Canada rugby coach awaits word on players on final weekend ahead of July tour

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Canada coach Kingsley Jones will be watching this weekend's Major League Rugby games with particular interest, hoping that members of his July touring squad who play emerge unscathed.

He has already had to make one change due to injury. Toronto Arrows centre Spencer Jones has been ruled out of the tour after suffering a high ankle sprain late in last Saturday's loss to NOLA Gold.

Jones is taking 33 players to England for test matches against No. 3 England and No. 6 Wales. The games are the first for the 23rd-ranked Canadian men since a 66-7 loss to eventual champion South Africa on Oct. 8, 2019, at the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Jones has also has left two slots open in the touring party, while he awaits injury word on several others. NOLA Gold lock Kyle Baillie is coming on tour despite a finger injury. Jones hopes he will be ready for the England match.

Canada plays Wales on July 3 at Principality Stadium in Cardiff before facing England on July 10 at Twickenham Stadium in suburban London.

Twenty-five of the 31 players already named to the touring party are with MLR teams, including eight from the Arrows who play Rugby United New York on Saturday. Some will skip the weekend games.

"Not all of them will be playing this weekend … MLR teams have been excellent and helpful and understanding in the situation," Jones said.

The Arrows are doing their part to help Jones, with only a few of those headed on tour set to play Saturday against Rugby United New York.

Prop Tyler Rowland and fly half Will Kelly will start with prop Cole Keith coming off the bench. Scrum half Ross Braude, centre Ben LeSage, centre/fullback Patrick Parfrey, hooker Andrew Quattrin and flanker Lucas Rumball are being rested.

Clubs have also worked to help ensure Canadian players get on flights that will take them to England on Sunday evening.

The Canadians will be based in Clifton, a suburb of Bristol that offers easy access to both Cardiff and London.

The players will fly out after weekend games. They will have to take a PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) COVID test on Monday, which means they will have to work out the travel kinks outdoors and socially distanced until negative tests are returned. The plan is to have normal training start Tuesday, although precautions will continue.

"We're in a bubble permanently," said Jones. "We won't leave that bubble. We'll be in the hotel or the training ground, nowhere else."

Jones is using the July matches as warm-ups for World Cup qualifying this fall.

The Canadians won't be facing England and Wales' top squads, given 12 English and 10 Welsh players are away with the British and Irish Lions.

England coach Eddie Jones named an initial roster of 36, including 22 uncapped players. He is expected to revise the roster Monday following the weekend Gallagher Premiership final between Exeter Chiefs and Harlequins and the England 'A' versus Scotland 'A' match.

England will face the 16th-ranked U.S. Eagles on July 4.

Wales coach Wayne Pivac has summoned a 34-man test squad, with just five uncapped players, for games against Canada and No. 9 Argentina. Experienced centre Jonathan Davies (88 caps) will serve as skipper.

"The team is still super-strong," said Kingsley Jones, a former Wales captain. "There's so much experience. Over the last 18 months, they've blooded so many players."

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2021

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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