05/27/2013 05:19 EDT | Updated 07/27/2013 05:12 EDT

Canadians look to climb junior rugby ladder at World Rugby Trophy event in Chile

Joining world rugby's junior elite isn't easy.

Only one team is promoted from the second-tier IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy tournament each year and Canada's recent record there reads fifth, fourth and fifth.

Canadian coach Mike Shelley has taken his under-20 squad to Chile with hope hopes, despite the knowledge that the competition improves each year.

"Everybody wants their younger players to be better and this is where they're tested," said Shelley, who is entering his third tournament as Canadian coach.

"The physicality and skill level of all these teams improves so much year to year," he added. "And our team this year, I think, is the strongest I've been involved with as a full squad. We've had good players in the past but one through 26 these players are as strong as I've seen in my time in Canada."

Canada opens Pool B play Tuesday against Tonga before facing Japan on Saturday and Uruguay on June 5. The group winner plays the first-place team, in Pool A, which consists of Chile, Italy, Namibia and Portugal, to determine who advances to the 2014 IRB Junior World Championship.

The U.S. won the World Rugby Trophy event last year to win promotion to the elite under-20 world tournament. Going the other way was Italy, which finished 12th in the IRB Junior World Championship for Tier 1 countries.

The Canadians served notice of their talent by defeating the U.S. 32-19 and 26-16 ahead of the Chile tournament.

Versatile back Pat Kay of Duncan, B.C., captains Canada in his third trip to the tournament. Other returning players are Conor McCann and Lucas Hammond, both of Toronto, and Matt Heaton of Godmanchester, Que.

"We haven't got that many (veterans) this year but what bodes well for us for next year is 11 of the 26 are available for next year," Shelley said.

McCann has spent time in camp with the Canadian senior side while Hammond has experience with the senior sevens team.

The Canadian team has an Irish flavour in Jack Fitzpatrick and Shane O'Leary, two Irish backs who both qualify by virtue of their Canadian mothers.

Japan, a three-time runner-up in the tournament, is a familiar foe for Canada. The two met the last three years with the Japanese winning 38-35, 30-15 and 38-17.

Uruguay won the inaugural Junior Rugby Trophy in 2008.

Just getting to Chile was hard work for Shelley's team.

The Canadians, starting with a 7 a.m. flight from Victoria last Thursday, arrived in Temuco after a 23-hour trip that included stops in Vancouver, Los Angeles and Santiago.

The IRB was forced to change host cities in Chile when Antofagasta officials withdrew at the last minute. Shelley says the switch to Temuco, which is 650 kilometres south of Santiago, is not a big issue.

"We're going from one place we didn't really know much about to another," said Shelley, who played for both Leeds Tykes and England A,

Weather conditions will be different, however. Temuco will be much wetter, Shelley, said, which could help the Canadians who have trained in B.C.

South Africa is the reigning world under-20 champion, having beaten New Zealand 22-16 last year. This year's World Junior Championship opens June 5 in France.


Canadian U20 roster


Neil Courtney, Vancouver; Jason Galbraith, Minnedosa; Connor Hamilton, Vancouver; Jordan Harvey, Vancouver; Matt Heaton, Godmanchester, Que.; Sawyer Herron, Oakville, Ont.; Ryan March, Abbotsford, B.C.; Alex Mascott, Vancouver; Matt Mulllins, Belleville, Ont.; Thomas Roche, Brandon, Man.; Djustice Sears-Duru, Toronto; Jack Smith, Peterborough, Ont.; Charlie Thorpe, Vancouver; Peter Van Buren, Calgary.


Charles DeBove, St. Sauver, Que.; Justin Douglas, Abbotsford, B.C.; Jack Fitzpatrick, Dublin; Lucas Hammond, Toronto; Patrick Kay (capt.), Duncan, B.C.; Johnny Laplaca, Barrie, Ont.; Conor McCann, Toronto; Shane O'Leary, Munster, Ireland; James Pitblado, Vancouver; Jorden Sandover-Best, Vancouver; Jacob Webster, Lindsay, Ont.; Nathan Yanagiya, Vancouver.

Head Coach: Mike Shelley

Assistant Coach: Graeme Moffatt

Team Manager: Todd Silverthorn

Strength and Conditioning Coach: Lorna Barry.