06/07/2013 03:07 EDT | Updated 08/07/2013 05:12 EDT

Milestone match for Canadian rugby captain as Canada hosts Tonga

KINGSTON, Ont. - Some time after leading his team out against Tonga on Saturday, Canadian rugby captain Aaron Carpenter will find himself in the limelight again.

His teammates and Rugby Canada officials will present him with a flask to mark the occasion of the 50th cap for his country. The flask is tradition — the players used to dig into their own pocket to come up with the funds, but now Rugby Canada looks after the gift.

The 30-year-old Carpenter is joining a select group. There are only other 13 members of Canada's half-century club: Al Charron, Ed Fairhurst, John Graf, John Hutchinson, Mike James, Gareth Rees, Bob Ross, Ryan Smith, Rod Snow, Winston Stanley, Scott Stewart, Kevin Tkachuk and Morgan Williams.

It's a Who's Who of the sport in Canada, filled with captains and difference-makers, and it's a list synonymous with Canadian rugby around the world.

"It's huge in Canadian rugby. We only get five or six games a year," Carpenter said proudly of the milestone, while making a point of thanking friends and family for helping him along the way.

His first cap was in Japan against the U.S. — "a long time ago," he added. In fact, it was 2005, showing that the native of Brantford, Ont., has been a near constant in the squad ever since.

Like Carpenter, Charron (who also saw action at lock) and Hutchinson played in the back row, a position stocked by a wealth of riches for years in Canada.

Carpenter, who is shifting clubs in England's second tier from Plymouth Albion to the Cornish Pirates next season, is an unassuming addition to the group. He shuns the spotlight and does most of his talking on the pitch, usually by grabbing the ball and bulling his way through the opposition.

Listed at five foot 11 and 236 pounds, he is not big but he is solid and hard to put down. He may see some action at hooker nest season with the Pirates.

Coach Kieran Crowley makes 10 changes to the team that beat Fiji 20-18 in an impressive midweek showing in Ottawa, freshening his squad while working in newly available players.

Veteran James Pritchard (Bedford Blues, England) returns at fullback while flanker Jebb Sinclair (London Irish, England) moves up from the bench to the starting 15. Pritchard is returning from an am injury while Sinclair was given some time off after a busy club schedule.

There's a new halfback pairing with Sean White at scrum half and Nathan Hirayama at fly half while Sean Duke is introduced on the wing and Nick Blevins at centre.

Only prop Jason Marshall, lock Tyler Hotson and Carpenter remain in the forward pack while backs Ciaran Hearn and Matt Evans are holdovers from the Fiji Test.

A relaxed Canadian squad trained in the rain Friday at Richardson Stadium, a rickety venue that can be charitably said to have character. The upper bleachers are closed off — condemned or undergoing renovations, depending on who you speak to.

Canada, ranked No. 14th in the world, leads the IRB Pacific Nations Cup standing with a 2-0-0 record and eight points while Tonga is 1-0-0 with five points.

The book on No. 11 Tonga is they are a more disciplined version of No. 13 Fiji (1-1-0 with six points).

"They're a similar team," said Carpenter. "They will look for the offload (making a pass while being tackled) but they'll be a little more structured about it."

Said Crowley: "They still have that (Pacific) Island flair, they move the ball around. But I think they're a little more disciplined in their approach than what Fiji is."

When it comes to tackling big men running at you full-tilt, Carpenter says it's pretty simple.

"Get low and show how much we want it. Because that's what it comes down to at the end of the day when bodies are coming at each other," he explained.

"And we know they're just going to run straight for the most part. That's what they do — try and build momentum through bashing guys over. But I'm pretty proud of these guys the way they stood up to Fiji so I think they'll be able to do it again."

One of the Fijian weapons was Nemani Nadolo, a six-foot-four 276-pound bull of a back.

Hard-hitting Tonga has not been kind to Canadian captains in the past. At the 2003 World Cup in Australia, a bloodied Charron was stretchered off after taking a shoulder charge to the face from fly half Pierre Hola. Charron's lip was the size of a frisbee when he limped back into the team hotel later that night to a standing ovation.

Crowley will use performances in the Pacific Nations Cup to determine his selection against Ireland, currently ranked ninth in the world, on June 15 in Toronto.

The changes to the starting 15 show how comfortable Crowley is with the depth he had developed at coach. Carpenter noted that Canada, despite a four-day turnaound, basically had to field the same team against Tonga and France at the 2011 World Cup.

"It's not feasible for those guys to get up for a game four days later and put out 100 per cent for a full 80 minutes," he said.

"To have 40 guys that can all push each other and all look to get in that starting lineup and want to be in that starting lineup, it helps in multiple ways. Because it gets those guys who are in those (starting) spots to really push all the time and never take a moment off, or else they know their spot's going to get taken."

Scrum half Phil Mack was named man of the match against Fiji, putting the pressure on the incumbent White.

But the changes also reflect some question marks. Hiryama is the third straight No. 10 in as many games following Liam Underwood and Harry Jones.

As the Fijians did in Ottawa, the Tongans will issue a challenge before the match in the form of a war dance known as the Sipi Tau. Fiji's challenge is called the Cibi while New Zealand has the celebrated haka.

NOTES — Winger Jeff Hassler of Okotoks, Alta., has signed with Welsh pro side Ospreys.



Hubert Buydens, Saskatoon Wild Oats, Saskatoon; Ray Barkwill, Niagara Wasps, Niagara Falls, Ont.; Jason Marshall, Atlantique Stade Rochelais (France), Vancouver; Brett Beukeboom, (Plymouth Albion (England), Lindsay, Ont.; Tyler Hotson, London Scottish (England), Vancouver; Jebb Sinclair, London Irish (England), Fredericton; John Moonlight, James Bay AA, Pickering, Ont,; Aaron Carpenter (capt.), Cornish Pirates (England), Brantford, Ont.; Sean White, James Bay AA, Victoria; Nathan Hirayama, UVIC Vikes, Richmond, B.C.; Sean Duke, UVIC Vikes, Vancouver; Nick Blevins, Calgary Hornets, Calgary; Ciaran Hearn, Castaway Wanderers, Conception Bay, N.L.; Matt Evans, Cornish Pirates (England), Maple Bay, B.C.; James Pritchard, Bedford Blues (England) Parkes, Australia.


Ryan Hamilton, Capilano, Vancouver; Doug Wooldridge, Lindsay RFC, Lindsay, Ont.; Tom Dolezel, London St. George’s, London, Ont.; Nanyak Dala, Castaway Wanderers, Saskatoon; Tyler Ardron, James Bay AA, Lakefield, Ont.; Phil Mack, UVIC Vikes, Victoria; Liam Underwood, Queens University, Toronto.; Pat Parfrey, Swilers RFC, St. John’s, N.L.


Edmund Aholeei, Ilaisa Ma'asi, Taione Vea, Emosi Kauhenga, Tukulua Lokotui, Hale T-Pole, Nili Latu (capt.), Viliami Fihaki, Taniela Moa, Kurt Morath, Will Helu, Sione Piukala, Siale Piutau, Fetu'u Vainikolo, Viliami Hakalo.


Elvis Taione, Kamaliele Sakalia, Sila Puafisi, Joshua Afu, Paula Kaho, Thomas Palu, Viliame Iongi, David Halaifonua.