Kyle Baillie, Matt Heaton, Ben LeSage and Lucas Rumball lead Canada's 30-man roster for the Rugby World Cup qualifying series against the U.S. Eagles starting Saturday in St. John's, N.L.
The 22nd-ranked Canadians will face the 16th-ranked Americans in the Sept. 11 second leg in Glendale, Colo.
The series winner moves on to play No.17 Uruguay in a two-legged playoff in early October to see who will slot in as Americas 1 at the 2023 World Cup in France alongside No. 2 New Zealand, No. 5 France, No. 14 Italy and Africa 1 in Pool A.
The loser can still qualify but faces a more complicated route to the 20-team tournament.
“We have been working tirelessly to ensure that our team is as prepared as we can be for these upcoming matches against the States," Canada coach Kingsley Jones said in a statement. "As we know, co-ordinating the logistics of assembling players in a COVID world is no easy task and our entire group is thankful to our staff and hosts in St. John’s for their support and excited to be able to compete on home soil in these critical Rugby World Cup qualification matches.”
Jones has chosen 23 players with Major League Rugby teams, including 12 from the Toronto Arrows. Only fly half Peter Nelson (Stade Aurillacois Cantal Auvergne, France) and prop Matt Tierney (Castres Olympique, France) play professionally in Europe.
Two more players, prop Jake Ilnicki (James Bay AA) and back Kainoa Lloyd previously played in MLR.
Missing are overseas pros Tyler Ardron, Evan Olmstead, Shane O'Leary and Taylor Paris. All four play in France with Ardron at Castres Olympique, Olmstead at Biarritz Olympique, O'Leary at Rouen and Paris at Oyonnax. Ardron captained Canada at the 2019 World Cup.
Heaton (Rugby ATL), Rumball and LeSage (both Toronto Arrows) served as co-captains in July when the Canadians lost 68-12 to No. 9 Wales and 70-14 to No. 3 England. Baillie, who captains NOLA Gold, did not see action on the tour but is considered one of the Canadian team leaders.
Heaton is Rugby ATL's skipper while Rumball and LeSage are the Arrows co-captains.
It's a young squad with 12 players born in 1997 or later.
The roster includes four uncapped players: Mason Flesch, Jason Higgins and Spencer Jones of the Toronto Arrows and Brock Webster from the Canada sevens program.
Ross Braude, Cooper Coats, Lockie Kratz, Quinn Ngawati, Tyler Rowland, Michael Smith and Foster DeWitt won their first caps on the July tour.
With the pandemic playing havoc with international play, the July matches were Canada's lone matches since Oct. 8, 2019, when the Canadians lost 66-8 to South Africa in their final match at the World Cup in Japan.
The Canadian men have never missed a World Cup, managing to book their ticket in the first stage of qualifying until last time out. Canada made it to the 2019 tournament the hard way, winning a four-team repechage after losing playoff series to the U.S. (80-44 on aggregate) and Uruguay (70-50 on aggregate).
World Cup qualifying in the region has changed this time, with several additional playoff steps.
Uruguay advanced to face the North American victor by winning a three-team South American tournament over runner-up Chile and Brazil.
The Canada-U. S. loser will face No. 28 Chile in an October home-and-away playoff with the winner facing the loser of the North America-Uruguay series to determine who advances to the World Cup as Americas 2 in Pool D with No. 3 England, No. 7 Argentina, No. 10 Japan and No. 13 Samoa.
The loser of that playoff has one more chance to join them via repechage.
U.S. coach Gary Gold has named a 31-man roster for the Canada series including 23 MLR players and six European-based players. Fly half A.J. MacGinty, who plays his club rugby for England's Sale Sharks, is the Eagles captain.
The Americans are coming off July losses to England (43-29) and No. 4 Ireland (71-10).
Canada (with hometown and club)
Kyle Baillie, Summerside, P.E.I., NOLA Gold (MLR); Ross Braude, Pretoria, South Africa, Toronto Arrows (MLR); Cooper Coats, Halifax, Canada sevens; Cole Davis, Calgary, Austin Gilgronis (MLR); Foster DeWitt, Courtney, B.C., Pacific Pride; Mason Flesch, Cobourg, Ont., Toronto Arrows (MLR); Matt Heaton, Godmanchester, Que, Rugby ATL (MLR); Jason Higgins, Cork, Ireland, Toronto Arrows (MLR); Eric Howard, Ottawa, Ont., NOLA Gold (MLR); Jake Ilnicki, Williams Lake, B.C., unattached; Spencer Jones, Cambridge, New Zealand, Toronto Arrows (MLR); Cole Keith, Apohaqui, N.B., Toronto Arrows (MLR); Will Kelly, Ancaster, Ont., Toronto Arrows (MLR); Conor Keys, Stittsville, Ont., Rugby ATL (MLR); Lockie Kratz, Victoria, NOLA Gold; Ben LeSage, Calgary, Toronto Arrows (MLR); Kainoa Lloyd, Mississauga, Ont., James Bay AA; Peter Nelson, Dungannon, Northern Ireland, Stade Aurilliacois Cantal Auvergne (France); Quinn Ngawati, Victoria, Rugby United New York (MLR); Patrick Parfrey, St. John's, N.L., Toronto Arrows (MLR); Robbie Povey, Long Buckby, England, Houston Sabercats (MLR); Andrew Quattrin, Holland Landing, Ont., Toronto Arrows (MLR); Tyler Rowland, Mississauga, Ont., Toronto Arrows (MLR); Lucas Rumble, Markham, Ont., Toronto Arrows (MLR); Djustice Sears-Duru, Edmonton, Seattle Seawolves (MLR); Michael Smith, White Rock, B.C., San Diego Legion (MLR); Corey Thomas, Perth, Australia, Los Angeles Giltinis (MLR); Matt Tierney, Oakville, Ont., Castres Olympique (France); Siaki Vikilani, Burnaby, B.C., Toronto Arrows (MLR); Brock Webster, Uxbridge, Ont., Canada sevens.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 30, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press