Rugby Canada will undertake their biggest challenge of the summer this Saturday, when they take on Ireland at Toronto's BMO Field.
The eighth-ranked Irish arrive in Toronto on the back of a narrow 15 - 12 victory over the USA last weekend, in Houston. They will meet a 13th-ranked Canadian team that, although battle-scarred, is riding a three-game summer win streak; having dispatched the Americans, Fiji and Tonga in the last few weeks.
Bleacher Report was at BMO Field Tuesday afternoon, as the teams met the media in advance of Saturday's clash.
Ireland: 20 Days & 20 Nights
Ireland interim head coach Les Kiss was well aware of Canada's recent performances and the advantages his hosts have garnered from their extended time together; his own touring group has not been as fortunate.
"Before we came away to North America we knew that we had 11 training sessions and two test matches in three weeks. We're about at our eighth or ninth training session, so that's not a lot of time; particularly when we have a lot of younger players. We capped five new players last week and we may go ahead and cap a few more new players this week, we'll see how it goes. So, when you're together for such a short time its always tough."
Challenges, like the ones that Kiss is describing usually apply more routinely to the Canadians. As a geographically isolated country, whose top players must join the team from overseas, Canada are often left with little time to prepare for such matches; however, this summer has been an exception.
Canada: Battered & Unbeaten
The newly expanded Pacific Nations Cup tournament has been hugely beneficial to Canada Head Coach Kieran Crowley and his squad, but the extra games—although helpful to team cohesion—come at a cost. The Canadians are a battered and bruised group at the moment.
"This is great. If this schedule gives us more games that's great, and if someone gets injured it gives someone else an opportunity. That's how we look at it. We've got a couple of guys in doubt for Saturday, and in that case other guys will step up, and hopefully they will perform."
Crowley might well be asking more players to step up than he originally planned. Three of Canada's starters against Tonga—Matt Evans, Jebb Sinclair and Sean Duke—are all awaiting the results of concussion testing, prior to being cleared to play on Saturday. Evans was hit with an illegal shoulder charge in the Tongan encounter and stretchered off the field, while Sinclair was felled by right hook to the jaw after the whistle.
Canada's coach was clear that they will not be taking any chances with their players' health, no matter how much they might be needed.
"Matt Evans, is obviously a worry. The IRB now has protocols around concussion and we'll be following those 100 percent. You have to go through a four-day cycle with no symptoms, and on the fifth day you're cleared to play. Sean Duke is a player that is in the same boat right now—Jebb Sinclair is in the same boat. We won't be taking any risks with those players whatsoever."
While the Canadians may be struggling to recover from their injuries, the Irish are dealing with a completely different kind of recovery effort, as Les Kiss explained.
"We are having to manage a slight illness that's making its way through our camp at the moment, so we will have some players who won't be training today. But that's something that just comes with the business, so we'll just be getting on with things."
As if things weren't already hard enough on the Irish, Kiss received word only days ago that his star winger, Simon Zebo, has been called up to the British and Irish Lions squad and will join no less than 10 other first-choice Irish internationals in Australia, leaving Coach Kiss' squad dangerously depleted.
Bleacher Report Predictions
So, when an understrength Irish team takes on an understrength Canada squad on Saturday, which nation is likely to come out on top?
Due to the injuries and illnesses in each team, the final rosters are unlikely to be released until Friday at the earliest.
The issue may well rest with the team that can field the necessary talent to put together an 80-minute performance.
Although Ireland enjoyed a stable set-piece against the Americans, there were long periods of that match in which the Irish were outplayed at the breakdown.
Canada, on the other hand, thoroughly dominated their contest with the Tongans until the last 10 minutes, at which point a near-collapse almost cost the Canadians the game.
Canada Captain Aaron Carpenter, knows his team will have to avoid such a letup if they are to upset a first-class outfit like Ireland.
"Yes, it was the last 10 minutes of the Tonga game, where we lost our structure and they really came back at us. We think we made a few too many substitutions all the same time. Also, we may have been a little mentally fatigued after a short turnaround, and that showed in the last 10 minutes.
"We've talked and we will make sure that we are switched on this week for the full 80 minutes."
Carpenter's confidence aside, Canada will need to expect more from their reserves this week, as they will be taking on an Ireland team that will field a professional lineup from top to bottom. Letup will not be an option.
