Rugby team looks to rebound against Russia
Georgia's Gregori Labadze, left, looks for the ball as Canada's Tom Dolezel, centre left, Tyler Ardron, right, and Andrew Tiedeman, bottom, scrum against Georgia's Davit Zirakashvili, centre right, during the first half of play in an international rugby test match in Burnaby, B.C., on Saturday June 23, 2012. (The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck)
Published Friday, November 16, 2012 1:53PM EST
After a poor showing in a loss to Samoa, the Canadian rugby team looks to get back on track against Russia on Saturday.
Canada, ranked 13th in the world, lost 42-12 to No. 10 Samoa in a game that saw the Canadian men on the back foot from the start. The hard-nosed Pacific Islanders -- a fully professional side -- won the battle of the breakdown at Colwyn Bay, Wales, before stepping off the gas as the game wore on.
"They were very physical and they had a lot of power in contact," said Canadian coach Kieran Crowley.
"The boys never gave up but we just were found wanting on the day really," he added.
The Canadians hope for a better showing against a 20th-ranked Russian team that went down 40-26 against the 17th-ranked Americans in a game that immediately proceeded the Canada-Samoa match Nov. 9 at Parc Eirias.
But the Samoa contest left a mark, with the Canadian backs particularly hard hit.
Winger Matt Evans pulled a quad muscle and has returned to his club. Scrum half Sean White broke a thumb and is also out the rest of the tour. Jeff Hassler and Eric Wilson are their replacements.
Nick Blevins enters at centre for Phil Mackenzie, who had a concussion and missed several training sessions. Harry Jones comes in at fly half for Connor Braid, who also sat out practice earlier in the week with a neck problem.
Not to mention "some bumps and bruises in the forwards that are being managed," according to Crowley.
"Yes, we came out of it a little worse than wear, I suppose," he said. "That just shows the physicality of the game."
Samoa fullback James So'oialo was subsequently suspended for three weeks for what was deemed a dangerous tackle in the Canada game.
The good news for Crowley is Jebb Sinclair has cleared up his visa issues and will start at lock forward. Sinclair has been one of the Canadian rugby stories of the season, playing for the Stormers and Western Province in South Africa.
Canada also fields a new front row in Andrew Tiedeman, Ryan Hamilton and Jason Marshall at the same venue in Wales.
The Canadian team has also recalled Phil Mack, who was originally selected to go tour but begged off due to school commitments.
There were some positives against Samoa. Back-rower Chauncey O'Toole was a standout and Braid had his moments.
The Canadians wrap up their tour Nov. 23 in Oxford against the New Zealand Maori All Blacks, who will be a handful.
A good result against Russia is all the more crucial after the Samoa defeat.
"I was disappointed after (last) Friday, to be honest," said Crowley. "We went into that game with the belief we could win that one. We approach them all like that. I really thought we could perform better than what we did against Samoa. I just felt that we let ourselves down a little but in our physicality and the power we took into contact.
"Now that that one's behind us, yeah we're targeting this one."
Crowley credited the U.S. with raising their game against the Russians.
"They're one of the strongest U.S. sides I think I've seen," he said. "They seem to have good size across the park and with the new coach (Mike Tolkin), they've changed their style of play. They're playing a lot more rugby which tested the Russians."
The American performance is of interest since the Canadians will face the U.S. next summer in a World Cup qualifying playoff.
Most of the Russians play professionally in their country although speedster Vasily Artemyev plays for Northampton and lock forward Andrei Ostrikov is with Sale, another England club.
The Russians are coached by former Wales flanker and Sale coach Kingsley Jones.