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European Pro Season Review: Canada

As the European domestic season begins its final run-in towards Cup titles, promotion, and relegation, it’s time to take a look at how the Canadian contingent has been faring and where each player might be headed next season. In general it’s been a slow season for Canadian players in Europe, with injuries taking their toll and others just not getting many opportunities to show their talents. A slew of re-signings will be comforting but there are still some players currently unsigned for next season.

 

AVIVA PREMIERSHIP

Evan Olmstead (Newcastle Falcons) The big second row has proved the signing of the season for Newcastle, starting 14 of their 20 Premiership games to date, and has played a major role in lifting the Falcons into 9th on the table, a height they haven’t achieved since 2010. He is currently contracted through the 2017-18 season and is a good bet to see an extension offered sooner than later.

Connor Braid (Worcester Warriors) Signed a deal until the end of the season following the November tests to help Warriors get through an injury crisis. Despite making an immediate impact and playing well in four European starts, the versatile inside back has been confined to backup duty since, with two recent Aviva ‘A’ League fixtures his only game time since January. A strong game against Leicester reserves last weekend was a good sign he has kept himself in good nick but it looks unlikely to be enough to earn a contract extension at this late stage.

Jake Ilnicki (Northampton Saints) It was welcome news when the incumbent test tighthead was given a Premiership deal until the end of the season in December, but as is the case with Braid, things just haven’t worked out for Ilnicki. After lining up for the Wanderers in ‘A’ League action just hours after landing at Franklin’s Gardens he has played just two games since, both at the reserve grade level. This isn’t necessarily an indictment of Ilnicki’s abilities as Northampton’s selection policies have been questioned for the past couple seasons. It’s not been ideal and it now seems a certainty he will move on to another club next season.

Kyle Baillie (Saracens) His stay in London came to an abrupt end after suffering a shoulder injury at the end of his first game with the club in January. The injury scuppered any chance of a full-time deal either with Sarries or in the Championship, and he has since returned to Canada to recuperate ahead of the June internationals. It will be a surprise if he is not playing as a professional overseas come the fall.

 

GUINNESS PRO 12

Tyler Ardron (Ospreys) It’s been a frustrating year for the Canadian captain who started the season in fine form as first choice No 8 at Ospreys but then suffered a thumb injury that knocked him out for almost four months and required two surgeries to get right. After returning in late January he is back in the match day squad though mostly as a second row or blindside flanker. With his contract up at the end of the season it’s clear he wishes to stay at Ospreys and though negotiations have been ongoing for several months there has yet to be public confirmation of a new deal. It seems most likely the two sides will ultimately come to an agreement but if not there will be no shortage of suitors elsewhere.

Jeff Hassler (Ospreys) Had surgery to correct a shoulder problem earlier in the year and worked hard to be ready for the new season. Started in terrific form but then the injury curse struck again and a torn Achilles in October has ruled him out until the fall. Contracted through the end of next season.

DTH van der Merwe (Scarlets) Shoulder surgery in April delayed his start to the season but he is now back in full flight and remains one of the premier wingers in the Pro 12, as emphasized by his recent hat-trick against Benetton Treviso. Will join Olmstead at Newcastle Falcons next season after signing a three-year deal with the Premiership club.

Djustice Sears-Duru (Glasgow Warriors) Things haven’t quite gone to plan this for one of Canada’s top talents in Glasgow. Signed to a full-time contract after showing off his undoubted athletic abilities while on trial last season, Sears-Duru was barely given a look-in this season, playing only four matches for the senior side including one start. He has been loaned out to Scottish club side Ayr for several games and on Saturday lifted a BT Premiership title after defeating Melrose. He has not been offered a new deal at Warriors and it’s yet to be seen where he ends up next season.

