Canada won its final pool game at the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in Salt Lake City on June 26, defeating Zimbabwe 66-45. The U20 men lost 38-35 to Japan on June 22 and fell 31-17 to Georgia in their June 18 opener.
Courtenay’s Noah Barker (Vancouver Rowers) a G.P. Vanier grad, was in the lineup for Canada in their opener, but not against Japan or Zimbabwe. Finals in the tourney go June 30. Canada (third in Pool B at 1-2) will play Chile (third in Pool A at 1-2) to decide fifth and sixth placings at the eight-team tournament.
Rugby Canada notes this is the fifth edition of the IRB’s increasingly popular tournament, which will represent for these players the pinnacle of age-group rugby and the end of this cycle of Rugby Canada’s High Performance Program.
Host this year is Salt Lake City, Utah, meaning a shorter travel day for the young Rugby Canada athletes than previous tournaments in Tbilisi, Georgia, and Moscow, Russia. The team arrived on Friday in high spirits and has been busy in training sessions with increased intensity as they adapt to the climate, the altitude, and the environment in the USA southwest.
The Canadian side, captained by B.C.’s Jake Illnicki, is representative of the growing spread of Canadian rugby, with players from B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador all looking forward to running out with the Maple Leaf on their chests. While they may not be tournament favourites, Melville is backing the Canadians to impress. “I think Tonga will be favourites […] but emerging nations such as ourselves (USA), Russia and Canada are vying hard now,” CEO and President of Operations USA Rugby Nigel Melville said.
“There are some good players out there regardless of the fact that it is a second tier tournament. It’ll be good to showcase that talent in America and demonstrate to the kids over here that there is a lot of exciting things happening in international rugby.”
That makes for a very closely matched Pool B, with organizers expecting a very high standard of play. “Teams competing are playing at a higher level now and the gap between the Junior World Rugby Trophy and the Junior World Championship, which used to be quite wide, has definitely closed,” Melville said. With promotion to the top tier tournament the prize for victory in Utah, motivation will be high to deliver performances to be proud of.
IRB Tournament Director Tom Jones said it will be an experience the players will cherish forever. “The JWRT is a wonderful opportunity for young players from all over the globe to bring their skills to the attention of the world. The experience of being at a major youth tournament will stand to them as their rugby careers develop and they have a rare chance to forge friendships to last a lifetime.”
Reflecting the strong three-way collaboration between USA Rugby, the IRB and Rugby World Cup 2011 rights-holding broadcaster NBC Sports, the tournament will enjoy full coverage via www.usarugby.org with all 16 matches being streamed live.
The format will see the teams that top the two pools – Pool A comprises Chile, Russia, Tonga and the hosts – face each other in the final on Saturday, June 30.