Canada will draw on the home crowd, but they will have to fare better than the Americans against a powerful Irish scrum if they are to have a chance at victory.
It would be a bold move to call for an upset on Saturday, but Canada have been playing bold rugby of late. They have beaten their last two opponents by small margins, and we are calling for the trend to continue this weekend.
Look for the attacking flair of Canada's back-row and back-line—both of which are infused with talent from their sevens program—to be the deciding factor in a match where the hosts are likely to have to make use of every chance they get.
If Canada emerge victorious on Saturday, it would be one of the biggest victories in their history, and an opportunity to continue their perfect run, in the summer of 2013.
Make sure to visit Bleacher Report for a live-blog of this match; including analysis, scoring updates and quotes from the teams after the game.
Final Score Prediction: Canada 24 - Ireland 18
Canada’s Roster for Test Match - (Club, CRC Team) Hometown
(Updated - Friday, June 14th - 13:00)
#1 - Hubert Buydens, (Saskatoon Wild Oats/Prairie Wolf Pack) Saskatoon, SK
#2 - Ray Barkwill, (Niagara Wasps RFC/Ontario Blues) Niagara Falls, ON
#3 - Jason Marshall, (Atlantique Stade Rochelais/BC Bears) Vancouver, BC
#4 - Jebb Sinclair, (London Irish) Fredericton, NB
#5 - Tyler Hotson, (London Scottish RFC) Vancouver, BC
#6 - Tyler Ardron, (James Bay AA/Ontario Blues) Lakefield, ON
#7 - John Moonlight, (James Bay AA/Ontario Blues) Pickering, ON
#8 - Aaron Carpenter, Captain, (Cornish Pirates) Brantford, ON
#9 - Phil Mack, (UVIC Vikes/BC Bears) Victoria, BC
#10 - Nathan Hirayama, (UVIC Vikes/BC Bears), Richmond, BC
#11 - Taylor Paris, (SU Agen Lot-et-Garonne) Barrie, ON
#12 - Harry Jones, (Capilano RFC/BC Bears) Vancouver, BC
#13 - Ciaran Hearn, (Castaway Wanderers/Atlantic Rock) Conception Bay, NL
#14 - James Pritchard, (Bedford Blues) Parkes, Australia, NSW
#15 - Connor Braid (Doncaster Knights) Victoria, British Columbia
#16 - Ryan Hamilton, (Capilano RFC/BC Bears) Vancouver, BC
#17 - Andrew Tiedemann, (Castaway Wanderers/Prairie Wolf Pack) St. Albert, AB
#18 - Doug Wooldridge, (Lindsay RFC/Ontario Blues) Lindsay, ON
#19 - Jon Phelan, (Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue/Atlantic Rock) Montreal, QC
#20 - Nanyak Dala, (Castaway Wanderers RFC/Prairie Wolf Pack) Saskatoon, SK
#21 - Sean White, (James Bay AA/BC Bears) Victoria, BC
#22 - Liam Underwood (Ontario Blues, Queens University) Toronto, ON
#23 - Pat Parfrey, (Atlantic Rock, Newfoundland Rock) St. John's, NF
Ireland Roster for Canada Test Match - Player/Club/Province
15. Felix Jones (Shannon/Munster)
14. Fergus McFadden (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
13. Darren Cave (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)
12. James Downey (Dolphin/Munster) *
11. Andrew Trimble (Ballymena/Ulster)
10. Ian Madigan (Blackrock College/Leinster)
9. Isaac Boss (Terenure College/Leinster)
1. Tom Court (Malone/Ulster)
2. Richardt Strauss (Old Wesley/Leinster)
3. Mike Ross (Clontarf/Leinster)
4. Dan Tuohy (Ballymena/Ulster)
5. Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster)
6. Kevin McLaughlin (St. Mary's College/Leinster)
7. Tommy O'Donnell (UL Bohemians/Munster)
8. Peter O'Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster) (capt)
16. Sean Cronin (St. Mary's College/Leinster)
17. David Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster)
18. Declan Fitzpatrick (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)
19. Mike McCarthy (Buccaneers/Connacht)
20. Chris Henry (Malone/Ulster)
21. Paul Marshall (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)
22. Paddy Jackson (Dungannon/Ulster)
23. Robbie Henshaw (Buccaneers/Connacht)
* Denotes uncapped player
Jeff Hull is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
Unless otherwise stated, all quoted material was obtained firsthand.
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