Facing a formidable foe in No. 3 England, Canada will be looking for small victories Saturday at Twickenham.
Coach Kingsley Jones is hoping to see the 23rd-ranked Canadian men make inroads at scrums, lineouts and other parts of the rugby test match.
“We know the odds are stacked against us. We have to look for those small wins,” he said Friday. “And then we can affect the scoreboard.”
Canada has never beaten England, outscored 273-73 in six straight losses. England ran in 12 tries in blanking Canada 70-0 the last time they met, in November, 2004 at Twickenham.
The Canadians are coming off a 68-12 loss to sixth-ranked Wales last weekend.
Despite the lopsided score, Jones saw positives from the game in Cardiff, which was the first for his team since Oct. 8, 2019, at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. But he said the Canadians were “on the ropes” 20 minutes into the match and struggled for a time after that, needing time to adjust to the pace and physicality of the game.
Saying the team has shown well in training this week – “We’ve come a long way in five days.” – he’s hoping for more sustained periods of concentration against England.
“We need to make sure that we’re competitive for the first 20 [minutes],” Jones said. “That’s what we want to do. And I think we’ll be in the game. The longer we’re in the game, who knows? But certainly that first 20, 25 minutes, I want to see our players manage that and [get] those small wins from the little targets that we’ve set ourselves from those set-piece, breakdown battles et cetera.”
England is missing 12 players who are on tour in South Africa with the British and Irish Lions. Coach Eddie Jones is also resting several veterans including George Ford, Jonny May and Ben Youngs for the summer test series.
But given the depth in English rugby and the desire by newcomers to lay claim to future playing opportunities, England will field a dangerous side.
A young English team, with 12 debutants in the matchday 23 – including eight in the starting 15 – defeated the United States 43-29 last Saturday.
The Canadian men are using the July test matches to prepare for the start of World Cup qualifying this fall. The 16th-ranked U.S. Eagles, Canada’s first opponent in qualifying, face No. 4 Ireland on Saturday in Dublin.
Kingsley Jones, a former Wales captain, is expecting a tough challenge.
“As my mother always told me ‘The bigger they are the harder they hit you. And don’t forget that,”’ he said.
The Canadian men have been based outside of Bristol for most of their stay in England. While being stuck in a bubble to avoid COVID has restricted what they can do, Jones says the team has spent a lot of time together at the hotel watching the Euro 2020 soccer tournament on TV.
“It’s actually helped the camaraderie and the team spirit,” he said.
Jones makes two changes to his forward pack with Reegan O’Gorman shifting from blindside flanker to second row in place of the injured Josh Larsen (stiff neck). Corey Thomas of the Los Angeles Giltinis, born in Australia but eligible for Canada through his Edmonton-born father, comes in at No 6.
“Corey’s impressed us in MLR but also in training, he’s been very good,” Jones said.
Earning his first cap, NOLA Gold’s Lachlan Kratz slots into centre with Quinn Ngawati dropping to the bench at the expense of Lucas Albornoz.
“I think Lockie has impressed everybody this season,” Jones said of the 21-year-old from Oak Bay, B.C.
“His running metres, his fitness levels, his speed, his skill I’ve been really impressed with him,” he added. “Quinn did well but we need to give people an opportunity.”
Houston SaberCats prop Liam Murray, in line for his first cap, is among the Canadian replacements. He steps in for Tyler Rowland, who took a knock to the head.
Lucas Rumball captains Canada with Toronto Arrows teammate Ben LeSage as vice-captain.
In the “covering all bases” department, World Rugby says Canada would leapfrog No. 22 Hong Kong with a tie against England and could crack the top 20 if it wins and No. 21 Portugal loses to the No. 24 Netherlands. England could fall as low as seventh with a loss.
An England win will not improve its ranking.
Four players will make their England debuts Saturday: centre Dan Kelly, wing Adam Radwan, lock Harry Wells and No. 8 Alex Dombrandt. Flanker Lewis Ludlow captains England while hooker Jamie Blamire makes his first England start.
Highly touted Harlequins fly half Marcus Smith, 22, earns his second England cap.
The 15 Canadian starters total 204 caps with 53 of those coming from prop Djustice Sears-Duru. The pack has a combined 159 caps going into the match while the backs number 45.
Canada is without some of its overseas pros, including Tyler Ardron, Evan Olmstead and Matt Tierney. Jones said they looked at Conor Young but the former under-20 prop is playing in Australia and would have been unable to get back in if he left due to COVID restrictions.
The English starting 15 goes into the match with a combined cap count of just 129 with centre Henry Slade (39), prop Ellis Genge (29), lock Charlie Ewels (22) and flanker Sam Underhill (23) accounting for 113 of those.
Jamie Cudmore, Canada’s forwards coach and one of the country’s most famous rugby exports, started the 2004 game against England in Twickenham.
“I got my knee blown out on the first kickoff and only managed about 20 minutes after that,” he recalled. “Not the best of memories.
“And the last time I played at Twickenham, I almost got killed through a concussion. I definitely hope that things will be better for the boys [Saturday].”
Henry Paul, now head coach of the Canadian men’s sevens team, lined up for England in the 2004 match. England was coming off winning the World Cup the year before with the likes of Jason Robinson, Will Greenwood and Mike Tindall in its lineup against Canada.
Canada also played England at Twickenham in December, 1994 and August, 1999, losing 60-19 and 36-11, respectively. The two sides also met there in October, 1983 but England did not award caps for the 27-0 victory.