Canada preparing for Ireland , then Wales and Scotland

Coming off a 21-13 victory over Portugal, Canada have brought in seven new starting players for a tougher test against Ireland on Saturday.


The Irish are using the match against Canada as a warmup for high-profile matches against the All Blacks and Argentina in the following two weeks.


Meanwhile, Canada coach Kieran Crowley has to prepare his team to play Ireland, Wales and Scotland over the next 15 days. The former New Zealand fullback knows Portugal pales in comparison to the challenges ahead.


“It’s going to be a huge, huge step up,” Crowley said Wednesday.


“I don’t even think it’s in the same ballpark, to be honest. We’re playing guys in this game who play rugby seven days a week and that’s their job. We have very few of those and the ones that we do have are a level down from where these guys are playing. Yeah, it’s going to be a huge challenge.”


Of the eight professionals in Canada’s starting lineup, only Kevin Tkachuk plays in a top league, with the Glasgow Warriors in Scotland.


The others are in the second tier in England, France and Italy.


Canada has lost two and drawn its only other previous test against Ireland.

 

The touring Irish, missing about one-third of their regulars, including outside center Brian O’Driscoll, were fortunate to escape with a 27-27 draw the last time they met in June 2000.

The Irish trailed 21-8 at the half, never led and needed Ronan O’Gara’s penalty in the 80th minute to avoid an embarrassing loss.


But the gap between the elite rugby nations and Canada, which has no domestic pro league, has widened considerably since then.


The Portugal game was outside the IRB’s international window, so Crowley was missing some players. Several veterans, including Jamie Cudmore and Colin Yukes, were unavailable for the tour because of injury or other commitments.


Crowley brings in four changes in the pack where veteran Jon Thiel wins his 34th cap at prop. There’s a new second row with Mike Burak and Josh Jackson, and Sean Michael Stephen takes over at blindside flanker.


Morgan Williams, Canada’s skills coach who came out of retirement to start against Portugal, moves to the bench to give way to Ed Fairhurst at scrumhalf. Williams left the Portugal game with a leg strain but has been declared fit.


Justin Mensah-Coker starts on one wing, while rookie Ciaran Hearn occupies the other.


Crowley was happy with the result against Portugal, but admits he would have liked to have seen more of a killer instinct.


“We created a few chances in the first half that could have put the game away, but we didn’t quite take them,” he said.

 

“And they scored right on halftime to keep themselves in it. From then, it was a little bit of a battle.

“It was a game where we probably had 60 or 70 per cent possession or territory, but we just didn’t put them away as we should have probably.”


O’Driscoll, the captain, has recovered from a knee ligament injury, while O’Gara gets another crack at the Canadians at fly half.


Declan Kidney, in his first game as Ireland coach, has give 21-year-old Keith Earls a debut at fullback, meaning a shift to wing for Rob Kearney.


Thomond Park is home to Kidney’s former club Munster, which provides seven starters including the entire front row of Marcus Horan, Jerry Flannery and Tony Buckley.


Crowley expects a formidable welcome in the first test at the newly revamped ground.


“The atmosphere could be pretty well charged,” Crowley said.


Crowley knows the Irish players will be looking to impress, so as to retain their positions against the All Blacks at Croke Park on the following the week.


And the November internationals are especially important this year since the IRB is using world rankings as of Dec. 1 to seed the 12 automatic qualifiers for the 2011

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