By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
TORONTO – Captain Tyler Ardron will lead a strong Canadian squad for June’s rugby internationals against Japan, Scotland and the U.S.
In addition to the back-row forward from Lakefield, Ont., coach Kieran Crowley’s 26-man squad includes overseas pros Hubert Buydens, Aaron Carpenter, Jamie Cudmore, Jeff Hassler, Tyler Hotson, Jason Marshall, Taylor Paris, James Pritchard, Jebb Sinclair and DTH Van der Merwe.
“It’s probably the first time for a while we’ve had most of the players available for selection.” Crowley said in an interview Sunday.
Canada, ranked 15th in the world, is training in Burnaby, B.C., in advance of Saturday’s Pacific Nations Cup match against Japan, which is expected to move to No. 12 in the next rankings, at Swangard Stadium.
The Canadian men take on No. 10 Scotland at Toronto’s BMO Field on June 14 before facing the 18th-ranked U.S. Eagles on May 21 in Pacific Nations play in Sacramento.
Canada is missing props Doug Wooldridge and Tom Dolezel and backs Nathan Hirayama and Matt Evans, who are coming back from injury.
Japan is on a high, having just qualified for the 2015 World Cup and fresh from a 33-14 win over No. 8 Samoa.
The Brave Blossoms have won seven straight, including a 42-17 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield last November.
“They’re knocking on the door of the top 10 in the world,” said Crowley. “They’ve poured a lot of money into their game. They’re obviously wanting to get it to the highest possible position before they host the World Cup in 2019.”
The roster announcement followed Saturday’s trials match that saw a B.C. invitational team edge the Canada Select 27-26 in West Vancouver.
“Certainly a very competitive game which showed that we are actually a little bit of depth there,” said Crowley.
That depth is shown by the fact that winger Phil MacKenzie of England’s Sale Sharks was not selected for the test roster.
Crowley and the Canada selectors opted for Taylor Paris, Jeff Hassler and Van der Merwe.
“There’s three specialist wingers there, so it’s a case of the quality of players in that area are very very strong. For this particular selection, we left Phil out. But there was a fair bit of debate around that area, as there was around a couple of other areas as well, particularly the midfield.”
Hassler, who scored seven tries in his first season with Wales’ Ospreys, was named to the RaboDirect Pro 12 team of the season. The Pro 12 league features teams from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.
Gordon McRorie, a Scottish scrum half who has qualified to play for Canada, makes the 26-man squad and will join veteran Phil Mack at No. 9. His play in the trials match helped him leapfrog Sean White.
Crowley has questions in the back row due to an abundance of talent, even with Carpenter shifting from No. 8 to hooker.
“Our challenge will be to get the balance right,” said Crowley.
Ardron, named captain Sunday for the June internationals, will lead the back row. John Moonlight, Nanyak Dala and Adam Kleeberger are coming off Canada’s fine sevens season. And veteran Jebb Sinclair can play either in the back row or second row, if needed.
Ardron captained the side several times in 2013.
Tyler Ardron (capt.), Ospreys (Wales), Lakefield, Ont.; Ray Barkwill, Niagara Wasps, Niagara Falls, Ont.; Nick Blevins, Calgary Hornets, Calgary; Connor Braid, James Bay AA, Victoria; Hubert Buydens, Manawatu Turbos (New Zealand), Saskatoon; Aaron Carpenter, Cornish Pirates (England), Brantford, Ont.; Jamie Cudmore, ASM Clermont Auvergne (France), Squamish, B.C.; Nanyak Dala, Castaway Wanderers, Saskatoon; Jeff Hassler, Ospreys (Wales), Okotoks, Alta.; Caran Hearn, Castaway Wanderers, Conception Bay South, N.L.; Tyler Hotson, London Scottish (England), Vancouver; Jake Ilnicki, Castaway Wanderers, Williams Lake, B.C.; Harry Jones, UBCOB Ravens, Vancouver; Adam Kleeberger, Castaway Wanderers, White Rock, B.C.; Phil Mack, James Bay AA, Victoria; Jason Marshall, Atlantique Stade Rochelais (France), Vancouver; Gordon McRorie, Calgary Hornets, Calgary; John Moonlight, James Bay AA, Pickering, Ont.; Patrick Parfrey, Swilers RFC, St. Johns, N.L.; Taylor Paris, SU Agen Lot-et-Garonne (France), Barrie, Ont.; Jon Phelan, Castaway Wanderers, Montreal; James Pritchard, Bedford Blues (England) Parkes, Australia; Jebb Sinclair, London Irish (England), Fredericton; Andrew Tiedemann, Castaway Wanderers, St. Albert, Alta.; Liam Underwood, Ontario Blues, Toronto; DTH Van der Merwe, Glasgow Warriors (Scotland), Regina.