Tyler Ardron leads 31-man Canadian rugby roster for Pacific Nations Cup

Tyler Ardron will captain Canada at the 2019 Pacific Nations Cup with Irish-born back Peter Nelson set to make his Canadian rugby debut.

Head coach Kingsley Jones named his 31-man squad Thursday for the six-team tournament that runs July 27 through Aug. 10.

The Canadian men, currently ranked 21st in the world, open July 27 against the 15th-ranked Americans in suburban Denver before travelling to face No. 9 Fiji on Aug. 2 and No. 13 Tonga on Aug. 8, with both games in Fiji.

The tournament represents Canada's first set of summer matches ahead of the Rugby World Cup, which opens Sept. 20 in Japan.

"The PNC's are a great team-building effort and an exercise in building continuity and cohesion going into the World Cup," Jones said in a statement. "Exciting games coming up and we'll find out a lot about each other."

Ardron, back from playing Super Rugby with New Zealand's Chiefs, leads a roster that includes former Canadian skippers DTH van der Merwe, Phil Mack, Hubert Buydens, Gord McRorie and Lucas Rumball.

Ardron has re-signed with the Chiefs through to 2021 after impressing in his debut season in Super Rugby last year.

The 28-year-old forward, who can play in both the second and back row, is the first Canadian to play for a New Zealand Super Rugby team and just the third to play in the elite Southern Hemisphere club competition. Christian Stewart and Jebb Sinclair both played for South Africa's Stormers.

Other veterans on the Canada squad include Taylor Paris, Kyle Baillie, Nick Blevins, Jeff Hassler, Ciaran Hearn, Evan Olmstead and Conor Trainor.

The 31-man roster features 15 players currently with Major League Rugby teams — including eight from the Toronto Arrows. Ardron is one of eight players with overseas clubs. Five others are currently unattached with another three at Canadian amateur sides.

Nelson and Toronto Arrows hooker Andrew Quattrin, 22, are the only uncapped members of the squad.

The 26-year-old Nelson is a former Ireland under-20 fly half/fullback who qualifies for Canada via a Canadian grandmother. He made 60 appearances for Ulster before leaving after eight season with the provincial club. He was sidelined for 14 months on the sidelines after a foot injury in December 2015.

Jones initially named a long list of 43 ahead of the Pacific Nations Cup, which also features No. 11 Japan and No. 16 Samoa.

"A couple of guys will miss out on this tour, but it doesn't mean they’ll miss out on the World Cup," said Jones. "The door is still open for others."

After the Pacific Nations, Canada will play Ireland's Leinster in Hamilton on Aug. 24, the B.C. All Stars in Langford, B.C., on Aug 30 and the U.S. in Vancouver on Sept. 7.

Canada has been drawn in Pool B at the Rugby World Cup along with No. 1 New Zealand, No. 5 South Africa, No. 14 Italy and No. 23 Namibia.

The Canadian men had to qualify the hard way, winning a repechage tournament last November after losing qualifying series against the U.S. and No. 19 Uruguay.

Canada Roster

Tyler Ardron (capt.), Chiefs (New Zealand), Lakefield, Ont.; Kyle Baillie, New Orleans Gold (MLR), Summerside, P.E.I.; Justin Blanchet, unattached, Montreal; Nick Blevins, Calgary Hornets, Calgary; Rob Brouwer, Toronto Arrows, Lindsay, Ont.; Hubert Buydens, New Orleans Gold, Saskatoon; Luke Campbell, Toronto Arrows (MLR), Victoria; Jeff Hassler, Seattle Seawolves (MLR), Okotoks, Alta,.; Ciaran Hearn, unattached, Conception Bay South, N.L.; Matt Heaton, Darlington Mowden Park (England), Godmanchester, Que.; Eric Howard, New Orleans Gold (MLR), Ottawa; Jake Ilnicki, Seattle Seawolves (MLR), Williams Lake, B.C.; Cole Keith, Toronto Arrows (MLR), Sussex, N.B.; Conor Keys, unattached, Stittsville, Ont.; Ben LeSage, Calgary Canucks, Calgary; Phil Mack, Seattle Seawolves (MLR), Victoria; Jamie Mackenzie, Toronto Arrows, Oakville, Ont.; Gordon McRorie, Calgary Hornets, Calgary; Peter Nelson, unattached, Dungannon, Northern Ireland; Shane O'Leary, Nottingham Rugby (England), Cambellton, N.B.; Evan Olmstead, unattached, Vancouver; Patrick Parfrey, Toronto Arrows, St. John's, N.L.; Taylor Paris, Castres Olympiques (France), Barrie, Ont.; Benoit Piffero, Blagnac SCR (France), Issoire, France; Andrew Quattrin, Toronto Arrows, Holland Landing, Ont.; Lucas Rumball, Toronto Arrows (MLR), Toronto; Djustice Sears-Duru, Seattle Seawolves (MLR), Oakville, Ont.; Mike Sheppard, Toronto Arrows (MLR), Brampton, Ont.; Matt Tierney, Castres Olympiques (France), Oakville, Ont.; Conor Trainor, USON Nevers (France), Vancouver; DTH van der Merwe, Glasgow Warriors (Scotland), Regina.

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