Keeping Up With The Exiles

Connor Braid Glasgow Warriors Canada RugbyWith the new professional season upon us in most of the world, it’s time to take a look at where our intrepid Canadians are making their mark overseas. Canada actually have a fairly large number of capped players abroad, with twenty scattered about in various competitions, and more than a dozen junior internationals furthering their rugby education away from home.

Seven players are currently stationed with elite division clubs. Jamie Cudmore is Canada’s longest serving professional as he enters his 10th consecutive season with Clermont Auvergne. The big man has seen his Canadian appearances limited in between World Cups but looks set to feature strongly once again heading towards England next year.

Jebb Sinclair and Phil Mackenzie remain in the Aviva Premiership at London Irish and Sale, respectively, though neither have made an appearance in the opening two rounds of the season. Sinclair has been the more prominent of the two (you may have seen him in a recent IRB ad) but with a heavy influx of back rowers at Irish in the off-season his playing time may be somewhat reduced. Mackenzie’s appearances for Sale have been limited with a number of promising English-qualified outside backs edging ahead of him.

National captain Tyler Ardron and star winger Jeff Hassler are now in their second seasons with Ospreys in Wales. Hassler enjoyed a tremendous first season, being named to the official Pro 12 Dream Team, and has started both games this season, notching one try. Ardron has been used as a bench option for the most part, but should see plenty of game time over the course of the season.

Glasgow Warriors, once the home of retired captain Kevin Tkachuk, now feature two Canadians as well, with Connor Braid joining D.T.H. van der Merwe at Scotstoun. Both have just returned from injury, with Braid on loan to Ayr on the weekend, and van der Merwe coming off the bench against Cardiff Blues. Braid has been signed on a three month trial deal initially, but from all reports has looked sharp and it’s hoped he’ll be extended until the end of the season at least.

Irish-born u20 cap Shane O’Leary, whose mother hails from New Brunswick, has returned home from a spell with Grenoble in the Top 14, signing a one-year deal with Pat Lam’s Connacht squad in the off-season. The flyhalf or centre played a handful of games in France and remains eligible for Canada, but has yet to feature in any of Kieran Crowley’s senior squads as of yet.

Dropping down one level to the RFU Championship, the second tier of professional rugby in England, we find another half-dozen Canucks. Starting in the north we find two second rows at Doncaster. Former Canadian defense coach Clive Griffiths has returned as directory of rugby, and brought in both Tyler Hotson and Jon Phelan to bolster his pack. The two are essentially filling one jersey at the moment, Hotson starting and Phelan subbing, with club captain Matt Challinor occupying the other spot in the engine room.

Moving into the midlands we find James Pritchard in his 11th season with Bedford Blues. The fullback famously overtook Gareth Rees as Canada’s all-time leading scorer this past year, and has now been granted a testimonial season with his club. He has stepped down as captain after four years in the role, with his sights firmly set on playing in his fourth World Cup. Montreal native Justin Blanchet, whose brother Sam debuted for the England 7s side in Tokyo in March, has moved from the Exeter academy to join Pritchard at the Blues. The World Cup is probably coming a bit too soon for the young flanker, but with his size and physicality he’s certainly one to keep an eye on.

Further south, all the way on the coast, we land in Plymouth, where Andrew Tiedemann has returned to the professional ranks to join Brett Beukeboom at Albion. He’s quickly made his mark, starting both games at tighthead prop, and looks in good knick heading towards the November internationals. Beukeboom is now in his third season with the club, and with the retirement of Sean-Michael Stephen has become a senior figure in the squad and a first choice lock. Also at the club is another former u20 rep, winger Mark Kohler, who has made the jump after a strong season with Coventry.

Moving to the outstretches of the south west peninsula, all the way to Penzance, the wonderfully named Cornish Pirates are home to two more of Canada’s top players, Aaron Carpenter and Matt Evans. ‘Carps’ is continuing his full-time transition to the hooker position and has appeared as a reserve in both matches, scoring one try. Evans has recovered form the knee injury that kept him out of the June internationals and has been named vice-captain of the side, starting at fullback in each of the two openers and adding a try of his own.

Heading across the channel to the Pro D2 in France, we find two of Canada’s brightest prospects. Taylor Paris is close to a household name in the rugby-verse by now, and has continued his excellent form with Agen, starting all four matches on the left wing. Second row Cameron Pierce made his test debut as a reserve against Japan last June, and a week ago made his first team debut for Pau, as a reserve against Paris’ Agen. Hooker Benoit Piffero remains with Blagnac in Federale 1, the next division down, and has started one match in his side’s opening two fixtures.

In the warmer air of the southern hemisphere we find Canada’s first choice props spending some time in the ITM Cup, New Zealand’s top domestic competition, one level below Super Rugby. Hubert Buydens is looking slim and trim and is first choice loosehead for Manawatu, who are tied with Northland at the top of Group 2. Just below sit Hawke’s Bay, where Jason Marshall is happily installed as first choice tighthead after a frustrating season with La Rochelle. He most recently played a part in a famous Ranfurly Shield victory, one of the most coveted prizes in New Zealand rugby.

Powerful second row Aaron Flagg started 12 games for champions New Plymouth in the Taranaki club competition, but was disappointingly overlooked for ITM duties. Developing tighthead Jake Ilnicki has inked a short-term contract with the NSW Country Eagles in the newly-formed NRC in Australia, making his debut off the bench against Brisbane City this past weekend.

Seven members of this past year’s u20 team are littered across the globe. Star no8 Matt Mullins scored a try for his new club Maheno this past weekend as he faced the Valley side with front ranker Djustice Sears-Duru now on their books. Also in North Otago is centre Ben LeSage, spending some time in Oamaru with Athletic Marist. Tall timber Josh Larsen is just down the road in Dunedin at the University of Otago. Midfielder Sam Hayward is at Sydney University, while two more are studying in England. Flanker George Jeavons-Fellows has moved from Worcester to Newcastle University, and scrumhalf Simon Sexton is turning out for famed Loughborough University after departing Ealing Trailfinders.

Other former u20 graduates overseas include promising openside Matt Heaton, who has featured heavily for Otley in National 2 North since arriving in January. Hooker Richard Townsend has also moved from Ealing, to Eparnay in France Federale 2. Fullback Jack Fitzpatrick continues his law studies at Trinity College in Dublin.

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