A lot has changed since Canada last ventured to Madrid. The 60-22 win over Spain featured an 18-year-old Taylor Paris winning his second cap on the wing. Ciaran Hearn was a stand-in flyhalf for Connor Braid, a late scratch. It was the first and only time Hearn has worn the No 10 shirt in a test match. Only seven players were permitted on the bench, and Hubert Buydens had not yet started a test match.
Most significantly, however, Canada entered the match as heavy favorites on the World Rugby Rankings and came away with a victory reflective of their dominance. Canada were 14th in the world at the time, and hot on the heels of Japan. Spain were ranked 23, only marginally ahead of Chile. Seven years later the tables have flipped. Canada have crashed to 23rd in the world, 24th just a week ago, while Spain are holding in the top 20, down one spot from their 19 of last week.
On the domestic front Spain certainly have a leg up with the División de Honor a mix of dedicated amateurs, semi-pro, and fully paid overseas talent. Canada have established central contracts for their best home-based players but it is supplementary income only and they do not play together as a team outside of the international arena.
It’s from France, however, that Spain draws the majority of its international talent from, and where 17 of the match day 23 play their rugby. Of the exceptions three are qualified on residency. Dan Snee has returned home to Havelock North in New Zealand but remains available for the Leones. He played two games for the Hawke’s Bay Magpies in the Mitre 10 Cup. Brad Linklater is another from New Zealand while reserve lock Carlos Gavidi hails from Fiji.
For the most part it’s a strong forward pack despite the absence of injured captain Jaime Nava and a couple others like prop Jean-Baptiste Custoja, also left out to fully recuperate from injury. Captain Gautier Gibouin is one of three who played in the match seven years ago, the others heavyweight prop Jesús Moreno Rodriguez and second row David Barrera, the latter making his test debut as a replacement on that day.
Another area of strength is the halfbacks where Guillaume Rouet and Mathieu Bélie each boast considerable Top 14 experience. Belie was highly regarded in the French age-grade system, opting for Spain when it became clear he was not in the picture for Les Bleus at senior level. In the wider channels Fabien Perrin and Sébastien Ascarat have been staples of the French second division for nearly a decade. There is one uncapped player on the bench in Joan Losada, an Olympic 7s representative who covers across the outside backs.
Canada haven’t tasted victory since early February and will be desperate to do so in Madrid. Kingsley Jones has made four changes to the side that lost to Georgia, all in the forwards. Djustice Sears-Duru gives way to Buydens, who wins his first cap since March 2016, while Matt Tierney replaces Jake Ilnicki on the tighthead side. Lucas Rumball is out and Tyler Ardron unavailable so it’s Kyle Baillie who is called up to the flank and Aaron Carpenter in at No 8 to win his 80th cap, the first Canadian player to do so.
The backs are unchanged but there are three alternations on the bench. Benoît Pifféro arrives from France to act as reserve hooker while second row Brett Beukeboom is fit to play after taking a knock while on Cornish Pirates duty. Kainoa Lloyd is added to cover the wing making it a traditional 5-3 split.
There’s no great secret to success for Canada. They must play with tempo and get the ball to Hearn, Paris, and DTH van der Merwe out wide to have a chance. Spain, of course, will have done their homework and are likely to try and pin their opponents deep with their superior kicking game. Expect a close contest with the eventual winner not more than one score ahead.
1 Beñat Auzqui, 2 Marco Pinto Ferrer, 3 Jesús Moreno Rodriguez, 4 Lucas Guillaume, 5 David Barrera, 6 Pierre Barthère, 7 Gautier Gibouin (capt.), 8 Fred Quercy, 9 Guillaume Rouet, 10 Mathieu Bélie, 11 Sébastien Ascarat, 12 Dan Snee, 13 Fabien Perrin, 14 Ignacio Contardi, 15 Brad Linklater
Replacements: 16 Fernando López, 17 Juan Anaya, 18 Jonathan García, 19 Carlos Gavidi, 20 Mathieu Visensang, 21 Sébastien Rouet, 22 Thibaut Álvarez, 23 Joan Losada
1 Hubert Buydens, 2 Ray Barkwill, 3 Matt Tierney, 4 Josh Larsen, 5 Evan Olmstead, 6 Kyle Baillie, 7 Matt Heaton, 8 Aaron Carpenter, 9 Phil Mack (capt.), 10 Patrick Parfrey, 11 Taylor Paris, 12 Ciaran Hearn, 13 DTH van der Merwe, 14 Brock Staller, 15 Andrew Coe
Replacements: 16 Benoît Pifféro, 17 Djustice Sears-Duru, 18 Cole Keith, 19 Brett Beukeboom, 20 Kyle Gilmour, 21 Andrew Ferguson, 22 Guiseppe du Toit, 23 Kainoa Lloyd
Date: Saturday, November 18
Venue: Estadio Nacional Complutense, Madrid
Kickoff: 15:45 local (09:45 ET, 06:45 PT)
Referee: Ian Tempest (RFU)
Assistants: Frank Murphy (IRFU) & Joy Neville (IRFU)
Broadcasts: RTVE Stream, Rugby Canada Stream