Saturday , December 4 2021

Canada faces Hong Kong in final bid to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup



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One game. One last chance.

Canada's record of taking part in every Rugby World Cup is on the line Friday when the Canadian men take on Hong Kong in the final of a four-team repechage to decide the 20th and last berth at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Millions of dollars in funding and, to some degree, Canada's rugby reputation are also on strike. Friday's match at Stade Delort in Marseille, France, is arguably one of the biggest for a Canadian men's team that has struggled to hold its own in recent years.

Canada coach Kingsley Jones and his players are well aware of the bigger picture, with Canada likely to lose significant financial support from World Rugby if it falls short.

"We all know how important it is," said Jones, part of Russia's coaching setup at the 2011 World Cup. "But we're keeping it within the group. It's important for Rugby Canada but it's important for the individuals as well to get a chance to play in a Rugby World Cup.

"The team wants to achieve and they want to play in a Rugby World Cup and that's the driver."

After scoring bonus points wins over No. 30 Kenya (65-19) and No. 28 Germany (29-10), the Canadians are in the driver's seat with 10 points. Hong Kong, which lost 26-9 to Germany and picked up a bonus point in beating Kenya 42-17, has five points.

The pressure is on Hong Kong, which needs to beat Canada and score four tries for a bonus point win while denying the Canadians a bonus point in losing (by seven or less points).

That would leave both teams on 10 points, with Hong Kong moving on thanks to beating Canada.

Canada's focus is simple – just win.

"From our point of view, we fully respect Hong Kong – a very good Hong Kong team," said Jones. "They are confident. They had a blip against Germany … But they still find themselves in a position where they can qualify for the World Cup. "

As it has been through the repechage, Canada has opted for experience and continuity.

"They're players here who have been involved in big games before," said Jones.

The lone change from the team that defeated Germany last Saturday is on the wing where Taylor Paris replaces the injured Matt Evans.

Prop Hubert Buydens, a veteran of the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, is set to win his 50th cap.

Friendship will have to be put on Friday. Jones used to play under Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones, a fellow Welshman, and counts him as a close friend. Thus, David (Dai) Rees, chief rugby officer of the Hong Kong Rugby Union.

Leigh Jones is no stranger to upsets. He was defenseman coach under Eddie Jones (no relation, now England coach) at the 2015 World Cup when Japan defeated South Africa 34-32 in one of the biggest upsets of the tournament.

Kingsley Jones expects a Hong Kong side that will look at the breakdown and try to hurt Canada with its speed.

"They're well-coached, well-organized. You can see they spend a lot of time together, "said Jones. "Everybody knows their role."

The repechage winner will slot into Pool B at the World Cup alongside top-ranked New Zealand, No. 5 South Africa, No. 14 Italy and No. 23 Namibia.

Both Canada and Hong Kong have moved up the rankings during the repechage. Canada stands 21st while Hong Kong is 22nd.

Canada qualified for the World Cup in its first attempt every other time. But it dropped into the repechage this time after losing two-game series to the 13th-ranked U.S. (80-44 on aggregate) and No. 18 Uruguay (70-60).

The loss to the US cost New Zealand's Mark Anscombe his job as coach after only 16 months on the job. Jones was hired in September 2017 four months before the Uruguay series.

The Canadians go into Friday's match with some momentum, having won five straight including a 'A' victory over Tonga 'A' and a pair of wins over English club opposition.

Hong Kong overcame Malaysia and South Korea in the Asia Rugby Championship before defeating the Cook Islands (77-3 on aggregate) in a Asia-Oceania playoff to advance to the repechage.

The World Cup trophy – the Webb Ellis Cup – will be on hand for the repechage decider.

Canada Roster

Hubert Buydens, NOLA Gold (Major League Rugby), Saskatoon; Ray Barkwill, Seattle Seawolves (MLR), Niagara Falls, Ont .; Matt Tierney, Pau (France), Oakville, Ont .; Mike Sheppard, Stoney Creek Camels, Brampton, Ont .; Evan Olmstead, Auckland (New Zealand), Vancouver; Kyle Baillie, Westshore RFC, Summerside, P.E.I .; Lucas Rumball, Balmy Beach RFC, Mississauga, Ont .; Tyler Ardron, Chiefs (New Zealand), Lakefield, Ont .; Phil Mack (capt.), Seattle Seawolves (MLR), Victoria; Gordon McRorie, Calgary Hornets, Calgary; DTH van der Merwe, Glasgow Warriors (Scotland), Victoria; Ciaran Hearn, London Irish (England), Conception Bay South, N.L .; Ben LeSage, UBC Thunderbirds, Calgary; Taylor Paris, Castres Olympique (France), Barrie, Ont .; Theo Sauder, UBC Thunderbirds, Vancouver.

Replacements

Eric Howard, NOLA Gold (MLR), Ottawa; Djustice Sears-Duru, unattached, Oakville, Ont .; Jake Ilnicki, Yorkshire Carnegie (England), Williams Lake, B.C .; Brett Beukeboom, Cornish Pirates (England), Lindsay, Ont; Matt Heaton, Darlington Mowden Park (England), Godmanchester, Que .; Jamie Mackenzie, Balmy Beach, Oakville, Ont .; Nick Blevins, Calgary Hornets, Calgary; Conor Trainor, USON Nevers (France), Vancouver.

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