Shane O’Leary (Connacht) The former Canada u20 flyhalf spent his third Pro 12 season as a reserve in the west country and again could not crack the first choice side with concussion sidelining him for several weeks in November. He has most recently been starting for Buccaneers, helping the club achieve promotion to Ulster Bank League Division 1A next season after claiming top spot in Division 1B. Having previously turned down overtures by Canadian selectors to maintain his contractual status at Connacht, the 24-year-old will not be re-signed by the club for next season which now opens the very real possibility of him joining Canada in the June test series.

 

TOP 14

George Barton (Clermont) The boy wonder scored two tries in his maiden test series during the Americas Rugby Championship and has now returned to Clermont’s academy where he is in his second year. Once again he has been a regular in the Espoirs midfield, most recently starting last weekend against Toulon. Still only 19, he should return to the academy next season and will be expected to play a leading role with Canada’s u20 side in the qualifying series against the USA and, with a little luck, in the World Rugby u20 Trophy later this year.

Cam Pierce (Pau) After two years of injury frustrations the 25-year-old second row has opted to step away from the sport for an indefinite period to recover from the lingering effects of a serious concussion. While it is certainly disappointing news for all concerned, there are other avenues he might wish to pursue should a return to playing not materialise down the road. There is no shortage of demand for coaches with professional rugby experience in Canada.

Matt Tierney (Pau) Won his second test cap against Ireland in November and has made a half-dozen appearances for Pau including one start in the Challenge Cup. Took his chance during the ARC as Canada’s starting tighthead and showed off a slightly slimmed-down physique and improved scrum technique that bodes well for the future. In the first year of a three-year academy deal that runs until 2019.

Matt Beukeboom (Pau) Joined the academy program this season and has received rave reviews, earning a three-year extension that will keep him in France until at least 2020. Also got the call to make his test debut in the ARC and even lined up beside brother Brett in two matches. Along with Barton, should be a key man with the u20 side in June having just turned 20 last month.

 

PRO D2

Jamie Cudmore (Oyonnax) In the first year of a four-year deal at his new club, the legendary second row has been in top form and captained the side to within touching distance of an immediate return to the Top 14. The initial suggestion was that he would play for two years before transitioning into full-time coaching, but there is heavy speculation that the 38-year-old will hang up his boots after the June test series. With current forwards coach Adrien Buononato moving up to the Director of Rugby position next season there appears to be a spot earmarked for Cudmore should they achieve promotion.

Taylor Paris (Agen) It’s been a slow year on the score-sheet with only two tries in 14 starts and the left winger has seen his playing time reduced slightly since announcing that he will be moving to Castres on a two-year deal in the off-season. Canadian fans won’t be too concerned having seen his class in full flight during the ARC. After missing the entire season last year with injury, Paris will finally get his chance in the Top 14 come the fall.

Conor Trainor (Vannes) Has taken to French rugby with ease, racking up seven tries in his 21 games. While his form has cooled slightly since January, he remains one of the best attacking midfielders in the Pro D2. After suggestions that a Top 14 contract might be on offer he has instead sprung a surprise by signing with Fédérale 1 side Nevers for next season. This is particularly unusual given that the club are currently in the promotion playoffs and must win the next two games to reach the Pro D2. Of course there’s every reason to believe he has a promotion clause in the contract so this might not be the finished chapter just yet.

Paul Ciulini (Perpignan) Signed on an academy deal after impressing in the ARC, the 21-year-old second row arrived in France but made an abrupt departure without playing any matches, reportedly unimpressed with the conditions upon his arrival. After taking a few months away from the game there are suggestions he could make a return with the Ontario Blues in the near future, good news for Canadian rugby if true.

Andrew Tiedemann (Bourgoin) Under contract at the start of the season and took part in some of the preseason action but the cash-strapped club decided they could not afford the World Cup prop and he was released ahead of the regular season. Currently in Victoria training with the centralized program.

 

GREENE KING IPA CHAMPIONSHIP

Ciaran Hearn (London Irish) Missed the first few weeks of the season with an Achilles injury but recovered in time for the November tests and has now made a dozen appearances for the table-topping Exiles. Recently signed a new two-year contract that will take him through to the 2019 World Cup, with an immediate return to the Aviva Premiership next season looking very likely.

