Canada starts seven-game journey, with Rugby World Cup berth the final prize

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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After spending his first year evaluating the Canadian rugby talent at his disposal, former All Black Kieran Crowley now has five matches to prepare his squad for a pair of crucial World Cup qualifying games against the U.S. Eagles in July.
The countdown starts Saturday when Ireland visits Thunderbird Stadium in Vancouver.
Canada hosts Wales a week later in Toronto before heading to Denver and the Churchill Cup. The Canadians plays Georgia on June 6 and Ireland A on June 14. Canada will have a third match June 21 against an opponent to be determined by pool play.
Crowley's team opens the World Cup doubleheader July 4 in Charleston, S.C., with the return leg set for July 11 in Edmonton. Canada is currently ranked 15th in the world, four places ahead of the U.S.
Crowley has criss-crossed Canada since taking over the national team in March 2008. But this summer marks the first time the Canadian coach will have the likes of overseas players Stan McKeen and Jamie Cudmore in the fold.
''So they'll be new but the rest of the guys I've had time with,'' said Crowley. ''This time last year I was still introducing myself to them. But we're a little bit further down the track now. So we're looking forward to it (the summer schedule).
''The guys in the carded program have worked hard. Some of them have been rewarded with selection here and it's up to us to get the performance out on the paddock now.''
Crowley named a 31-man squad, but not all will be available for every game.
Forwards Cudmore, a hard-nosed physical presence who plays for Clermont Auverge in France, and McKeen (Oxford University) will join up with Canada after the Churchill Cup for the World Cup qualifying push, for example.
The plan is for Crowley to use the first five matches to pick the World Cup qualifying roster.
With Ireland and Wales contributing some two dozen players to the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa, the touring sides will be much changed from the fourth-ranked Ireland team that recorded a Grand Slam in the Six Nations and seventh-ranked Wales, which went 3-2 in the domestic competition.
''They're going to be the best available (lineups) for those countries,'' said Crowley.
''The fact that some of their stars are away with the British and Irish Lions gives those guys an opportunity to step up on the international stage, so they'll certainly be looking at taking those chances,'' he added.
There is also the chance of an injury call-up to the Lions. Wales captain Ryan Jones knows all about that. He was a late addition to the Lions' tour of New Zealand in 2005, when he was summoned from a Welsh tour of Canada.
Irish coach Declan Kidney has picked 13 uncapped players in his 25-man squad, which arrived in Vancouver on Sunday.
Robin McBryde serves as head coach of the Welsh, with assistance from Sean Holley and Neil Jenkins. Coaches Warren Gatland, Rob Howley and Shaun Edwards are in South Africa assisting Lions coach Ian McGeechan.
McBryde named a young squad of 32, with those selected from the Scarlets or Dragons sides to remain at home on standby so they can play in a Heineken Cup qualification playoff match scheduled for the same day as Canada Test. He could have seven rookies on tour.

Organizations: Churchill, U.S. Eagles, British and Irish Lions Oxford University Heineken

Geographic location: Canada, Wales, Ireland Vancouver Thunderbird Stadium Toronto Denver Georgia Charleston, S.C. Edmonton U.S. South Africa France New Zealand

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