Despite having only played two games since the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Canada, 22nd, opens qualifying for the 2023 tournament on Saturday against the American Eagles, 16th.
The game in St. John’s kicks off a cumulative two-legged streak that ends a week later in Glendale, Colo. The winner will face Uruguay’s No.17 in early October to see who qualifies as Americas 1 and place in Pool A at the 2023 World Cup in France alongside No.2 New Zealand, No.5. France, n ° 14 for Italy and Africa 1.
The Canadian-American loser still has a chance to progress but faces a more complicated qualifying journey.
The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the international rugby calendar, with Canadian men’s solitary action suffering unbalanced defeats in July to No.9 Wales (68-12) and No.3 England (70-14) ) since falling 66-7 to eventual champion South Africa at the World Cup in Japan on October 8, 2019.
The Americans also suffered from food shortages, beaten 43-29 by England and 71-10 by No.4 Ireland in July in their only outings since the World Cup.
Both teams rely heavily on Major League Rugby teams
Canada’s 30-man roster includes 23 MLR players, including 12 from the Toronto Arrows. Two other players, mainstay Jake Ilnicki (unattached) and full-back Kainoa Lloyd (James Bay AA) have already played in MLR.
Only opener Peter Nelson (Stade Aurillacois Cantal Auvergne, France) and pillar Matt Tierney (Castres Olympique, France) play professionally in Europe.
The 31-player US roster includes 23 MLRs and six players based in Europe. Flyback AJ MacGinty, who plays at his rugby club for England’s Sale Sharks, is the Eagles captain.
Both teams have faced complications from COVID in addition to the usual difficulties securing the release of players from foreign clubs and injury issues.
“As a coach the biggest challenges are the uncontrollable ones and having the wisdom not to focus on the uncontrollable ones or paying attention to them,” said Canada coach Kingsley Jones. “The uncontrollable ones as a coach are at least 50% – injuries, the weather, the referee’s decisions.
“And now you’re adding the mix of COVID as well. Wow, you need a lot of luck, you need a lot of things to go your way – in terms of recruiting players, players in time to prepare, players with the discipline to comply with COVID restriction rules . “
Canada is deprived of foreign pros Tyler Ardron, Evan Olmstead, Shane O’Leary, Will Percillier and Taylor Paris. All five play in France with Ardron at Castres Olympique, Olmstead at Biarritz Olympique, O’Leary at Rouen, Percillier at Stade Français and Paris at Oyonnax.
O’Leary and Paris are injured. Ardron, who captained Canada at the 2019 World Cup, is pushing his way through COVID regulations and may be ready in the future. Olmstead and Percillier stay with their clubs.
The Canadian team is one for the future with 12 players born in 1997 or later. There are four uncapped players: Mason Flesch, Jason Higgins and Spencer Jones of the Toronto Arrows and Brock Webster of the Canada Sevens program.
While the number of COVID cases in Newfoundland and Labrador is low compared to other jurisdictions, Canadian players are working from a bubble to keep everyone safe. This means that there isn’t much to do outside of the hotel, with visits to local establishments prohibited.
Wednesday was a day off for the players, who basically had to stay at their hotel.
“There are worse things in life, but when we’ve been together for two weeks it’s nice for the guys to go out, get some fresh air, do their thing,” Jones said. “I like jogging on my day off, but I won’t be able to either. “
“We’re here to do a job,” Jones added. “The players were remarkable joining it. “
The loser Canada-U.S. Will face No.28 Chile in a home and away match in October. 3 England, 7 Argentina, 10 Japan and 13 Samoa.
The loser of this elimination has one more chance to join them via the draft.
Uruguay qualified to face the winner Canada-United States by finishing first in a three-team South American tournament against Chile and Brazil, second.
The Canadian men have never missed a World Cup, managing to secure their ticket in the first stage of qualifying until the last time. Canada reached the 2019 tournament the hard way, winning a four-team draft after losing the playoffs to the United States (80-44 overall) and Uruguay (70-50 overall).