Jebb Sinclair (London Irish) After struggling with a knee injury that kept him out of the June tests, the big bopper made a couple of appearances in the preseason but it proved too early. As a result he missed the November tour as well and only made his return to the side in mid-March. Has now started back-to-back Championship games and could play an important role in the approaching promotion playoffs. Contracted to the end of the 2017-18 season.

Brett Beukeboom (Cornish Pirates) A constant in the side for the past two seasons, the Lindsay native has become one of his side’s most dependable performers. His club season comes to a close this weekend and he will be back in Canada soon to prepare for the June tests. Signed a new contract last week, assumed to be for two years though the length was not made public.

Matt Evans (Cornish Pirates) The dreaded injury demons arose once again for the star fullback as major knee surgery was required in December after an awkward fall against Irish. That put an end to what had been a fine start to the season and also ruled him out of the June test series. He is now eyeing a return ahead of the 2017-18 season. Like Beukeboom, re-signed with Pirates for presumably the next two years.

Aaron Carpenter (Doncaster) Forced to join his third Championship club in a year when London Welsh dissolved but has found success at his new home in Doncaster. Missed two months of action with a broken arm suffered against Ireland in November, he has been a regular starter at No 8 for the Knights since his return in February. His contract runs out at season’s end but fans are hopeful he will return after impressing in his short time at the club.

Tyler Hotson (Richmond) Now retired from international duty, the second row spends his daytime hours as a financial analyst for Goldman Sachs in London while training with part-timers Richmond in the evening. Has had limited involvement appearing in seven games but has played an important role for the club when available. Richmond do not sign players on contract so his status next season should be largely up to him. Recently elected to the Rugby Canada Board of Directors as the Men’s Players Representative.

Richard Townsend (Richmond) Like Hotson, splits his time as a construction manager and rugby player. The former Canada u20 hooker has seen his involvement grow over the season, appearing only twice in the first half of the season but becoming a regular face on the bench since the end of January. Has not been capped at senior level for Canada though at 27 years of age and with professional rugby experience he shouldn’t be ruled out completely just yet.

Justin Blanchet (Bedford Blues) Another who has yet to receive the call from Canada at any senior level, the 23-year-old Montreal native has a stronger professional resume than Townsend but plays a position of relative strength for his home country. Now wrapping up his third season with the Blues after departing from the Exeter Chiefs academy, Blanchet has added bulk to his 1.93m (6’4″) frame this season and continues to be first choice blindside flanker for the East Midlands club. Recently re-signed with Blues for at least one more season.

 

NATIONAL ONE

Matt Heaton (Darlington Mowden Park) Has played a major role for the mid-table side this season, starting at both flanker and No 8. Part of the team that gave unbeaten Hartpury College a run for their money last month. Has added another year to his stay at DMP as he combines his rugby load with a job as a fitness coach. Missed out on the ARC but should be part of the team again for the June internationals.

James Pritchard (Old Albanians) Started the season as a player-coach with Coventry after moving from Bedford Blues, but was unceremoniously discarded in December after the club’s sluggish start to the season. Canada’s all-time points scoring record holder, the 37-year-old has since rebounded with Old Albanians, playing a major role as a player in the second half of the season which included a hat-trick against Blackheath last month. Albanians currently sit just behind DMP in 9th place on the table with two rounds to play.

 

FÉDÉRALE 1

Benoît Pifféro (Blagnac) Returned to BSCR after spending last season with Castanet. Has been in good form this season as first choice hooker with two tries to his name in 13 matches. Won two caps for Canada in the ARC after a year away from the side and should be in contention for the starting hooker role in June. Enters the Round-of-16 for the Jean Prat Trophy this weekend against Cognac.

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Formally created in June 2015, this website's goal is to increase media exposure of the Tier 2 rugby nations, and create a hub with a focus on the stories of rugby in the Americas - North, Central and South.

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