Americas Rugby Championship: USA and Canada Team Previews

Canada in action last year against the USA
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AmericasRugbyChampionshipRWU Friend Ray’s Rugby is back to finish his team previews of the ARC courtesy of his blog.

VANCOUVER, BC – This is Part 2 of our Americas Rugby Championship Preview. Please see Part 1, which covers Argntina and Uruguay… As you likely know, the ARC is for the non-first choice/foreign based players that play at the highest domestic level for the nations of Argentina, Canada, United States and Uruguay. Hence the slight name changes like USA Selects – and not Eagles. Now that we’re all up to speed:

Canada: It’s a largely predictable side picked by Canada to take part in Langford, but there were a couple surprises, including one unexpected blast from the past. Eight members of the CRC champion Ontario Blues have been picked, seven from the Wolf Pack, five BC Bears and only two from the Atlantic Rock. Three played no part at all in the regional competition, while a few others saw limited action.

Canada in action last year against the USA
Canada in action last year against the USA

Up front the dominant Ontario front row leads the way, with destructive loosehead Tom Dolezel in particularly good form after some time spent on the shelf recovering from injury. Former test hooker Ryan Hamilton has also returned from a long-term neck problem just in time to make a claim ahead of the World Cup. Canadian-born but Australian-raised James Smith gets a chance at tighthead, while his fellow Wolf Pack front rower Peter Houlihan gets some well deserved recognition after being largely ignored by national selectors up until now.

As expected Aaron Flagg has returned from a summer in New Zealand to try and earn a second row spot on the November tour. Joining him will be CRC standouts Callum Morrison and Evan Olmstead, both of whom impressed both with their workrate and aerial skills. Kyle Baillie returns to the squad for the second time as both lock and back row cover though he only managed a couple outings for the Rock at the tail end of the season.

After initially being listed as ‘injured’, both Admir Cejvanovic and Nanyak Dala have been included in the back row. Dala sat out the entire CRC and will need game time ahead of November, so this seems a better fit than a trip to the Gold Coast with the 7s side. Wolf Pack captain Kyle Gilmour has been given the honour of leading the side, and is joined by his co-captain, New Zealand born Clay Panga, a versatile back rower who has been around the top of the domestic scene for several years now.

Notable absentees from the pack are the Rumball brothers, Jacob and Lucas, but it seems university commitments will preclude their involvement this time. The same goes for Andrew Ferguson, who surely would have featured heavily otherwise. Outside of Gordon McRorie he has been the form scrumhalf of the competition, and Jamie Mackenzie should consider himself fortunate to be there in his place.

A sort of left field selection is that of Guiseppe du Toit. The University of Victoria flyhalf was called into the squad last season as an 18 year old, and it was no surprise that he looked overwhelmed. He wasn’t required for this year’s national u20 side or the BC Bears, but evidently Kieran Crowley rates him highly enough to leave out Shawn Windsor, the starting flyhalf in all six of Ontario’s games this season.

Arguably the biggest shock is the recall of 2007 World Cup veteran Derek Daypuck just four months shy of his 37th birthday and 7 years removed from his last Canadian cap. The Blues captain has been in fine form over the past two seasons but is not the sharp stepper of his youth. With most of the other midfield options sent to Australia, Crowley has opted for Daypuck’s experience and handy left boot to help guide an otherwise very inexperienced back division.

Strangely only one winger has been selected in Dan Moor, though 18 year old Ontario fullback Andrew Coe is likely to find himself there with BC’s Sean Ferguson the front runner in the no15 jersey. Of course the press release claimed that the squad was 26 strong despite listing only 25 names, so you never know who could turn up come game day.

The forward selection looks about the best available domestically and should give a good account of itself. It will be interesting to see how the scrum gets on against Uruguay first up. Out wide there are too many key names absent to do much damage, but with a conservative game plan it might be enough to do the job against a decent American squad. Argentina are a step above but as long as key players like Hamilton, Dala, and particularly McRorie stand out it will be something to cheer about.


Lou Stanfill in action against Scotland
Lou Stanfill in action against Scotland

USA: When in doubt, go with what you know. That seems to be the message permeating from Eagle headquarters, or at least Mike Tolkin’s selection criteria. In Canada all paths to national selection tend to lead to Victoria, though that trend appears to be abating somewhat. Denver was once the hotbed of American rugby, but with Tolkin a New Yorker and forwards coach Justin Fitzpatrick based in Seattle, it’s now clearly an advantage to take residence in either of those two spots. It’s certainly not a bad thing to want to centralize your best athletes, but in a country the size of the USA it very quickly alienates your supposed allies when you’re only looking at players from a handful of clubs.

