By: Mark Janzen

The highly-anticipated and, at times, much-dreaded Rugby World Cup repechage in Marseille, France is nearly upon us.

The situation is simple. Finish atop the four-team heap – one that includes Canada, Kenya, Germany and Hong Kong – and you qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Much is at stake for Rugby Canada. For a country that has never missed the World Cup, that’s wildly understating the reality. For rugby in Canada across so many facets – largely because of the financial boon a World Cup berth would exhibit – the next three games for the men’s 15s team loom large.

You won’t want to miss this.

So… who will you be watching when Canada takes to the pitch in France? Well, read below, beginning with Kingsley Jones, coach.

Kingsley Jones | COACH (Nantyglo, Wales)

Succeeding former Canadian men’s 15s boss Mark Anscombe, Jones entered the fray a year ago with one goal in mind: qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. A flanker with Wales in his playing days – he earned 10 caps from 1996 to 1998 – Jones came to Canada with an impressive resume that includes seven years in various roles, one being head coach with Sale Sharks (English Premiership) and three years as the head coach with Russia’s men’s 15s program (2011-2014). Just before coming to Canada, he was the head coach of Dragons (Pro 14) and also had a brief stint within the Welsh Rugby Union. In 2018, Jones has led the 23rd-ranked Canadians to a 2-7 record, with wins coming against Brazil and Chile in the 2018 Americas Rugby Championship.

Tyler Ardron | Chiefs/Ontario Blues (Lakefield, ON)

There is no doubt the 27-year-old No. 8 will be a difference-maker. After playing five years in Wales with Ospreys (PRO14), Ardron took his game to New Zealand last year, playing with the Chiefs (Super Rugby) and then Bay of Plenty (Mitre 10). If Canada is to qualify, Ardron will be the man sparking the engine.

Kyle Baillie | Westshore RFC/Atlantic Rock (Summerside, PEI)

Since making his debut with the senior men’s team in 2016, Baillie has worked his way into a variety of contracts, including with the Ohio Aviators (PRO Rugby), the London Scottish (RFU Championship) and, most recently, signing with the New Orleans Gold (MLR) for the 2019 season. A versatile forward, Baillie will slot in as a critical piece in the second row.

Noah Barker – James Bay AA/BC Bears (Courtenay, BC)

The 26-year-old prop made his debut with Canada in the ARC this year and earned his first start against Scotland on June 9th in Edmonton, before going on to play against both Russia and the USA.

Ray Barkwill – Seattle Seawolves/Ontario Blues (Niagara Falls, ON)

Barkwill is a well-known quantity at the hooker position. With more than 50 caps to his name, the 37-year-old has become a mainstay with the senior team since his debut in 2012. This past spring, he helped lead the Seattle Seawolves (MLR) to a league title.  

Brett Beukeboom – Cornish Pirates/Ontario Blues (Lindsay, ON)

The Cornish Pirates’ second rower, who is the nephew of former NHLer Jeff Beukeboom, is a hard-working, stereotypical Canadian rugger. With over 30 caps, Beukeboom is another veteran presence, and one who makes his return to the senior team after being unavailable for the 2018 Summer Series.

Nick Blevins – Calgary Hornets/Prairie Wolf Pack (Calgary, AB)

On a team full of veteran talent, Blevins with his 50+ caps fits in well. The Canadian centre, who made headlines when he launched a vegan cheese company this year (Beetroot Nutrition), has started in 26 of his last 28 international appearances, and will be a key piece for the Canadian contingent.

Hubert Buydens – NOLA Gold/Prairie Wolf Pack (Saskatoon, SK)

As a 36-year-old prop, Buydens returns to the senior outfit after not being named to the Summer Series side. A two-time World Cup veteran, who played with the New Orleans Gold (MLR) this past season, Buydens will bring experience that dates back to his senior debut in 2006.

Luke Campbell – James Bay AA/BC Bears (Victoria, BC)

Earning his first cap in February, the No. 8-playing Campbell, 26, has now started all six games he has played with the senior side. He scored in Canada’s pre-tournament win over Oxford, and will likely figure in the mix during the repechage.

Paul Ciulini – Aurora Barbarians/Ontario Blues (Vaughan, ON)

The 23-year-old lock was a regular with the senior outfit in 2016, but after a nearly two-year hiatus returned to the senior team in time to start for Canada against Scotland in the 2018 Summer Series. He’s been part of the Ontario Arrows setup squad, and was recently part of a group of 12 players to formally sign contracts with the rebranded and now MLR-based Toronto Arrows.

Guiseppe du Toit – UVIC Vikes/BC Bears (Maple Ridge, BC)

Amongst a veteran lineup, du Toit at 23 is a relative youngster, but one who has plenty of international experience – earning four starts and seeing action in 13 other games with the senior team over the last two years. The flyhalf was a Canadian U20 star, a standout at the University of Victoria, and recently competed with the Ontario Arrows.

