Flanker Lucas Rumball will captain Canada and fly half Theo Sauder makes his first start on Saturday when the national team takes on Russia at Ottawa’s Twin Elm Rugby Park.
The 22-year-old Rumball takes over as skipper from winger DTH van der Merwe, who injured his calf in last Saturday’s 48-10 loss to Scotland in Edmonton. Van der Merwe was filling in for captain Tyler Ardron, a backrower who is unavailable after failing to pass a concussion test in the wake of an injury sustained playing for the Chiefs in New Zealand.
Coach Kingsley Jones says while van der Merwe is not a long-term casualty, he won’t be back in time for the June 23 test against the United States, in Halifax. Van der Merwe, who plays his club rugby in Scotland for the Glasgow Warriors, is Canada’s all-time leading try-scorer.
Jones has had little luck so far in the June internationals.
Some 10 players fell victim to a stomach bug leading up to the match against the sixth-ranked Scots, who brought a young but very capable touring party to North America. The disorder forced a late change before kickoff with Ben LeSage coming in for Doug Fraser at outside centre.
Gord McRorie, who can play scrum half and fly half, remains out with an ankle injury suffered in training for Scotland.
The good news is the stomach bug seems to have run its course through the team.
Rumball, named Canada’s top young male player in 2014, will lead the senior side out for the first time. The 22-year-old from Toronto has captained Canada at the World Rugby Trophy U20 tournament and also served as skipper recently for the Canada Selects against the Ontario Arrows. Saturday will mark his 21st senior appearance.
Sauder, a 22-year-old from Vancouver, won his first cap off the bench against Scotland.
“I like him a lot,” Jones said. “He’s got a great skill set, probably the best skill set I’ve seen of any young fellow in Canada. He has the ability to pass, to kick. He has a lot of pace and footwork. And also he’s a confident young man.”
Shane O’Leary, who started at No. 10 against Scotland, drops to the bench.
Jones has been searching for a fly half. McCrorie, if healthy, would likely be his first choice but the job, which has been a problem area for some years now, is there to be won.
Jones, who coached Russia from 2011 to 2014 in a part-time role, has made eight changes to the 15 that started against Scotland.
Cole Keith, Josh Larson and Dustin Dobravsky come into the pack while Sauder, Fraser, Andrew Ferguson, Cole Davis and Brock Staller are introduced in the back.
Jorden Sandover-Best could win his first cap off the bench. Fellow replacement Keys (Stittsville, Ont.) and Eric Howard (Ottawa) are local boys.
Canada is 4-0-0 against Russia, winning 46-12 in Calgary last time out in 2016.
The Canadian men, ranked 21st in the world, are using the June internationals to gear up for a four-team repechage tournament in November that represents their last chance to qualify for the 2019 World Cup.
No. 19 Russia, which is World Cup-bound, is coming off a 62-13 loss to the 15th-ranked U.S. Eagles.