Thursday, June 14, 2007

All Blacks vs. Canada countdown...

Nobody is under any illusions here. Canada is going to get spanked by the All Blacks on Saturday. Badly. But it will be an excellent (albeit steep) learning curve, and Canada will bring the hard lessons learned to France in September.

The Canadians expect to lose. But there won't be any quit or hanging heads. This may actually be a bigger highlight for many of the Canadian players than even playing in the RWC. This is only the second time that Canada has faced the All Blacks in New Zealand, so it'll doubtlessly be special to them.

Canada's starting line-up is close to their 1st XV. Their first-choice locking partnership, Jamie Cudmore and Mike James, were unable to travel to NZ in time because they played in last weekends' Stade Francais vs. Clermont French club final. Aside from that weakness, this is probably the best team Canada has been able to assemble for a test in a long time. The bench is also handy.

The New Zealanders are sitting some of their best stars (Richie McCaw, Carl Hayman) on the bench; some players (Jerry Collins, Troy Flavell) are playing out-of-position. New star Isaia Toeava will not be playing, despite a late-scratch to centre Conrad Smith. And the All Blacks locking depth is in tatters with injuries (Ali Williams, Keith Robinson, Jason Eaton, James Ryan) and pregnancies (Chris Jack (!)) ruled out for several weeks. Nevertheless, expect a 60-70 point rout, and perhaps some champagne rugby.

BIG NEWS for Canadian rugby fans. Unlike the RWC, this test match will be available on FREE TV twice on Saturday (tape delay) on Canadian sports network "The Score." First showing will be at 10:00 am ET (Toronto, Montreal) with a second broadcast now at 6:30 pm ET, both on Saturday, June 16th. This is the first Canadian mens test match broadcast on Canadian TV in a year, so it's a big deal for Canadian rugby fans too. Click here for more details.

If you can't wait to see the test on tape delay, Mediazone Rugby Channel is offering the test LIVE ONLINE for $9.99 fee, kick-off starting 03:35 am ET (Toronto, New York). Click here for details.

New Zealand: 1. John Schwalger, 2. Andrew Hore, 3. Neemia Tialata, 4. Troy Flavell, 5. Ross Filipo, 6. Reuben Thorne (captain), 7. Chris Masoe, 8. Jerry Collins, 9. Byron Kelleher, 10. Dan Carter, 11. Sitiveni Sivivatu, 12. Aaron Mauger, 13. Luke McAlister, 14. Doug Howlett, 15. Mils Muliaina. Reserves: 16. Keven Mealamu, 17. Carl Hayman, 18. Rodney So'oialo, 19. Richie McCaw, 20. Piri Weepu, 21. Rico Gear, 22. Leon MacDonald.

Canada: 1. Kevin Tkachuk, 2. Pat Riordan, 3. Scott Franklin, 4. Luke Tait, 5. Mike Burak, 6. Colin Yukes, 7. Stan McKeen, 8. Sean-Michael Stephen, 9. Morgan Williams (captain), 10. Ryan Smith, 11. James Pritchard, 12. David Spicer, 13. Craig Culpan, 14. Justin Mensah-Coker, 15. Mike Pyke. Reserves: 16. Aaron Carpenter, 17. Dan Pletch, 18. Mike Pletch, 19. Josh Jacson, 20. Adam Kleeberger, 21. Dean Van Camp, 22. Ed Fairhurst.

Date: Saturday 16 June 2007
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand
Kick-off: 19.35 (07.35 GMT) 03:35 AM ET (Toronto, New York)
Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)
Touch judges: Craig Joubert (South Africa), George Ayoub (Australia)
Television match official: Paul Marks (Australia)
Assessor: Bob Francis (New Zealand)

Rugby Canada preview - click here. preview - click here.

Rugby Planet preview - click here.

New Zealand Herald feature story ("Canada aim for exercise in damage limitation") - click here.

Ex-Canadian skipper Al Charron's latest column is worth a read. He reminisces about the shellacking the All Blacks dished out to Canada in 1995, and talks about what the Canadian boys can expect in Hamilton this weekend. Charron also makes an interesting point about 1995, when NZ put over 70 points on Canada in the run-up to RWC 1995, then in the actual tournament Canada played both Australia and South Africa comparatively tough. Excerpt:

[...] A lot has been made of the fact and questioning why would Canada take on these fixtures - but why wouldn’t you want to? Any player worth his salt wants to play and test themselves against the best and New Zealand certainly fits that bill.

No matter what the results are Canada will come out of that match against the All Blacks knowing it has been in a game and with all due respect for the rest of Canada’s opponents in the months to come the games will be easier from here on in. When you’re thrown into the fire like Canada will be - lessons will be learned both in what you should and shouldn’t do in a given situation.

If you want to be better as an individual player and as a team you play the best and in doing so you pick up the small subtleties and nuances that allow great players and teams to make the plays and decisions that they do. Not only will the players benefit from playing in New Zealand, a rugby hotbed, but so will the coaches, as the Kiwis in my experience are very generous and gracious in helping countries like Canada improve their game.

