Canada rugby coach Kingsley Jones has named four uncapped players in his starting 15 against Wales on Saturday, with another three ready to make their debut off the bench.
Eight of the 15 starters are 24 or younger. Jones calls it “possibly one of the youngest Canadian teams ever.”
“And that’s exciting. That’s needed,” he said. “Right now we’re at the early stages, but over the next few years this group will grow and I think they’ll become a force. So we’re excited to see the start of that really, and be part of it.”
Uncapped scrum half Ross Braude, centre Quinn Ngawati, fullback Cooper Coats and No. 8 Siaki Vikilani all make the starting lineup. Prop Tyler Rowland, lock Donald Carson and flanker Michael Smith are in line for their first cap among the replacements. The 22-year-old Ngawati spent time with rugby league’s Toronto Wolfpack before returning to rugby union.
The test match at Principality Stadium in Cardiff is the first for the 23rd-ranked Canadian men since Oct. 8, 2019, when Canada lost 66-7 to eventual champion South Africa at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. Wales has 15 tests under its belt since the World Cup.
After Wales, Canada plays No. 3 England at Twickenham on July 10.
“We’re here to play. We’re excited to get the opportunity to plays Wales and, of course, England,” said Jones, a former Wales captain. “I think for us, it’s all about the preparation for September and the Rugby World Cup qualification games. They’re critical games.
“We haven’t been together since the World Cup. So for us to get this opportunity [is] a huge challenge. But we’re here to find out a lot about the players and about ourselves working together. So that’s really exciting, particularly with a young group.”
The Canadian starting 15 goes into the match with a combined 206 caps, with props Djustice Sears-Duru and Jake Ilnicki accounting for 90 of those.
The Wales starting 15, which features uncapped lock Ben Carter and wing Tom Rogers, has a combined caps total of 414. There are three uncapped players among the Welsh replacements.
The Welsh side is missing 10 players who are on tour in South Africa with the British and Irish Lions. But coach Wayne Pivac can count on fullback Leigh Halfpenny, who wins his 96th cap for Wales and 100th in all tests including Lions play, and centre Jonathan Davies, who earns his 89th cap.
The front row of Nicky Smith, Elliot Dee and Dillon Lewis comes into the game with a combined 104 caps.
Twelve of the 15 Canadian starters play in Major League Rugby, with five from the Toronto Arrows. Only fly half Peter Nelson (Mont de Mason, France), Coats (Canada sevens program) and Kainoa Lloyd (Rugby Canada’s national development academy) play outside the MLR.
The Canadian men open their World Cup qualifying campaign against the 16th-ranked U.S. Eagles on Sept. 4 in St. John’s, with the return match set for Sept. 11 south of the border.
The winner will face the winner of the SAR 3 Nations tournament (featuring either Brazil or Paraguay, Chile or Colombia, and Uruguay) to see who qualifies as American 1 in Pool A alongside New Zealand, host France, Italy and Africa 1 at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
The United States-Canada loser will face the South American tournament runner-up to determine who becomes Americas 2, joining England, Japan, Argentina and Oceania 1 in Pool D in France.
The loser of that series has one last chance to qualify through a repechage tournament. The repechage winner will play in Pool C with Wales, Australia, Fiji and Europe 1.
Canada will play host to its end of the second-round qualifier Oct. 2 in Langford, B.C.