ARC – Picking Canada’s Team

Gordon McRorie CRC Wolf Pack Canadian Rugby Championship

With the CRC over the halfway point now it’s time to take a look at who could get the call for Canada in October’s ARC tournament in Langford. Even though there’s still five games left, and for the eastern teams that technically means half the season, you can bet the selectors have the majority of the squad picked out already. With a few exceptions, here’s a run-down on the chief contenders.

First let’s set the criteria. In the past squads of 26 have been chosen, so we’ll go with that, and in general a player must have appeared in the CRC to be considered. In the case of last year there were a couple exceptions to that rule, but it looks unlikely that there will more than maybe one of those external selections this time around.

This particular ARC selection has some extra importance in that it’s the last chance to have a good look at any fringe players heading into the World Cup year. Players on the bubble can put their hands up for November tour selection, knowing that anyone left out of that tour is unlikely to get a chance to break into the main squad barring injury.

Four props and two hookers are the first order of business, and the all-conquering Ontario front row of Tom Dolezel, Ray Barkwill, and Doug Wooldridge are certain to feature. For Dolezel it will mark a return to Canadian colours after a year’s absence through injury. He didn’t quite make the 2011 squad to New Zealand but has a real chance to go to England as the 5th prop if he can stay healthy for the next couple months.

James Smith will be a name unfamiliar to Canadian fans, but he will almost certainly be the second tighthead chosen. The Australian native, evidently qualified in some manner, arrived in country a couple months ago to play for the Wolf Pack, and he has looked very solid as the anchor in their scrum. At 27 years old he’s no rookie so he should be another real contender for the November tour and beyond.

The fourth prop isn’t as obvious. Jacob Rumball was selected two years ago and could be an option. He’s only been a reserve for Ontario but can play both sides of the scrum and has beefed up considerably in the last couple years. Noah Barker of BC is probably more likely given that he’s been starting every game at loosehead. He was a teammate of Rumball’s in the IRB JWRT squad of 2012 and has been in the sights of selectors since.

Hooker is a bit more difficult, but another member of that same team could be the answer. UVic’s Casey Reed has been steady for the Wolf Pack and with Canada desperately short on hookers who can throw straight he has proved pretty accurate. His understudy Matt Harrison is another option, or possibly Ontario’s Sawyer Herron, both graduates of this year’s national u20 squad. BC’s Micha Govorchin might have been the obvious choice but he has had a miserable CRC this far, with some truly woeful throwing severely blighting his chances.

One of the standout players this season was last year’s ARC captain, BC second row Callum Morrison. The former flanker is the only player of genuine international height available and though he’s a little on the light side of things for a lock, he has a huge workrate and puts everything into his tackles.

Evan Olmstead is another assured of a spot. Though his best position is likely on the blindside, he has been playing second row for the Wolf Pack since returning from three seasons in Australia. He’s not quite as tall as Morrison but is still effective in the lineout, and his versatility could be of use in the senior side.

Aside from them the options are thin. Shea Wakefield is an age grade international and around the same size as Olmstead but hasn’t stood out as much. Hank McQueen got the call last year but is really undersized, and has been overshadowed by Haddon Murray for the Blues. Instead, don’t be surprised to see Aaron Flagg come in from the cold, providing he returns from New Zealand in time. The big fella was disappointed not to make the cut for the Taranaki ITM Cup squad and could provide some much needed bulk to the engine room.

Speaking of Murray, he’s really a back rower stuck in the second row thanks to the plethora of options available to the Blues, but could be an outside shot as a utility forward. The fact that he’ll be 29 in a couple weeks might count against him though, and could mean a recall for the younger, taller Toni Wodzicki of the Rock. A compromise of sorts might be 19 year old Lucas Rumball, brother of Jacob, who hasn’t been quite as prominent as Murray but clearly has a big future ahead of him.

Of course with several options at openside and no8 it’s possible that a specialist blindside won’t be taken at all. Kyle Gilmour is a certainty and can operate on either flank. At 6’2” he’s not the tallest but jumps well and is an option at the tail. Alistair Clark has been in good form for Ontario and has been a part of the last two ARC squads. Either Adam Kleeberger or Nanyak Dala could earn a spot should either prove their fitness.

At the back of the scrum there are contenders from all four sides. Zac Coughlan has been the Rock’s best player and offers good speed off the base. Seb Pearson appears to have ended his hooker experiment for now, though he could be used as emergency cover there. Jeremy Kyne has returned out of exile to be a force at the back of the Wolf Pack scrum. Starring for the Bears in the last two games has been Admir Cejvanovic, the most impressive physical specimen of the four.

