A game many months in the making will at last come to fruition on Saturday when the Ontario Blues welcome the Glendale Raptors to Sherwood Forest Park. It’s a meeting that invites intrigue on many levels, with implications beyond that of your average pre-season encounter. This is the second match of the season for the Blues, who defeated Old Blue in a close contest at Randall’s Island three weeks ago. The Raptors, meanwhile, are well into their season, having won all 10 of their fixtures to date split between the place-holder Major Rugby Championship and a series of ‘friendlies’.
What makes this match compelling is that if offers something until now unseen. The winners of the 2016 Canadian Rugby Championship will face off against the 2016 Pacific Rugby Premiership champions. Of course the PRP is not the only show in town in the United States, and last year was undoubtedly dominated by the rise and fall of PRO Rugby. The professional competition delivered their own champion in the end, the Denver Stampede, a team drawn largely from the Raptors. Seven of those Stampeders will take the field for Glendale on Saturday.
With at least a dozen players split between the two sides certain of taking part in the upcoming June test series there will be keen interest from the international selectors, but also from others in the periphery. Glendale is one of nine clubs thus far confirmed for Major League Rugby and one of the driving forces behind the professional startup that will open shop in spring of 2018. As of yet there are no Canadian franchises involved but discussions will surely be part of the post-game festivities and a strong performance from the Blues would only enhance their resume.
Leading the way for the Blues is veteran Lindsay prop Rob Brouwer, who is joined by five other members of Canada’s 2017 Americas Rugby Championship squad in the run-on side. Hooker Eric Howard, flanker Lucas Rumball, and outside backs Kainoa Lloyd, Dan Moor, and Rory McDonell all earned test starts in South America. Goal-kicking halfback Andrew Ferguson will be a key figure having impressed in the 2016 ARC, while three international forwards are set to make an impact from the bench in prop Djustice Sears-Duru, second row Paul Ciulini, and loose forward Andrew Wilson. Sears-Duru returns after spending the season under contract with Glasgow Warriors.
The rest of the team is composed of Canada ‘A’, u20, and Ontario University All-Star selections. Former Leicester Tigers Academy back row Seb Pearson will start his first match in nearly two years after missing the entire 2016 season with injury. Second row Mike Sheppard was called up for the Americas Pacific Challenge in October, where he joined up with Brouwer, Rumball, Ferguson, Lloyd, Moor, and McDonell in Montevideo. Set to make his first appearance for the Blues is Bristol-born Alex Colborne, selected as a midfielder but chosen as a flanker for Canada u20 against Romania in March of 2015.
Glendale arrive without former Eagles Zach Fenoglio and Peter Dahl as well as prominent utility forward Logan Collins, but still feature an impressive roster with all six players named to John Mitchell’s USA team for the upcoming internationals present. New signing Bryce Campbell is the only one not in the starting lineup but is sure to make a big impact in the midfield when he steps on the pitch. It’s an area of considerable strength for the Raptors with both centers, Ata Malifa and skipper Chad London, also capped internationals. Outside them Dustin Croy, Seth Halliman, and Maximo de Achaval offer plenty of speed with Junior All-American, Eagles 7s, and USA Select XV selections under their belt.
A trio of PRO standouts will combine in the all-important 8-9-10 axis with Sacramento Express captain John Quill, Ohio Aviators counterpart Shaun Davies, and Denver Stampede conductor Will Magie tasked with steering the ship. Eagles prop Ben Tarr anchors the scrum at tighthead with the enormous figures of Casey Rock and Ben Landry behind in the engine room. Landry is back in the picture after spending a year away from the sport to pursue an NFL contract that didn’t quite materialize. Another impressive physical specimen is flanker Brian Wanless who made two appearances for the Stampede after only taking up rugby five years ago in college.
The good news for those unable to attend is that the match will be streamed on YouTube and archived following completion for those who are unable to watch live. It’s a rare treat for Canadian rugby fans, and another statement of intent from the Blues. As the gears of professionalism start to churn once more the makings of a fully inclusive North American competition may well be taking its first steps on Saturday.
1 Rob Brouwer (capt.), 2 Eric Howard, 3 Ryan Surgenor, 4 Hank McQueen, 5 Mike Sheppard, 6 Jeremy Wright, 7 Lucas Rumball, 8 Seb Pearson, 9 Andrew Ferguson, 10 Shawn Windsor, 11 Kainoa Lloyd, 12 Josh Campbell, 13 Jon West, 14 Dan Moor, 15 Rory McDonell
Replacements: 16 AJ Quattrin, 17 Djustice Sears-Duru, 18 Pat Lynott, 19 Paul Ciulini, 20 Andrew Wilson, 21 John Sheridan, 22 Alex Colborne, 23 Mario van der Westhuizen
1 James Stewart, 2 James Delbozque, 3 Ben Tarr, 4 Casey Rock, 5 Ben Landry, 6 Connor Cook, 7 Brian Wanless, 8 John Quill, 9 Shaun Davies, 10 Will Magie, 11 Dustin Croy, 12 Ata Malifa, 13 Chad London (capt.), 14 Seth Halliman, 15 Maximo de Achaval
Replacements: 16 Blake Rogers, 17 Chris Hathaway, 18 Travis Haugen, 19 Devin Vaughter, 20 John Ryberg, 21 Nick Boyer, 22 Bryce Campbell, 23 Nick Johnson
Date: Saturday, May 20
Venue: Sherwood Forest Park, Burlington
Kickoff: 15:00 local / Eastern (12:00 Pacific, 13:00 Denver)
Referee: Moe Chaudhry (RC)
Assistants: Peter Pender (ORU) & Dale Hall (ORU)
Broadcasts: Live Stream