The Americas Rugby Championship returns to its regular scheduling after seeing its first round broken up over two weekends to accommodate the Americas 2 World Cup Qualifying series. Saturday’s Round 2 action will see the two North American rivals battle it out at Papa Murphy’s Park in Sacramento.
After suffering defeat at the hands of Uruguay on successive weekends Canada would have hoped for an easier match to regain some confidence. Unfortunately they have been served the exact opposite. The USA enter on the back of their historic win over the Argentina XV in Los Angeles, becoming the first ever team to defeat the Argentines in ARC competition.
To make matters worse for Canada the Eagles have retained a virtually identical match day 23. The only alteration to the run-on side sees Dylan Audsley start where he finished the match as a replacement for the injured Marcel Brache. Audsley wins his first official test cap with Will Hooley and Josh Whippy set to make their debuts from the bench. Whippy fills the vacancy left by Audsley’s promotion.
A strong Eagles bench features England-based professionals Hooley of Bedford Blues and Worcester’s Andrew Durutalo. Starting lock Nate Brakeley and reserve prop Huluholo Mo’ungaloa are the only domestic-based players on the roster not currently signed up for Major League Rugby.
Canada, on the other hand, have said goodbye to several players who have returned to their professional club sides. Brett Beukeboom, Evan Olmstead, Tyler Ardron, Taylor Paris, and Benoît Pifféro are gone while Ben LeSage and Kainoa Lloyd have also departed to concentrate on their university obligations. Hubert Buydens and Admir Cejvanovic have not made the trip to California while Connor Braid remains sidelined with the ankle injury suffered in Vancouver two weeks ago.
Djustice Sears-Duru starts at loosehead prop with a new-look second row pairing in Josh Larsen and Kyle Baillie. Larsen appears fit to play after being a late scratch ahead of the test in Montevideo last weekend. James Bay flanker Luke Campbell will make his test debut at No8, one of four uncapped players in the match day 23.
In the backs there are two chances and one positional switch. Guiseppe du Toit steps in for LeSage at outside center with Patrick Parfrey named at fullback, effectively replacing Taylor Paris. Brock Staller moves over to the wing. On the other wing DTH van der Merwe wins his 50th cap nearly 12 years after making his test debut against Barbados.
France-born hooker Martial Lagain is named in a senior Canadian lineup for the first time at the age of 31 with Burnaby Lake’s Anthony Luca recalled to provide cover at loosehead prop. Conor Keys is back in the squad as a second row replacement and loose forward Dustin Dobravsky awaits his test debut having started on the blindside flank against the Māori in November.
Robbie Povey rejoins the squad as flyhalf cover and 20-year-old winger Cole Davis is handed a spot on the bench. The Calgary native impressed at the World Rugby u20 Trophy tournament in Montevideo last fall and returns to Canada after spending two seasons with the Brumbies academy in Australia.
The odds are certainly stacked against Canada in Sacramento. Not only do they concede continuity, home field advantage, and recent form, but also recent history. The Eagles claimed a handsome 52-16 victory in San Diego at their most recent meeting in San Diego last year, and Canada have not defeated the Eagles in a test match since August 2013, a string of seven games with only a draw in Hamilton last year breaking up the losing streak.
On paper Canada will need an extraordinary effort to achieve victory, a challenge coach Kingsley Jones will have made in no uncertain terms to his depleted side. Gary Gold, on the other side, will expect nothing less than a repeat of the effort produced in Los Angeles. If his charges respond in kind there is every reason to expect the Eagles to continue their march towards a second consecutive Americas Rugby Championship title.
1 Titi Lamositele, 2 Joe Taufete’e, 3 Dino Waldren, 4 Nate Brakeley, 5 Nick Civetta, 6 Hanco Germishuys, 7 Tony Lamborn, 8 Cam Dolan, 9 Nate Augspurger, 10 Will Magie, 11 Ryan Matyas, 12 Bryce Campbell, 13 Dylan Audsley, 14 Blaine Scully (capt.), 15 Mike Te’o
Replacements: 16 James Hilterbrand, 17 Huluholo Mo’ungaloa, 18 Angus MacLellan, 19 Ben Landry, 20 Andrew Durutalo, 21 Shaun Davies, 22 Will Hooley, 23 Josh Whippy
1 Djustice Sears-Duru, 2 Ray Barkwill, 3 Jake Ilnicki, 4 Josh Larsen, 5 Kyle Baillie, 6 Lucas Rumball, 7 Matt Heaton, 8 Luke Campbell, 9 Phil Mack (capt.), 10 Shane O’Leary, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 12 Nick Blevins, 13 Guiseppe du Toit, 14 Brock Staller, 15 Patrick Parfrey
Replacements: 16 Martial Lagain, 17 Anthony Luca, 18 Cole Keith, 19 Conor Keys, 20 Dustin Dobravsky, 21 Gordon McRorie, 22 Robbie Povey, 23 Cole Davis
Date: Saturday, February 10
Venue: Papa Murphy’s Park, Sacramento
Kickoff: 15:00 local (18:00 Eastern)
Referee: Francisco González (URU)
Broadcasts: The Rugby Channel (USA), TSN (Canada), ESPN (South America)