Canada’s senior overseas pro, Jamie Cudmore, has once again been a key member of the forward pack for Clermont Auvergne, who sit in second place in the Top 14. The 36-year-old will be trying to win his first European Cup final this coming weekend in a rematch of the 2013 final against Toulon, who won that encounter by a single point. Cudmore turned down several competing offers from big name clubs to re-sign with Clermont for what will be his 11th with Les Jaunards in 2015-16, and his 13th in France.
It was a special weekend in Pro D2 for the Canadian contingent as all three were involved in Agen’s victory over Pau. Taylor Paris scored his 8th try of the season for Agen, where he has been an automatic selection on the left wing. His contract expires at the end of June, but despite several offers from other clubs he is expected to re-sign with Agen for another year. Jason Marshall signed for the club as a ‘medical joker’ in November but will now stay on for another season. He has mostly been used as an impact reserve with a number of other quality props also at the club.
Cameron Pierce has enjoyed a breakthrough season with league champions Pau, appearing in every match since late January and earning his first pro start in the weekend’s match. The second row has been rewarded with a new 2 year contract as his side graduate to the Top 14 next season, some very welcome news for one of Canada’s most promising young forwards. Both Paris and Marshall could be joining him in the premier French division with Agen in 2nd place in Pro D2 and favored to win promotion via the playoffs.
Less glamourous but still at pro level is Fédérale 1, the 3rd divison of French rugby, where we find Blagnac sitting in the middle of Groupe 4. After struggling somewhat to find consistency last season, Benoît Pifféro has established himself as first choice hooker, and also showed good form for Canada in their recent trip to Fiji. With his contract up at the end of the season it’s unclear whether he will remain with BSCR next year.
D.T.H. van der Merwe has had another exceptional year for Glasgow Warriors, but has decided to move to pastures new after 6 years in Scotland. His new home will be south, in west Wales for the famed Scarlets club out of Llanelli. Whether Connor Braid will be sticking around has yet to be seen. Braid signed with Warriors on a short-term contract early in the season but after a short time on loan with London Scottish was recalled to Scotstoun and extended to the end of June. He has had limited game time but has taken his chances and could well be retained for the coming season with his kicking and versatility sought-after skills.
Already in Wales, of course, are Canada’s captain Tyler Ardron and 2014 men’s player of the year Jeff Hassler. Both signed extended contracts with Ospreys this season that will keep them in Swansea until at least 2017. Hassler unfortunately injured a knee against Romania and has missed the bulk of the season as a result, but is well on track to a full recovery and is expected to be fit soon. Ardron has become an essential part of the forward pack, living up either at no8 or recently in the second row, and captained the side on 4 occasions, including their final European Cup match against Benetton Treviso.
Ireland also plays host to a could-be Canadian. Former national u20 flyhalf Shane O’Leary has struggled to find game time at Connacht ahead of the established competition, but has excelled in the development squad and earned his first senior appearances as a replacement against Scarlets and Munster. With his contract up at the end of the season it’s yet to be seen whether he’ll stay in Galway, or possibly look to return to France.
Across in England, Jebb Sinclair has been an ever-present in the London Irish side this season, packing down either on the flank or in the second row. The club has had a tumultuous year with a change in ownership and head coach, but look set for bigger things next season after investing in a number of big-name signings and a highly rated coach from New Zealand. Sinclair is locked in until the end of next season and has become a fan favorite for both his off-field persona and on-field tenacity.
There will be mixed feelings for Canada’s newest back rower Richard Thorpe, whose London Welsh side have failed to win a single match all season after earning promotion from the Championship last year. They will return to that competition next eason but will do so with a new coach and a new-look squad, and will be expected to be near the top of the table come season’s close. Thorpe has been a regular member of the match-day squad, regularly rotating in at openside flanker and led the side out against Exeter in March. He is signed until 2016.
The future isn’t so clear for Phil Mackenzie, who has struggled to see any time with Sale Sharks this season beyond a few reserve games. With his contract coming to a close he is on the lookout for a new club, with the RFU Championship a possible destination. On the plus side he will have plenty of highlights to add to his video resume after an eye-catching return to Canadian colours in the recent Pacific Challenge tournament in Fiji, which has put him right back into contention for the World Cup.
Speaking of the Championship, the English 2nd division remains home to 9 Canadian eligible players at the present time. Record points scorer James Pritchard had the honour of suiting up for the famous Barbarians in a fun match against a Heriot’s XV a week ago and didn’t disappoint with 6 conversions and a try. The classy fullback has been awarded a testimonial match on May 8th for his 11 seasons with Bedford, and is expected retire following the World Cup, with rumours circulating that he may be offered a post as backs coach at the club next season.
At the other end of his career spectrum, flanker Justin Blanchet has just completed his first season with the Blues, and has surely been nudged towards a Canadian career by his clubmate Pritchard. His robust performances have earned him a new contract for next season, and he will be joined by older brother Sam, another former Exeter academy member who spent the past season with the England 7s squad. While Justin remains eligible for Canada immediately, Sam will have to wait another three years if he wishes to re-qualify for his country of birth, having last represented England in December of this past year.
Mid-table Cornish Pirates have both Aaron Carpenter and Matt Evans already signed up for next season, and will be hoping that their injury woes stay behind with this one. Carpenter has been sidelined since Canada’s tour in November, and looks unlikely to play for them again this season, though he is expected to be fully fit in time for the Pacific Nations Cup in July. Evans has recovered from the knee problem that kept him out of that tour, and has been starting again since February.
Doncaster Knights have survived their first season back in the Championship, sandwiched in between Pirates and Bedford in 9th place. After fighting for one position to start the season, Jon Phelan and Tyler Hotson spent most of the second half paired together in the engine room. Given their heavy involvement during the season it’s likely that both will be back for next, though there haven’t been any official announcements as of yet.
Ongoing financial woes have contributed to a miserable season for Plymouth Albion, who have been relegated to National One, though from a Canadian perspective it hasn’t been a total loss. Andrew Tiedemann has been an automatic selection at tighthead prop throughout and the corner stone of their pack. Brett Beukeboom has struggled with injury at times and drifted in and out of the side, while Mark Kohler was just finding his stride in the second half of the season. Kohler has already announced his departure for next season and both Tiedemann and Beukeboom are expected to follow suit, though their possible destinations have yet to be determined.
Lastly former u20 back row Matt Heaton has enjoyed a fine season for Otley in National 2 North. The 22-year-old Godmanchester, Quebec, native started 27 of 30 games at openside flank, scoring 4 tries and on the weekend was named Players’ Player of the Year. Hopefully next season we’ll see him climbing a little higher up the ranks of professional rugby.