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Date: Saturday, June 9
Venue: Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton
Kickoff: 19:00 local (18:00 Pacific, 21:00 Eastern)
Referee: Shuhei Kubo (JRFU)
Assistants: George Clancy (IRFU) & Derek Summers (USAR)
TMO: Dave Ardrey (USAR)
Broadcasts: TSN 1, TSN Go
International rugby returns to Edmonton once again, just a year removed from Canada‘s match against Romania last June at Ellerslie Park. This time it’s a bigger fish in Scotland and a bigger bowl with Commonwealth Stadium hosting test rugby for the first time since 2006.
The two sides last faced each other at Toronto’s BMO Field in June 2014. On that day Canada gave the Scots an almighty scare and might well have pulled off the upset were it not for a highly contentious red card handed out to Jebb Sinclair by referee Mike Fraser late in the match.
Canada have, in fact, tasted success against Scotland in two of their five meetings. A 26-23 victory at Vancouver in 2002 remains a fond memory for Canadian rugby fans while those who followed in the amateur era would recall a 24-19 win in Saint John, New Brunswick. On that occasion Scotland refused to acknowledge the match as a full test, choosing instead to label the team a ‘Scotland XV’ despite sending 11 of the side to the World Cup later that year.
There will be no such escape this time, but times have changed and even a second-string Scotland side now present a massive challenge to Canada who remain without a professional domestic competition. Head coach Kingsley Jones had opted to leave out a number of overseas pros for the June series with an eye to full participation in November’s World Cup Qualifying series. He will be absent two more on Saturday with Tyler Ardron ruled out due to concussion and no sign of second row Josh Larsen.
Eight changes in all have been made from the team that defeated Chile to close the Americas Rugby Championship. Noah Barker wins his first test start after debuting as a replacement against the Cóndores. Djustice Sears-Duru moves to the bench where Eric Howard makes his first international appearance of 2018 as the backup hooker.
Paul Ciulini returns after two years in the wilderness to win his 7th cap in the second row, one of two Ontario Arrows players in the side along with reserve halfback Andrew Ferguson. Ciulini adds much-needed ballast to the scrum and packs down beside Evan Olmstead, fresh off another English Premiership season with Newcastle.
Filling in for Ardron at No8 is James Bay’s Luke Campbell, who wins just his 4th cap after debuting against the Eagles in the ARC. Matt Heaton joins Lucas Rumball in a combative flanker combination with Dustin Dobravsky dropping to the bench.
Two backs will celebrate their 50th test caps for Canada. Phil Mack and Nick Blevins remain senior figures in the side and follow in the footsteps of DTH van der Merwe. The captain will be very familiar with his opponents, many of whom are teammates at Glasgow Warriors. Jeff Hassler will also recognize many having played against them with Ospreys.
Shane O’Leary returns at flyhalf and Patrick Parfrey will reprise his ARC role of fullback. Set to make his test bow as an impact sub is versatile UBC Thunderbirds playmaker Theo Sauder, who provides cover at flyhalf or the outside backs.
Gregor Townsend has named a side full of fringe candidates who will be desperate to press their claims for the World Cup. Tour captain Stuart McInally has been declared unfit for the match so it’s Edinburgh lock Grant Gilchrist who wears the armband. Dynamic hooker Fraser Brown is an able deputy with Six Nations regulars Simon Berghan and David Denton named at tighthead prop and No8 respectively.
Denton’s powerful carrying game will be a concern for Canada and the Scottish pack as a whole represents a sizable challenge. All but two of the starting pack outweighs their opposite with the back row in particular significantly bigger. Edinburgh pair Magnus Bradbury and Jamie Ritchie man the flanks with the latter making his anticipated test debut.
Talented scrumhalf San Hidalgo-Clyne will join Scarlets next season in search of a return to form and he will be hoping a strong performance against Canada will vault him back into first choice contention. He partners Glasgow utility Ruaridh Jackson, something of a surprise choice at flyhalf given much of his recent rugby has been at fullback.
Another test debutante is in the midfield in the form of James Lang. The Harlequins utility can also play flyhalf of fullback but will start at inside centre alongside another Premiership exponent in Newcastle’s Chris Harris. A third is present on the left wing. Sale Sharks winger Byron McGuigan is a danger man with highly promising Edinburgh fullback Blair Kinghorn deputising for the rested Lions star Stuart Hogg.
Two more await their test debuts from the bench. Second row Lewis Carmichael spent several weeks on loan with the Western Force in last year’s Super Rugby season before returning to Edinburgh. Adam Hastings bears a family name familiar to many. The son of Scottish great Gavin Hastings is tipped by many for a bright future in the No10 jersey.
It might be a mix-and-match Scotland side but it is still a fully professional outfit, a claim Canada are still unable to make with half of their team domestic-based and very short on meaningful game time. Look for Canada’s passion to keep them in the match initially but the Scots will inevitably pull away thanks to their superior fitness and footballing skills.
Kickoff is set for 7pm local time, 6pm Pacific, 9pm Eastern. Canadian viewers can watch live on TSN 1.
1 Noah Barker, 2 Ray Barkwill, 3 Jake Ilnicki, 4 Paul Ciulini, 5 Evan Olmstead, 6 Lucas Rumball, 7 Matt Heaton, 8 Luke Campbell, 9 Phil Mack, 10 Shane O’Leary, 11 DTH van der Merwe (capt.), 12 Nick Blevins, 13 Doug Fraser, 14 Jeff Hassler, 15 Patrick Parfrey
Replacements: 16 Eric Howard, 17 Djustice Sears-Duru, 18 Cole Keith, 19 Conor Keys, 20 Dustin Dobravsky, 21 Andrew Ferguson, 22 Cole Davis, 23 Theo Sauder
1 Allan Dell, 2 Fraser Brown, 3 Simon Berghan, 4 Ben Toolis, 5 Grant Gilchrist (capt.), 6 Magnus Bradbury, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 8 David Denton, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 11 Byron McGuigan, 12 James Lang, 13 Chris Harris, 14 Lee Jones, 15 Blair Kinghorn
Replacements: 16 George Turner, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Murray McCallum, 19 Lewis Carmichael, 20 Luke Hamilton, 21 Ali Price, 22 Adam Hastings, 23 Mark Bennett