Jeff Williams' Canadian team is one of eight in the second-tier competition. The winner will be promoted to the World Under-20 Championship, which features rugby powerhouses like New Zealand, South Africa and England.
Canada opens against Namibia on Tuesday before playing Hong Kong on Saturday and Tonga on May 20, with all three games in Lisbon. The goal is to finish first in win Pool B and take on the Pool A winner — Fiji, Georgia, Portugal or Uruguay — in the May 24 final to see who gets promoted.
The young Canadians had to beat the Americans 65-29 in a two-match aggregate series in March just to make the tournament field this year.
Flanker Lucas Rumball, named Canada's top young male player in 2014, will lead Canada.
"He leads by example," said Williams. "He never complains, he just gets on with it. For a team that is inexperienced in tournaments like this, he's the perfect leader."
It's a young squad with some 10 players eligible to play in next year's competition.
The team also has overseas connections with three Irish-based players — hooker Patrick Finlay, fly half Dylan Horgan and scrum half Dan Joyce – and one Australian, prop Conor Young. They all qualify for Canada via their parents.
"They've been very committed and they've played very well for us," said Williams, a former Canadian international and older brother to former star scrum half Morgan Williams. "We're delighted to have them. Hopefully they continue that commitment right through to the senior men's team."
Other fly half options are Harjun Gill and Guiseppe du Toit, with all three No. 10s also able to play inside centre.
Rumball and Gill both are veterans of the 2014 tournament. Canada finished seventh, drawing Uruguay and losing to Namibia and Japan before beating Hong Kong 33-30 in the seventh-place match. Japan won the 2014 tournament, defeating Tonga 35-10 in the final, and promotion.
Fiji went the other way last year, relegated from the World Under-20 Championship. The Pacific Islanders hope to join Italy and Samoa in winning immediate promotion.
Williams has had limited time with his team, with two camps and two matches against Romania before the U.S. series. Most players had to return to their teams or universities after, with contact restricted to online communication on strength and conditioning.
The good news is Williams, in his first year at the U20 helm, knows the player pool well having coached many of them in younger age-group teams.
Namibia qualified by beating Kenya 52-17 last August in the final of the African Under-19 Championship. The Namibians ran in eight tries, adding to the 12 they posted in a 78-3 semifinal thrashing of Tunisia.
Hong Kong, which finished eighth last year as tournament host, qualified by going unbeaten at the Asian Under-19 Championship.
According to the world governing body of rugby, more than 200 players who competed at the second-tier U20 championship have gone on to represent their country at the senior level since the tournament began in 2008.
Canada Starting 15
Matt Tierney, Mississauga Blues, Oakville, Ont.; John Shaw, Bytown Blues, Ottawa; Cali Martinez, UBC Thunderbirds, Vancouver; Paul Cuilini, Aurora Barbarians, Vaughan, Ont.; Reegan O'Gorman, Vancouver Rowing Club, Vancouver; Lucas Rumball (capt.) Balmy Beach, Toronto; Ollie Nott, UVIC Vikes, Qualicum, B.C.; Luke Bradley, UVIC Vikes/Port Alberni Black Sheep, Port Alberni, B.C.; Daniel Joyce, Trinity University, Dublin, Ireland; Dylan Horgan, UCC Rugby Club, Cork, Ireland; Karsten Leitner, UBC Thunderbirds, Vancouver; Guiseppe du Toit, UVIC Vikes, Maple Ridge, B.C.; Mitch Santilli, Brantford Harlequins, Brantford, Ont.; Theo Sauder, UBC Thunderbirds, Vancouver; Andrew Coe, UBC Thunderbirds/Markham Irish, Markham, Ont.
Mitch Rothman, Vancouver Rowing Club, Vancouver; Conor Young, Southern Districts RC, Sydney, Australia; Brendan Blaikie, Queen's University/Markham Irish, Markham, Ont.; Adrian Wadden, Oakville Crusaders, Mississauga, Ont.; Tony Pomroy, Baymen RFC, Conception Bay South, N.L.; Phil Berna, UBC Thunderbirds, Vancouver; Harjun Gill, UBC Thunderbirds/Richmond RFC, Richmond, B.C.
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