Matt Evans – Cornish Pirates (Maple Bay, BC)

The 30-year-old fullback has featured in Canada’s lineup for the better part of the last decade since his 2008 debut. Professionally, he’s played with the Cornish Pirates (RFU Championship) since joining the club in 2011. He returns to the Canadian lineup for the first time since the November test window in 2016, having been dealing with a serious knee injury. Having played in two World Cups, his return provides a valuable commodity.

Doug Fraser – Castaway Wanderers/BC Bears (Ladysmith, BC)

At 5-foot-8, Fraser is a sturdy centre who made his debut in February before going on to start in three more senior-level games, including the 2018 Summer Series contest against Russia. The graduate of the University of Victoria has found his way into the fold with the national team after playing club rugby with the Castaway Wanderers and the BC Bears.  

Ciaran Hearn – London Irish/Atlantic Rock (Conception Bay South, NL)

While Canadian fans haven’t seen Hearn in almost a year – an injury kept him out of the lineup – the Newfoundland centre/fullback will certainly bolster Canada’s chances in Marseille. Hearn, 32, has 60 international caps, and professionally, has been with the London Irish (RFU Championship) since signing with them following the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Matt Heaton – Darlington Mowden Park/Atlantic Rock (Godmanchester, QC)

The 2017 Rugby Canada Men’s 15s Player of the Year has risen to prominence within the Canadian construct since the 25-year-old flanker was first capped against Japan in 2016. Playing most recently with Darlington Mowden Park (National League 1 – RFU), his work in the back row will be key to Canada’s success.

Eric Howard – NOLA Gold/Ontario Blues (Ottawa, ON)

While Howard, 25, has only earned one start in 14 senior international outings, the Canadian hooker is in good form, coming off an impressive season with the New Orleans Gold (MLR). Just recently re-upping with New Orleans, the graduate of the University of Guelph will likely find his way into a key substitute role within the repechage.

Jake Ilnicki – Yorkshire Carnegie/BC Bears (Williams Lake, BC)

Still only 26 years old, the front rower has already put together a far-reaching rugby resume. Having already spent time playing in Australia, New Zealand, England and the United States, Ilnicki joined Yorkshire Carnegie (RFU Championship) for the 2018-19 season and has already made nine appearances. A stalwart in Canada’s front row, he’s started in every international game he’s played since 2015.

Cole Keith – James Bay AA/Atlantic Rock (Sussex, NB)

The 2017 Rugby Young Player of the Year has continued to impress in 2018, with the 21-year-old prop nabbing his first start against Russia in the Summer Series. The New Brunswick product has been part of Canada’s centralized group since 2016, but most recently has signed a professional deal with the Toronto Arrows.

Josh Larsen – Otago (Parksville, BC)

Larsen, 24, made his international debut just over a year ago, starting against Georgia, and since then has started all 10 matches he’s played. Representing Otago (Mitre 10) in New Zealand this year, the U20 star helped his team capture the 114-year-old Ranfurly Shield.

Ben LeSage – UBC Thunderbirds/Prairie Wolf Pack (Calgary, AB)

LeSage has found his way with Canada in 2018, starting at centre in all four games he played this year, including against Uruguay (twice), Scotland, and the USA. In his fifth year at UBC studying mechanical engineering, LeSage enters the repechage having represented the Thunderbirds throughout the fall within the BC Premier League.

Kainoa Lloyd – Mississauga Blues/Ontario Blues (Mississauga, ON)

Lloyd, 24, has made his way onto the international scene after starring with the Ontario Blues (CRC) as a speedy winger. Since his debut in 2017, Lloyd has built a case for inclusion and his start against the USA in the 2018 Summer Series was a nod to his trajectory. Having suited up for the Ontario Arrows, it was no surprise that he was one of the early signees with the Toronto Arrows. Don’t be surprised if he delights with a key try at some point in the repechage.

Phil Mack – Seattle Seawolves/BC Bears (Victoria, BC)

He’s the captain and the veteran leader who will be called upon to guide Canada into the World Cup. Having player-coached the Seattle Seawolves (MLR) to a league title, Mack, 33, will be expected to lead another squad to a short-window title victory. The tricky scrumhalf with an inventive flair has found his way into a regular starting role under coach Kingsley Jones, and he’ll help make or break Canada’s campaign.

Jamie Mackenzie – Balmy Beach/Atlantic Rock (Oakville, ON)

With an injury to Andrew Ferguson, Mackenzie slots into the Canadian lineup after going more than two years (June 18, 2016 against Russia) since his last appearance. The younger brother of the retired Phil Mackenzie – now a fitness guru and owner of Leansquad, Jamie, who played in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, will be a depth player at scrumhalf.