Moving past that the squad is a strange mix of domestic-based Eagles, untested prospects, and random mid-tier journeymen. Tolkin’s desperation to find a capable tighthead prop in the wake of Shawn Pittman’s unexpected retirement means that Olive Kilifi is being asked to have a go after starting at loosehead in the World Cup qualifiers earlier this year. This is fine and dandy save for the fact that both Angus MacLellan and Benjamin Tarr are specialist tightheads presumably fighting for game time. If one is forced to spend time at loosehead, it kind of defeats the purpose of the exercise.

Nick Wallace will start in the no1 jersey with a chance to get some much-needed scrum practice against superior competition. Beside him Phil Thiel has curiously returned from a trial at Saracens, perhaps hinting that his services won’t soon be required at Allianz Park. Zach Fenoglio will again play understudy. At 25 years old he’s hardly ancient but having been around the squad for a couple years now it’s getting about that time when he needs to make a step up.

The second row looks steady enough though it’s disappointing – and surprising – that blue chip prospect Mike Lawrenson has been left out. Why exactly is unclear, it could be university commitments or some complications with his eligibility after a brief ill-advised move to New Zealand this summer. In any case it means a recall for Brian Doyle, once first choice but now comfortably down the pecking order, and Graham Harriman, appearing in his third consecutive ARC tournament. Football convert John Cullen is a surprisingly good athlete and may see time in the back row, though lock appears to be most likely for now.

One wonders what exactly Louis Stanfill has to gain from participating with two World Cups and nearly 50 caps on his resume, but he will certainly help in the experience department. Towering Australian-born back row Matt Trouville at last wears Eagle colours after being involved in training squads for some time. Ben Pinkelman is a project player from this year’s u20 side who has also been training with the 7s side.

Speaking of which, Fijian Andrew Durutalo will be in the Gold Coast this weekend but will fly back immediately following to join up with the squad along with Zach Test. Both are standouts on the circuit and Durutalo was involved with the XVs side a couple years ago, but both are essentially specialists at the shortened game now, and won’t have played much, if any, XVs over the past 12 months or so.

Two more exponents of the shortened game will be competing at scrumhalf, and American fans will be praying that either Nate Augspurger or Shalom Suniula has the goods to supplant golden boy Mike Petri in the eyes of Tolkin. Suniula had been playing at flyhalf previously but will get a crack at the no9 jersey where his speed off the mark will be useful. Adam Siddall has thankfully recovered from concussion and will get another chance to build on the good form he had at flyhalf before his injury problems.

The midfield has two strong runners in veteran Andrew Suniula, back after a stint in the UK with Wasps, and South African native Chad London. Kiwi-born Troy Hall has impressed at domestic level for several years but nearing his 33rd birthday has never established himself at test level and is unlikely to force his way into World Cup contention now. Surely a younger player might have been a better option here.

In a similar vein is NYAC clubmate Justin Hundley. Another from South Africa who happens to coach Xavier High, Hundley is a versatile player with previous experience on the 7s circuit but at 30 is no spring chicken it’s hard to see exactly where he fits in. Thankfully there are a couple decent prospects out wide in bulldozing Lemoto Filikitonga and speedster Tim Stanfill (no relation to Louis). Fullback looks to be the role of Tim Maupin who is due to return from Trinity College in Dublin during the week.

On paper the best XV look good enough to give hosts Canada a run for their money, though much will depend on performance at the set piece. The US scrum looks to be the weakest by a considerable margin, an ongoing saga that must be a priority heading towards England. If the Eagles can at least win their own ball and limit mistakes with ball in hand, they can make a decent fist of this tournament. If not, it could be a long ten days for the red, white, and blue.


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About Rays Rugby 24 Articles
I have played rugby since 1993, and began coaching and refereeing as well in 2005. I started writing in 1998, first published on the old Rugby Canada website followed by the National Rugby Post, Goff On Rugby, and I featured as a columnist for the new-defunct Canadian Rugby News before taking a long writing sabbatical while I pursued other interests. I have kept up my knowledge of the game, however, and have returned to comment and inform, only this time on all rugby matters, not just those Canadian. Thanks for reading!