Wales get the summer internationals underway this Saturday as Wayne Pivac’s men host Canada at the Principality Stadium.
With a summer tour of the Americas canned due to the covid-19 pandemic, the side will be based in Cardiff over the next three weeks as a number of players get opportunities to impress with injuries and the British and Irish Lions tour creating spaces within the squad.
Canada are the first visitors to the capital, with some familiar faces in the coaching set up as former Wales internationals Kinglsey Jones and Rob Howley are the head coach and attach coach, respectively, taking charge of the side’s first game since the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The Canucks have had a tough time since the days of the early 1990s when they were regularly causing problems for the tier one nations, including a famous win over Wales in November 1993. The last 20 years have been particularly tough with only two wins over tier one nations to show, against Scotland and Argentina, the most recent of those in 2005.
Overall the record between the two teams playing on Saturday is 12 games played and 11 wins for Wales, with the most recent fixture between them coming in the summer of 2009 when tries from Chris Czekaj and Tom James, as well as 22 points from the boot of Dan Biggar, saw us to a 23-32 win in Toronto.
This current Canada side is missing some familiar names due to issues with travelling thanks to covid, injuries and the ageing of some, as the likes of Benoit Piffero, Matt Tierney, Tyler Ardron, Taylor Paris and DTH van der Merwe are not included.
Instead it’s a largely Major League Rugby based side with only starting fly-half Peter Nelson and replacement scrum-half William Percillier playing in France, while there is some experience up front as the likes of Djustive Sears-Duru, Jake Ilnicki, Conor Keys and captain Lucas Rumball all have 20 or more caps to fall back on.
Having said that, Cooper Coats, Quinn Ngawati, Ross Braude and Siaki Vikilani will all make their international debuts when they run out at the Principality Stadium on Saturday, as will Tyler Rowland, Don Carson, Michael Smith and Lucas Albornoz should they step off the bench.
Canada: Cooper Coats, Cole Davis, Ben Lesage, Quinn Ngawati, Kaiona Lloyd, Peter Nelson, Ross Braude; Djustive Sears-Duru, Andrew Quattrin, Jake Ilnicki, Conor Keys, Josh Larsen, Reegan O’Gorman, Lucas Rumball (c), Siaki Vikilani
Replacements: Eric Howard, Cole Keith, Tyler Rowland, Donald Carson, Michael Smith, Lucas Albornoz, William Percillier, Robbie Povey
Wales have a similar discrepancy between experience and youth in their squad, starting with Leigh Halfpenny who will make his 100th test appearance on Saturday as he wins his 96th Welsh cap to go with his four British and Irish Lions caps.
Meanwhile Ben Carter and Tom Rogers will make their debuts as second row and wing, respectively, and Gareth Thomas, Taine Basham and Ben Thomas wait to do the same off the bench should they be called upon.
Elsewhere there are recalls for Ross Moriarty, Jonah Holmes and Josh Turnbull, with Jon Davies captaining the side from the inside centre, having spent so many years playing at outside centre. Jarrod Evans would have started at fly-half but misses out with an ankle injury.
Wales: Leigh Halfpenny, Jonah Holmes, Uilisi Halaholo, Jon Davies (c), Tom Rogers, Callum Sheedy, Tomos Williams; Nicky Smith, Elliot Dee, Dillon Lewis, Ben Carter, Will Rowlands, Ross Moriarty, James Botham, Aaron Wainwright
Replacements: Ryan Elias, Gareth Thomas, Leon Brown, Josh Turnbull, Taine Basham, Kieran Hardy, Ben Thomas, Nick Tompkins
Although Canada will no doubt be more than ready to go head-to-head with a tier one side and impress on their first outing for almost two years, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario whereby Wales don’t cruise to a comfortable victory on Saturday.
There’s new partnerships and new faces generally to integrate, but this will be a helpful outing ahead of two tough tests against Argentina around the corner as Wayne Pivac gets to grips with the outer fringes of his national player pool.