Gordon McRorie – Calgary Hornets/Prairie Wolf Pack (Calgary, AB)

McRorie is back from an injury that he sustained right before the 2018 Summer Series. Prior to an ARC game against Chile in February, McRorie has played exclusively at scrumhalf for Canada’s senior team. However, against the Chileans, he moved to flyhalf and in Canada’s pre-repechage game against Coventry (RFU Championship), McRorie was again at flyhalf beside Mack.

Shane O’Leary – Nottingham Rugby (Cambleton, NB)

The Canadian flyhalf currently plays with Nottingham (RFU Championship) after stints over the last five years in Ireland, France, and England. O’Leary has been a regular starter at flyhalf with Canada in the last two years and will no doubt be in the mix throughout the repechage.

Evan Olmstead – Auckland/Prairie Wolf Pack (Vancouver, BC)

Alongside Larsen and Ardron, Olmstead, 27, is one of three Canadians who played in New Zealand’s Mitre 10 Cup competition this year and it was his Auckland-based side winning the Premiership final. Olmstead was hoping to parlay his Mitre 10 Cup performance into a Super Rugby contract with the Blues, but it didn’t come to fruition. Alas, the burly lock is in excellent form.

Patrick Parfrey – Swilers RFC/Atlantic Rock (St. John’s, NL)

A utility player for Canada, Parfrey has regularly featured amongst the backs, and being on the long list for Canada gives him a chance to continue to be within the game day roster. At the 2015 Rugby World Cup, he was an injury replacement for Connor Braid, but didn’t play.

Taylor Paris – Castres Olympique/Ontario Blues (Barrie, ON)

Paris, 26, is a player Canada desperately needs to play an important role in the repechage. Playing with Castres Olympique (Top 14), Paris has the game-breaking potential on the wing that Canada will need. In a bit of an odd turn this past summer, Paris actually played against Canada when the senior team played Castre this summer as part of the team’s repechage preparations.

Lucas Rumball – Balmy Beach RFC/Ontario Blues (Mississauga, ON)

At just 22 years old, Rumball was named the third youngest captain in Canadian men’s rugby history when he was sent out to lead his country against Russia in the 2018 Summer Series. Now Rumball, 23,  who recently signed with the Toronto Arrows, will be an up-and-coming piece of Canada’s repechage puzzle. A hard-wired leader, the back rower is one of the youngest players on the roster, but will still play an important role in the repechage.

Theo Sauder – UBC Thunderbirds/BC Bears (Vancouver, BC)

Another youngster, Sauder, 22, received his first cap this summer against Scotland before earning his first start the following week against Russia. The UBC product has been a household named in Canadian rugby circles for years, dating back to at least his U20 days, and now seems set on taking the next step in his career, which recently included inking a deal with the Toronto Arrows.

Djustice Sears-Duru – Unattached/Ontario Blues (Oakville, ON)

It may not seem like it, but Sears-Duru is still only 24 years old. While the hulking prop, with impressive athleticism, has been around the senior team since his debut in 2013 as a 19-year-old, he’s still on the younger end of the repechage roster. Professionally, his most recent contract had him with the Ealing Trailfinders (RFU Championship) in 2017-18. He followed that up by winning the CRC with the Ontario Blues.

Mike Sheppard – Stoney Creek Camels/Ontario Blues (Brampton, ON)

He was the captain of the Ontario Arrows and he’s the lone player on the November roster without a full cap to his name. He’s the type of player who is perfect to be part of the contingent even if he’s not on the regular roster. 

Matt Tierney – Pau/Ontario Blues (Oakville, ON)

The Ontario prop hasn’t been with the senior men’s team since the 2017 November window, but he’s back and Jones is hoping he can play a role. He’s one of the youngest players in the roster, but his experience with Pau (at the academy and with spot duty on the Top 14 side) has him as one to watch for now and the future.

Conor Trainor – USON Nevers/BC Bears (Vancouver, BC)

Trainor, 28, hasn’t played with Canada for over a year, but the hard-running centre will be plenty prepared for the rigours of the repechage. Playing with USON (Union Sportive Olympique Nivernaise) Nevers (Pro D2), Trainor will be in form, and will look to pick up where he left off as a regular starter.

DTH van der Merwe – Glasgow Warriors (Victoria, BC)

Van der Merwe, 32, is Canada’s most popular player because he’s a try-scoring machine. He’s been a dominant force both with his club teams and with Canada. He’s been involved in three Rugby World Cups already (2007, 2011 and 2015) and he’s Canada’s star. Simply put, the Glasgow Warriors winger needs to be scoring if Canada is to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

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