It’s a good problem to have, and there’s a good chance three of those will go but possibly only two. Cejvanovic is a shoe-in given his place in the training squad earlier this year and his exposure with the 7s training program. Of the other three it’s hard to look past the experience of Kyne, something of a surprise inclusion in the 2011 World Cup squad. Along with being the biggest of the bunch he offers something different, some real in-game intelligence and an ability to get his side on the front foot in heavy traffic.

There’s a bit less room for discussion in the backs, with the scrumhalf spot being the most contentious. Gordon McRorie has been the outstanding player in the tournament and is already looking more a probable than a possible for the World Cup. The other spot has four players vying for it.

Sean White would seem to be the ‘incumbent’, and he has impressed for the Bears, but far more as a dynamic runner than a halfback. Andrew Ferguson and Jamie Mackenzie are battling it out for the Ontario jersey with the slight edge going to the younger Ferguson, who offers quick service and a very solid kicking game. Mackenzie of course has previous World Cup experience and a longer pass but isn’t quite as nimble on his feet. A long shot might be Jorden Sandover-Best, another of this year’s u20 group, who is the quickest but also the smallest.

Ferguson’s footballing skills might well give him the edge, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that White will miss out. With relatively few options at fullback he could be taken as a utility back, primarily as an outside back, where he has looked more useful, but also as a third scrumhalf. He is a dynamic runner and has a bit of x-factor to him, but his basic halfback skills – passing from the base and box kicking – continue to let him down.

Flyhalf is one position that still needs some sorting. Patrick Parfrey should hold down one spot, but the other is to be determined. Liam Underwood has yet to appear for Ontario but should he return to fitness he is another near certainty. Pat Kay has been a bit wobbly for the Bears but has undoubted potential and could still be in the squad as a utility back. Neither of Harry Jones or Nathan Hirayama have seen action for BC and may instead travel to the Gold Coast 7s.

Indeed the scheduling conflict with the 7s circuit could play a factor in selection, as it did last year when the side was forced to play overwhelmed Adam McQueen and Guiseppe du Toit instead of one of five flyhalves sent to Australia. Surely that fiasco won’t be repeated in such an important year and the ARC should take priority. There are more than enough talented players outside this group to make up a competitive 7s side.

Assuming White and Kay are included as utilities, that leaves about six spots open in the backs. In the midfield, the most probable picks will be Nick Blevins, Conor Trainor, and Mike Fuailefau. Mike Scholz might be a late addition, but it looks like he and Ciaran Hearn will head to the Gold Coast.

Jordan Wilson-Ross is a certainty, though probably as a winger despite impressing as a centre with the Blues. His power and versatility will be an asset wherever he plays. The other two spots could go to specialist wingers Jake Webster and Justin Douglas. Webster is smaller but very quick and punches above his weight, while Douglas has been in the national program for a couple years now. Giant lock-turned-winger Adam Zaruba would have been an interesting inclusion but hasn’t seen action aside from a 50-odd minute stint against the Wolf Pack.

One of Shea O’Hallahan or Sean Ferguson could go as a specialist fullback, but the position could just as easily be filled by White, Kay, Underwood, or even Wilson-Ross in a pinch. O’Hallahan has been a lively surprise with the Wolf Pack, while Ferguson has been training with the 7s program for some time.

 

Possible 26 man squad:

Props: Tom Dolezel (Blues), Noah Barker (Bears), Doug Wooldridge (Blues), James Smith (Pack)

Hookers: Ray Barkwill (Blues), Casey Reed (Pack)

Locks: Callum Morrison (Bears), Evan Olmstead (Pack), Aaron Flagg (New Plymouth)

Back row: Kyle Gilmour (Pack), Alistair Clark (Blues), Jeremy Kyne (Pack), Admir Cejvanovic (Bears), Seb Pearson (Blues)

Scrumhalf: Gordon McRorie (Pack), Andrew Ferguson (Blues), Sean White (Bears)

Flyhalf: Liam Underwood (Blues), Patrick Parfrey (Rock)

Centre: Nick Blevins (Pack), Mike Fuailefau (Bears), Conor Trainor (Bears)

Outside backs: Jordan Wilson-Ross (Blues), Jake Webster (Blues), Justin Douglas (Bears), Pat Kay (Bears)

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