With the help of some generous benefactors, the Canadian under-20 rugby team is set to take on the U.S. to see who advances to the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2018.
The two teams face off in Houston on Tuesday evening before meeting in a rematch Saturday afternoon, part of a doubleheader with the U.S.-Scotland test match.
The North American playoff winner will join host Romania, Fiji, Hong Kong, Namibia, Portugal and Uruguay as well as Samoa, relegated from last year's World Rugby U20 Championship in the second-tier World Rugby Trophy in Bucharest from Aug. 24 to Sept. 10.
Coach Jeff Williams has opted for six forwards and two backs on his bench Tuesday, reckoning the heat and humidity of Texas may take a toll on his big men.
University of Victoria flanker James O'Neill captains the young Canadians. He is one of the returning players from last year playoff series along with hooker Jack McRogers, winger Jack McCarthy and scrum half Will Percillier.
Lock Quentin James is the son of former Canadian captain Mike James.
Canada advanced 71-39 on aggregate last year after beating the visiting U.S. 46-12 in the first game and losing 27-25 in the second.
The Canadians went on to finish seventh at the World Rugby Trophy in Uruguay, blanking Hong Kong 38-0 after losses to Chile, Japan and Namibia. Japan beat Portugal 14-3 in the final, earning promotion to the first-tier World Rugby U20 Championship
Williams has had about a month to prepare his team, more than usual in the cash-strapped landscape of age-group rugby in Canada. That's due to the generosity of the Canada Under-20 Support Group — Karl Fix, David Robertson, Andrew Purdey, Bill Webb, Mike Holmes and former Canadian national team coach Pat Parfrey — and Shawnigan Lake School on Vancouver Island.
"They are friends of rugby," said Williams
Should the Canadians get past the Americans, they will hold a preparation camp at Shawnigan Lake School in August.
Williams says his squad has a high rugby IQ, able to react quickly.
"We consider them quite athletic but very blue-collar in their attitude and work ethic," he added.
Canada Under-20 Roster
Gavin Kratz, UVIC Vikes, Victoria; Jack McRogers, McMaster University, Toronto; Tyler Rowland, UBC Thunderbirds, Toronto; Quentin James, Perpignan (France), Vancouver; Reid Davis, Bayside RFC, Surrey, B.C.; Owain Ruttan, UBC Thunderbirds, Toronto; James O'Neill, UVIC Vikes, Cochrane, Alta,; Michael Smith, UBC Thunderbirds, Vancouver; Will Percillier, UBC Thunderbirds, Victoria; Steven Commerford, Brock University, Toronto; Jack McCarthy, Vandals RFC, St. John’s, N.L.; Kevin Vertkas, UBC Thunderbirds, Toronto; Seth Purdey, UC Berkeley, Shawnigan Lake, B.C.; Elias Ergas, UBC Thunderbirds, Vancouver; Brennig Prevost, UVIC Vikes, Victoria.
Tyler Wong, UVIC Vikes, Vancouver; Emerson Prior, Trent University, Toronto; Stephen Mallard, Swiler’s RFC, St. John's, N.L.; Ben Newhook, Vandals RFC, St. John's, N.L.; Jackson Matthews, UVIC Vikes, Montreal; Peter Ingoldsby, Exmouth RFC (England); Brock Gallagher, James Bay AA, Edmonton; Mostyn Findley, UVIC Vikes, Regina.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press