July 16th, 2024

Canadian men’s rugby team continues learning curve as it hosts physical Romania


By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on July 10, 2024.

Canada's Jason Higgin (9) tackles Scotland's Gus Warr (9) during the second half of men's rugby action in Ottawa on Saturday, July 6, 2024. After being battered 73-12 by sixth-ranked Scotland, the Canadian men's rugby team looks to regroup against No. 20 Romania on Friday in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The learning continues for the Canadian men’s rugby team as it turns its focus to 20th-ranked Romania on Friday after being battered 73-12 by sixth-ranked Scotland.

The heavy defeat in front of an announced crowd of 11,447 at Ottawa’s TD Place dropped Canada one spot to No. 22 in the world rankings, sandwiched between Chile and Namibia. On the plus side, six players won their first caps for Canada and another four could make their test debut Friday at the same venue.

Such experience is valuable for players making the jump from Major League Rugby to the test arena.

“It’s a huge step up physically,” said Canada coach Kingsley Jones.

He noted his team’s short preparation time ahead of the Scotland game.

“We had about four hours and 10 minutes together on the training field. And to improve and change habits in defence in that period of time – the defence coaches probably had about 80 minutes with the players on the field – it’s really difficult,” he said.

“But we will make big improvements in that area,” he added. “Defence is the obvious area where we have to get better. And it just takes time. We’ve got players from different systems all around the MLR who are not used to playing at that speed under pressure.”

Romania, surviving two yellow cards, is coming off a 22-20 win over the 18th-ranked U.S., 22-20 in Bridgeview, Ill., on Friday.

“I expect a physical battle,” said Jones, who saw plenty of the Romanians during his coaching stint with Russia.

“They enjoy the confrontational side of the game, particularly (the) scrum and maul,” he added. “They also have some very good and very physical backs.”

Canada led Scotland 5-0 early but trailed 24-5 at the break. Scotland, which left several of its top players at home, then won the second half by a 49-7 margin, finishing with 11 tries.

“I think the scoreboard flattered them a little but ultimately the scoreboard doesn’t lie,” said Jones. “Just a couple of soft tries.”

Jones drew satisfaction from the Canadians’ discipline, conceding just six penalties, and their performance in the scrum and lineout. But he also thought they left two or three tries out there after handling errors near the Scottish try-line.

“But I compliment the payers for getting into those positions in the first place,” he added.

Captain Lucas Rumball and Kyle Baillie scored tries for Canada.

“It was a great arena to play in,” Jones said of TD Place. “The support was fantastic.

“I don’t think the players let them down in terms of their effort and commitment. Well, I know they didn’t because the numbers show me so from GPS. It was a big effort.”

Nic Benn, Brock Gallagher, James Stockwood, Jesse Mackail and twins Talon and Takoda McMullin all made their Canada debut against Scotland with Benn starting and the other five coming in off the bench. Takoda McMullin became the 500th men’s player to earn a cap for Canada.

Talon McMullin moves into the starting lineup at inside centre for the Romania game, shifting veteran Ben LeSage to outside centre. Mitch Richardson drops out of the matchday squad after injuring his shoulder against the Scots.

Benn retains his spot in the starting 15.

The bench includes debutants Dewald Kotze (Dallas Jackals), Calixto Martinez (Old Glory DC), Ethan Fryer (New England Free Jacks) and Mark Balaski (Pacific Pride).

Romania won 25-9 the last time the two met, in June 2017 in Edmonton and has emerged victorious in the last six games since a pair of Canada wins in the 1991 and 1995 World Cup.

The Scotland game was the first for the Canadians since a 40-15 win on Nov. 18 over No. 29 Brazil that snapped a four-game losing streak. Canada hasn’t beaten a team ranked in the top 20 since it defeated the United States 34-21 in September 2021.

Canada is 4-7-0 since its failed qualification bid for the 2023 World Cup, the first time it missed out on the tournament.

The Americans host Scotland on Friday in Washington, D.C.

Canada Roster

Liam Murray, Langley, B.C., Dallas Jackals (MLR); Andrew Quattrin, Holland Landing, Ont., New England Free Jacks (MLR); Conor Young, Yamba, Australia, RFC LA (MLR); Conor Keys, Stittsville, Ont., New England Free Jacks (MLR); Kyle Baillie, Summerside, P.E.I., New England Free Jacks (MLR); Mason Flesch, Cobourg, Ont., Chicago Hounds (MLR); Lucas Rumball, Toronto, Chicago Hounds (MLR); Siaki Vikilani, Vancouver, Clifton Rugby Club (New Zealand); Jason Higgins, Cork, Ireland, Chicago Hounds (MLR); Peter Nelson, Dungannon, Northern Ireland, Dungannon RFC (Northern Ireland); Nic Benn, Caves Beach, Australia, Dallas Jackals (MLR); Talon McMullin, White Rock, B.C., Vancouver Highlanders; Ben LeSage, Calgary, New England Free Jacks (MLR); Andrew Coe, Markham, Ont., RFC LA (MLR); Cooper Coats, Halifax, Canada sevens.

Replacements

Dewald Kotze, Edmonton, Dallas Jackals (MLR); Calixto Martinez, White Rock, B.C., Old Glory DC (MLR); Cole Keith, Apohaqui, N.B., New England Free Jacks (MLR); James Stockwood, Bowmanville, Ont., Pacific Pride; Ethan Fryer, Seattle, New England Free Jacks (MLR); Brock Gallagher, Edmonton, Dallas Jackals (MLR); Mark Balaski, Castlebar, Ireland, Pacific Pride; Takoda McMullin, White Rock, B.C., Vancouver Highlanders.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 10, 2024

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