Canada is looking to end its 2010 autumn tour with a 3-1 record, but standing in the way of that happening is a determined Portugal side looking to get a first ever victory over the visitors.
For Coach Kieran Crowley the outcome is going to be crucial in determining the success of this tour, especially coming on the heels of a shock loss to Georgia in Tbilisi a week ago.
“(This game) has always had that weight on it – we know the challenge is here,” said Crowley of the Portuguese test. “In 2008 we only had an 8-point difference in our win here.”
But equally important for the coach, is having a fourth fly-half in as many weeks slotting into the starting lineup. In Saturday’s case, however, it is not a last minute change, but the guy who was supposed to be in for the last two weekends, Ander Monro.
Monro injured a stomach muscle during the warmup to the test against Spain in Madrid, with wing/fullback Ciaran Hearn getting just a few minutes notice that he would filling in at the No. 10 spot. Canada won the match 60-22, but the following week U20 flyhalf Connor Braid completed an incredible round trip journey that saw him leave Belgium, return to Victoria, play a game for his club side James Bay, and then return to Europe to start against Georgia last weekend. Nathan Hirayama was the starting flyhalf vs Belgium, but was injured in that game.
Crowley says it will be good to have the stability of the normal starter in the pivot spot on Saturday in Lisbon.
“He got through a full out training session (Thursday) and the medical team did a great job,” said Crowley of Monro, who makes his 23rd start for Canada. “He was 100 percent at training and he is champing at the bit to get out there so I am glad that he gets that opportunity.”
Another key change is in the Canadian back line as DTH van der Merwe has returned to club duties in Glasgow, along with front rower Kevin Tkachuk. As a result Nick Blevins will get the No. 12 jersey, partnering with outside center Phillip Mackenzie.
“Nick has played well the limited time he has had,” offers Crowley, adding, “His training ethic has improved over the past year and it is really showing in what he can get done on the field.”
Crowley explains that he could have held onto the Warriors duo, but in an effort to both keep a cordial relationship with their pro team heading into a World Cup year, and also in an effort to really test some of the younger players in his stable, he let them return to club duty.
“We always knew we would only have them for the middle two games and we have planned for it, though certainly with the amount of injuries we have had – it didn’t make things ideal,” he says. “But in the World Cup we have the situation where we have two games in four days, and so you need to know who you can go to when you need to manage your players like that.”
Tom Dolezel gets his second start of the tour at loose head prop, along with second year man Andrew Tiedemann who pulls tighthead duties, with Captain Pat Riordan in the middle at hooker.
For Dolezel, this is an opportunity to showcase what he brings to the table after coming off the bench the past couple of weeks.
“There are some areas he needs to improve on that we will look at carefully,” he says of the London, Ontario native. “But he has had some good impact off the bench, and we want to see more of that but in a starting role.”
Crowley is also interested in seeing Tiedemann in action after the 22-year-old Albertan got an injury during training on the current tour. He is now ready, and gets his 8th cap on Saturday.
“The Portuguese are another team that has a strong scrum so we have to stand up to that pressure,” said Crowley, who noted the Lobos got a push over try against the USA two weeks ago.
In the second row Jebb Sinclair switches up once more from a flanker role to that of a lock, as he did vs Belgium to start the tour. He will work with Plymouth Albion’s Tyler Hotson.
The back row sees one change as Sean Michael Stephen earns a start after two substitute appearances against Spain and Georgia, coming in at the expense of Chauncey O’Toole who will be a back row replacement.
“Sean Michael has provided impact off the bench,” says Crowley. “It was really a horses for courses type of decision. Chauncey has played well but we thought it was good to reward Sean Michael with a start after the way he has played.”
Aaron Carpenter stays in at number 8 and Adam Kleeberger gets the open side flanker role for another week.
In the back three it is James Pritchard moving back to full back after a weekend on the wing, with Ciaran Hearn and Justin Mensah-Coker returning to their normal roles on the wing.
Off the replacements bench Jason Marshall and Dan Pletch will provide front cover, while in the second row it is Montreal's Jon Phelan getting another Canada opportunity.
Chauncey O’Toole will have an impact role in the back row, while Connor Braid and Jamie Mackenzie will be back ups at fly-half and scrum-half respectively. Teenager Taylor Paris will be available as a replacement on the win after winning two caps to start the tour.
Kickoff is 3 PM local time, 10am EST and 7am PST.
15. James Pritchard (Bedford Blues) 14. Ciaran Hearn (The Rock) 13. Phillip Mackenzie (Esher RFC) 12. Nick Blevins (Prairie Wolf Pack) 11. Justin Mensah-coker (Unattached) 10. Ander Monro (Ontario Blues) 9. Sean White (BC Bears) 8. Aaron Carpenter (Plymouth Albion) 7. Adam Kleeberger (Unattached) 6. Sean Michael Stephen (Plymouth Albion) 5. Tyler Hotson (Plymouth Albion) 4. Jebb Sinclair (The Rock) 3. Andrew Tiedemann (Prairie Wolf Pack) 2. Pat Riordan (BC Bears) C 1. Tom Dolezel (Prairie Wolf Pack)
Replacements: 16. Jason Marshall (BC Bears) 17. Dan Pletch (Ontario Blues) 18. Jon Phelan (The Rock) 19. Chauncey O’Toole (The Rock) 20. Connor Braid (BC Bears) 21. Jamie Mackenzie (Ontario Blues) 22. Taylor Paris (Ontario Blues)
Kieran Crowley (Head Coach)
Neil Barnes (Coach)
Geraint John (Coach)
Clive Griffiths (Coach)
Matt Barr (Strength and Conditioning)
Brent Johnston (Manager)
Rodger Swany (Assistant Manager)
Peter Huigenbos (Video Analyst)
Carla Brash (Therapist)
Josh Martin (Massage Therapist)
Dr. Peet Du Toit (Team Doctor)