Canada looks for elusive rugby win over Japan
By Jim Morris, The Canadian Press
BURNABY, B.C. - Canada's men's national rugby team is looking to pull a thorn from its side when it faces Japan in an international Test match Saturday.
Japan, ranked No. 12 in the world, has proven to be a pain for Canada over the last several years. Known as the Brave Blossoms, the Japanese tied Canada at the last two Rugby World Cups.
The 23-23 draw in the 2011 World Cup helped push the Canadians to fourth in their pool. That resulted in Canada missing an automatic qualification for the 2015 tournament.
Japan beat Canada 16-13 in last year's Pacific Nations Cup. It was Canada's only loss of the competition and resulted in the Canadians losing the championship trophy to Fiji.
Veteran Jamie Cudmore stopped short of calling Saturday's match personal, but said it will serve as an important measuring stick for his team.
"It's going to be a huge Test," said Cudmore, who grew up in Squamish, B.C., and plays professionally for ASM Clermont Auvergne in France. "It's very important for us to have a good starting point this summer, leading into the November Tests and the World Cup.
"We've had trouble with them and that just attests to their quality."
Saturday's game, to be played at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby. B.C., is Canada's first match of the 2014 Pacific Nations Cup, a six-team tournament that also includes Samoa, Fiji, Tonga and the United States.
Canada, currently ranked 15th in the world, will play No. 10 Scotland at Toronto's BMO field on June 14 then travel to Sacramento, Calif., to face the U.S. Eagles on June 21 in a Pacific Nations match.
The Pacific Nations Cup has the teams divided into two conferences. Each team will play each other once in their conference. The teams from each conference with the most points meet in the finals played in November.
Canada has a long history against Japan. Rugby was introduced to Japan in 1899 and the country's first international match was against a Canadian team in 1932. Over the years the two countries have met 22 times with Canada compiling a 8-12-2 record.
Canada captain Tyler Ardron said Japan plays a disciplined game with players content to wait for their chances.
"They are a very structured team," said the 22-year-old flanker from Lakefield, Ont., who plays for Ospreys in Wales. "They stick to their plan very well.
"They are patient. They can wait the full 80 minutes, as we've seen the last time we played them, to get that win in the last few minutes. The structure and game plan they have works quite well."
Japan comes into the match on a seven-game winning streak and qualified for the 2015 World Cup with a 33-14 win over No. 8 Samoa.
Canadian head coach Kieran Crowley said a win over Japan, before a hometown crowd, would fuel his team's confidence while helping to propel Canada up the International Ruby Board's rankings ladder.
"It would mean another stride," said Crowley. "We are always looking to improve.
"We want to be in the top 10 in the world. To do that you have to win these sorts of games against teams that are above you in the world rankings. That would help us not only from a team perspective as far as getting confidence but also from an awareness perspective. It just helps expose rugby if you're winning."
Eddie Jones, Japan's head coach, laughed when asked about the success his team has enjoyed against Canada.
"I don't think we have," said Jones. "We have played six times in Canada and only won once."
Reminded of the two World Cup draws, Jones only shrugged.
"A tie is not a success," he said. "In terms of Canada and Japan matches, Canada definitely had the upper hand. We want to change that around on Saturday."
Jones, who is back coaching after suffering a stroke last October, said the Canadians will try to use their size and strength against his team.
"Canada is a big, physical team," he said. "They are a bully team.
"They are going to try to do that to us. We have to first meet that physical challenge. That gives us a chance to play some rugby."
Michael Leitch, Japan's captain, said his team can't be drawn into playing Canada's bruising style of game.
"The last time we played them they were very physical," said Leitch. "I think to combat that we need to be smart with the way we play.
"We have to be fast in what we do and try and get them running."
This weekend will also allow Canada to show off its new uniforms. Designed by Under Armour, the kit features a lightweight shirt with 'no grab' panels which makes them harder to grab hold of. There also is a 'grip technology' on the stomach and back which aides in catching and securing a ball. A grip in the waistband prevents the jersey from untucking.
Ardron likes the grip idea.
"For me as a forward, it can be a huge help," he said. "Everything fits really nice. It's going to be hard to grab."