. 9 Argentina in Resistencia on June 23.
Scotland leads the series 3-2-0, winning the last meeting 19-17 on a controversial late penalty at BMO Field in 2014. Canada’s wins both came at home — 26-23 in Vancouver in 2002 and 24-19 in Saint John in 1991.
While the Scots dropped one spot in the most recent World Rugby rankings, they are a team on the rise with recent wins over England and Australia. They lost 22-17 to top-ranked New Zealand in November.
Commonwealth Stadium hosted men’s Churchill Cup fixtures in 2004, 2005 and 2006 as well as the final, third-place and fifth-place matches in the 2006 Women’s Rugby World Cup.
Noan Barker, Ray Barkwill, Jake Ilnicki, Paul Ciulini, Evan Olmstead, Lucas Rumball, Matt Heaton, Luke Campbell, Phil Mack, Shane O’Leary, DTH van der Merwe (capt.), Nick Blevins, Doug Fraser, Jeff Hassler, Pat Parfrey.
Eric Howard, Djustice Sears-Duru, Cole Keith, Conor Keys, Duston Dobravsky, Andrew Ferguson, Cole Davis, Theo Sauder.
Allan Dell, Edinburgh, Fraser Brown, Glasgow Warriors; Simon Berghan, Edinburgh; Ben Toolis, Edinburgh; Grant Gilchrist (capt.), Edinburgh; Magnus Bradbury, Edinburgh; Jamie Ritchie, Edinburgh; David Denton, Leicester Tigers; Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Scarlets; Ruaridh Jackson, Glasgow Warriors; Byron McGuigan, Sale Sharks; James Lang, Harlequins; Chris Harris, Newcastle Falcons; Lee Jones, Glasgow Warriors; Blair Kinghorn, Edinburgh.
George Turner, Glasgow Warriors; Jamie Bhatti, Glasgow Warriors; Murray McCallum, Edinburgh; Lewis Carmichael, Edinburgh; Luke Hamilton, unattached; Ali Price, Glasgow Warriors; Adam Hastings, Glasgow Warriors; Mark Bennett, Edinburgh.