Having said that, there will be no quarter given nor asked in the actual matches. New Zealand rugby is tough, physical and uncompromising. If test rugby is a few major steps up from club rugby then a test match where the opponents are the All Blacks takes it to yet another level. Their foot is firmly on the accelerator at all times and for Canada there is no weathering the storm like a typical test for the first ten minutes. This will be a case of weathering the perfect storm for 80 minutes of hell. Canada will need to battle through the adversity it faces and to maintain composure by virtue of strong mental discipline in what will surely be an almighty physical battle. [...]

I have had the good fortune of playing the All Blacks on two occasions, once in 1991 when Canada played one of it’s better games in that year’s RWC quarter-final (NZ 29 - Canada 13) and a second time in 1995 (73-7) a couple months prior to that year’s RWC in South Africa. The second game does not bring back as fond memories as the first (if you can take any solace in losses) because we were totally out classed and I personally was terrible. We played the All Blacks following a scorcher of a match in Fiji that left me so messed up that I was hospitalised overnight (which was a story in itself the details of which I won't share with you here). As a result I was a wreck for the All Blacks match and I have no memories of the Fijian ordeal, other than by what others told me and by virtue of a grainy video of my last conscious moments in the match prior to succumbing to my collective injuries suffered in the game.

I have often been asked if we were a demoralized lot after the NZ game? Well perhaps briefly (getting crushed is hard to swallow), but as experienced a side as Canada had down there in the South Pacific we didn’t come into that NZ game in the best frame of mind. We had some off field issues to contend with and we had some beat up guys on the pitch to play a fired up All Blacks side that was fresh off a trial match with players looking to solidify their position for the up coming RWC. Now you better have your ‘A’ game when you play as formidable a foe as the All Blacks and we didn’t and rightly took it on the chin.

That All Black side was a beauty and to this day, as I have said many times before with all due respect to South Africa the 1995 RWC winners, that NZ side was the best team in the world that year and if the RWC final match up was actually a hypothetical NHL best out of 7 the Kiwis would have won it in 5.

Easiest thing for Canada to do would have been to wallow in our own self pity after suffering such a humiliating loss heading into the RWC but we didn’t.

We took away valuable lessons from that game and regrouped. [...]

You can’t help but be better as a player and as a team when playing sides as skilled, polished and clinical as the All Blacks are. You ask any player who has had the good fortune to represent their country in rugby and no doubt to a man they will tell you they want to play against the top sides the world has to offer and perched firmly on top of that list is New Zealand.

Canada, will God willing, come away from this short tour with no major injuries but more importantly, a team better educated in rugby and how to play and carry the pace of a match that will pay dividends for the individual players, coaches and team as a whole come this Fall’s Rugby World Cup.

In 1995, if not for being placed in the pool of death with Romania, South Africa and Australia we may very well have made as much noise in that Rugby World Cup as we did in the previous one. We beat Romania handily (34-3), played the defending 1991 RWC Champions Australia tough (27-11) and the same goes for 1995 RWC champions to be South Africa who we lost to (20-0) in a tough match that unfortunately is remembered more for the infamous brawl then for the robust rugby that was played by a depleted but determined Canadian side.

I was proud of how we played as a team and I think we took a lot of useful things away from the New Zealand pummelling we received prior to the RWC and applied it and addressed it in our pool games. If we had simply played Fiji and maybe say Tonga on that pre RWC tour and not NZ I don’t think we play as well as we do in that 1995 RWC. Furthermore I know that personally I used the embarrassing score line and my poor showing in that NZ match as motivation to prove to the world that I was a better player then I displayed and that we, Canada were a superior team then we showed. We were a proud bunch of Canadians, many who were involved in the 1991 campaign, and we wanted to send notice that the 1991 RWC was not a flash in the pan.

Canada has some very good rugby players at present and I don’t think Canada is going to get crushed like everyone is forecasting but they will no doubt be tested to the extreme and it will be interesting to see how the team responds during the game to the pressure the All Blacks will impose on them. Similarly it will be worthy of note to see how Canada reacts, responds after the game and to carry lessons learned forward.

If Canada has any real inclination of doing something special in the 2007 RWC then the tour to NZ that they are undertaking is needed. Winning against Fiji or Japan is no given but if we are indeed to beat them and want any chance of beating one of our much higher ranked remaining 2007 RWC pool opponents either Wales or Australia then you best go into the Lions den to see where you stand.




At 12:06 AM , Blogger Theresa said...

Kia Ora from New Zealand. Just to let everyone know, there will be at least 500 Canadian rugby supporters at the Canada-New Zealand test on Saturday. We will be making as much noise as possible to show our support for the Canadian team. We know the game will be a monumental challenge for the Canadians but we will be supporting them all the way!!


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