Canada kicks off its 2019 Rugby World Cup preparations in Montevideo on Saturday against a Uruguay team it knows all too well.
The 17th-ranked Uruguayans consigned the Canadian men to a repechage in November after winning a two-game World Cup qualifying series 70-60 on aggregate early last year.article continues below
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The 20th-ranked Canadians won the last-chance qualifier with wins over Kenya, Germany and Hong Kong. Now they revisit Uruguay in the first round of the Americas Rugby Championship.
Canada coach Kingsley Jones believes the Uruguayans spent two years peaking for the qualifying series against his team last January and February. While the stakes are not nearly as high this weekend, he still expects a formidable foe.
"I still think we will have a very tough challenge against a passionate team," he said. "But I think it's tight between both teams. A couple of key players for both teams make a difference in terms of experience as well."'
Kingsley pointed to scrum half Santiago Arata as one of Uruguay's danger-men.
"We know their (No.) 9 is a real threat and can be a game-breaker," he said.
Arata did just that last October when Uruguay 'A'' downed Canada 'A' 35-21 in the World Rugby Americas Pacific Challenge at Estadio Charrua, the same stadium hosting Saturday's match.
Arata, a native of Montevideo, plays for the Houston SaberCats in Major League Rugby.
Canada's scrum was on the back foot in the October match. Jones says there has been a "massive improvement" since then, which should help the Canadian cause.
"The spirit here is confident and positive. We're looking forward to it," he said.
Jones is missing a large chunk of his repechage roster, with most overseas pros left with their clubs.
The missing include forwards Tyler Ardron, Ray Barkwill, Brett Beukeboom, Hubert Buydens, Jake Ilnicki and Evan Olmstead and backs Matt Evans, Phil Mack, Gord McRorie, Shane O'Leary, Taylor Paris, Conor Trainor and DTH van der Merwe.
Of Saturday's matchday 23, only backs Ciaran Hearn (London Irish, England) and Will Percillier (Stade Francais, France) and forwards Conor Keys (Rotherham Titans, England) and Matt Tierney (Pau, France) play abroad.
There are 12 players from the Major League Rugby ranks including six from the Toronto Arrows.
The Canadians, who left for Uruguay last Saturday, trained in 38-degree Celsius heat at 6 p.m. local time Monday.
"A bit of a shock to the system," said Jones.
But it should be cooler Saturday with kickoff scheduled for 9:40 p.m. local time (7:40 ET).
A 15-point win over Uruguay and Canada will vault three places to No. 17 in the world rugby rankings, its highest position since June 2016. That looks to be a tough ask.
Uruguay won the first leg of the World Cup qualifier 38-29 in Vancouver and the second leg 32-31 in Montevideo.
Backrower Lucas Rumball, recently named skipper of the Toronto Arrows, captains Canada. Percillier, a 20-year-old scrum half, and 22-year-old forward Nakai Penny could win their first caps off the bench.
Canada holds an 8-4-0 career record against Uruguay dating back to 1995, although the South Americans have won their last three matches.
Canada (2-3-0) finished fourth at last year's ARC won by the 12th-ranked Americans (5-0-0). The tournament also features No. 28 Brazil, No. 29 Chile and an Argentine reserve side.
After Uruguay, Canada plays Brazil on Feb. 9 in Sao Paulo before hosting Chile and the Argentina XV in Langford, B.C., on Feb. 22 and March 1, respectively. Canada will wrap up tournament play March 8 against the U.S. in Seattle.
Canada will play three more games at the Pacific Nations Cup in July and August. Rugby Canada is looking for more warmup fixtures ahead of the World Cup, which opens in September.
The Canadian men have been drawn in Pool B alongside No. 1 New Zealand, No. 5 South Africa, No. 15 Italy and No. 22 Namibia.
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Source : https://www.coastreporter.net/canadian-men-kick-off-rugby-world-cup-preparations-with-game-in-uruguay-1.23620461