Canadian captain Tyler Ardron will start at number eight for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup (RWC) test match against Italy at Elland Road in Leeds. Ardron was injured during Canada’s Pacific Nations Cup match against Samoa in late July but has now fully recovered to return to his captaincy.
Head coach Kieran Crowley has selected his strongest available side for Saturday’s contest as Canada looks for its first win of the RWC. Italy, who are currently ranked 15th in the world and compete in the Six Nations competition, pose a big opportunity for 18th ranked Canada.
Crowley has also recalled James Pritchard to his 31-man squad after losing Liam Underwood to injury. Pritchard is Canada’s all-time leading points’ scorer with 607 points in 61 test matches, dating back to his debut in 2003. He became the 20th player in test history to score 600 or more points in a career in July when he kicked 10 points during Canada’s match against Samoa at the Pacific Nations Cup in Toronto.
The 36-year-old has competed for Canada in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 editions of the tournament, making this his fourth consecutive appearance. Pritchard joins an elite company in Gareth Rees, Al Charron, Rod Snow, Dave Lougheed, Jamie Cudmore and Mike James having appeared for Canada on four occasions.
Commenting on Saturday’s game, Crowley said. “Starting this weekend we have three games in 11 days, so there’s a short turnaround and we’ve had to manage a few players around selections and injuries, but this team is the strongest available to get the job done on Saturday.
In addition to Ardron’s inclusion, Crowley has made five more changes from his starting XV that lost to Ireland at the Millennium Stadium in front of over 68,000 fans last Saturday.
“I’m excited to make my return to the squad, especially since it’s my Rugby World Cup debut as well. I thought the team played with a lot of passion against Ireland and I’m keen to do my part on Saturday,” said Ardron.
“Italy are a fully professional side and are known for having a strong, physical forward pack so we’re going to have to match them up front,” Ardron said.
Crowley will start with the same front row of Hubert Buydens, Ray Barkwill and Doug Wooldridge. Veteran London Irish player Jebb Sinclair will partner with Clermont Auvergne’s Jamie Cudmore, giving Canada a highly experienced second row pairing.
Pickering, Ontario’s John Moonlight keeps his place at openside flanker and is joined by Nanyak Dala at blindside flanker. This pairing of two normally openside flankers gives Canada outstanding pace and ball-winning ability, an attribute that several teams are employing in this RWC.
At scrum-half, Oakville, Ontario’s Jamie Mackenzie will make his World Cup debut while Richmond’s Nathan Hirayama gets another start at fly-half, after some very impressive periods of play against Ireland.
After scoring against Ireland, DTH van der Merwe will start on the left wing while Phil Mackenzie gets the nod on the right wing. Newfoundland’s Ciaran Hearn will have a new centre partner in Victoria’s Connor Braid while Matt Evans plays at fullback.
The Mackenzie brothers are one of 10 brother pairings at this year’s RWC but are the first set of brothers in Canadian history to start a World Cup match together. The Pletch brothers, Mike and Dan, played in all four of Canada’s games at the 2007 World Cup but came off the bench on each occasion.
Canada opened their World Cup campaign with a 50-7 loss to Ireland, the defending RBS Six Nations champions, while Italy lost their World Cup opener to France 32-10 Saturday at Twickenham.
Although Canada was not happy with the final score line, they did create some good opportunities and have identified the need to finish more clinical and improve accuracy in several areas of the game. The scrum and lineout were solid against Ireland, but the team stresses the need to stop similar threats around the set piece that Italy possess.
Canada is 2-5 all-time against Italy with their last meeting coming in June 2012 where Italy won 25-16 at BMO Field in Toronto. Canada hasn’t beaten Italy since November 2000 and has lost its last four matchups. The two sides have met just once at a previous World Cup in 2003 in Canberra where Italy won 19-14.
Saturday’s match can be seen LIVE on TSN. Kickoff is 9:30 am ET / 6:30 am PT.
(Rugby Canada Release)