The Canadian Rugby Championship returns on Friday evening when the BC Bears welcome the Prairie Wolf Pack to UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium in the competition opener. For the Bears it will be a chance to get off on the right foot after several years of struggle since winning the inaugural tournament in 2009. The Wolf Pack, meanwhile, are gunning for their second MacTier Cup after lifting their first in 2015, just losing out to the powerhouse Ontario Blues last season.
To get a win on the road the Pack will have to make do without star scrumhalf Gordon McRorie, who misses out on the opening fixture, though they do have a suitable replacement in Jake Robinson, himself an international having made his test debut as a replacement in the 2016 Americas Rugby Championship. A strong midfield boasts a trio of Canada reps in Robbie Povey, Gradyn Bowd, and Mozac Samson. 2017 ARC select Carl Pocock is an experienced head at fullback.
Up front there is a notable return for World Cup flanker Kyle Gilmour, who has been absent from representative rugby since suffering a fractured cheekbone in training during the 2016 ARC. Gilmour leads the side with another ARC cap, Clay Panga, a classy deputy at No 8. Newly-capped Lucas Albornoz starts in the second row, and Ryan Kotlewski starts at tighthead prop to make it eight full internationals on the starting side for the visitors with 2011 World Cup squad member Jeremy Kyne among the reserves.
The Bears will field their strongest team is some time with five capped players in the run-on side and another on the bench. Skipper Anthony Luca and Jake Ilnicki are the bookends having both featured in the June internationals. Lineout specialist Craig McLaughlin will be the tallest man on the pitch at 1.98m (6’6″) with the UBC’s Connor Weyell offering a high work rate alongside. Two promising youngsters look to star in the back row in livewire UBC openside Nakai Penny, 21, and Burnaby battering ram Taitusi Vikilani, just 20 years of age.
In the backs there are heaps of talent headlined by Phil Mack, who partners former national u20 flyhalf Harjun Gill. The ARC pair of Guiseppe du Toit and George Barton man the midfield with current u20 standout Anton Ngongo on the wing. New Zealand-born Aaron McLelland adds real pace from fullback as he eyes a potential spot in the Canadian side for the 2019 World Cup. A strong replacements list includes capped utility back Brock Staller and Canada ‘A’ selects in Travis Larsen and Doug Fraser.
Kickoff is set for 7pm local time. A live stream will be provided by BC Rugby.
1 Anthony Luca (capt.), 2 Andrew Lackner, 3 Jake Ilnicki, 4 Craig McLaughlin, 5 Connor Weyell, 6 Luke Campbell, 7 Nakai Penny, 8 Taitusi Vikilani, 9 Phil Mack, 10 Harjun Gill, 11 Mike Nieuwenhuysen, 12 Guiseppe du Toit, 13 George Barton, 14 Anton Ngongo, 15 Aaron McLelland
Replacements: 16 Jordan Reid-Harvey, 17 Paul Ahn, 18 Neil Courtney, 19 Cam Polson, 20 Travis Larsen, 21 Gavin Rowell, 22 Doug Fraser, 23 Brock Staller
PRAIRIE WOLF PACK
1 Peter Houlihan, 2 Wayde Hodgen, 3 Ryan Kotlewski, 4 Conor Turner, 5 Lucas Albornoz, 6 Kyle Morrison, 7 Kyle Gilmour (capt.), 8 Clay Panga, 9 Jake Robinson, 10 Robbie Povey, 11 Adam Bontus, 12 Gradyn Bowd, 13 Mozac Samson, 14 Liam O’Hallahan, 15 Carl Pocock
Replacements: 16 Casey Reed, 17 Nick McAuley, 18 Anthony Battistone, 19 Connor Gilbert, 20 Jeremy Kyne, 21 James O’Neill, 22 Jake Bentley, 23 Ian Shoults
Date: Friday, July 14
Venue: Thunderbird Stadium, Vancouver
Kickoff: 19:00 local (22:00 ET)
Broadcasts: Live Stream