by Curtis Reed–Rugby Canada Contributor
Top 10 Year In Review – #6 OVERSEAS PRO REPORT
(ISN) – It was a banner year for Canadian’s overseas with a record number of players hitting personal milestones, winning championships, and gaining valuable time ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Arguably no Canadian had a better year than Jeff Hassler at the Ospreys. Hassler was signed as a project by the Ospreys but by the end of the year had earned a spot on the Pro12 Dream Team. He kept his hot form going this season with five tries in nine starts. That was enough to gain him a three year contract extension in September. Unfortunately a knee injury suffered while playing for Canada against Romania last month will keep him out until toward the end of the season.
Hassler’s teammate Tyler Ardron also signed a three year contract extension with the Ospreys in September. So far this season he’s played in five matches for the club as they flirt with the top of the table. Injuries, however, kept him out of most of Canada’s fall tour. DTH van der Merwe and the Glasgow Warriors are similarly enjoying a strong season. After suffering a knee injury that kept him out of the last part of last season, van der Merwe has been a mainstay for both the Warriors and Canada. He’s played in nine matches so far this season for Glasgow scoring two tries.
For a brief time van der Merwe was joined by Connor Braid at Glasgow. Braid made three appearances for the club during his short-term contract this fall and after a loan to London Scottish did enough to impress the London side to sign him for the rest of the season.
Jamie Cudmore reached a personal milestone with Clermont as he entered his 10th season with the club. Cudmore played a big role for Clermont as they once again made the playoffs in the Top 14 and the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup. Also in France, Taylor Paris has found a home in Agen. He was a fixture for the club in 2014 starting in nearly every match as the club sits near the top of the table in the Pro D2. This season he’s started every match he’s been healthy and not away with Canada. Speaking of being healthy, Cam Pierce made his first professional appearance for Pau this year after being injured much of last season.
In the Southern Hemisphere two Canadian props faced each other in the final of the ITM Cup Championship division. Hubert Buydens and Jason Marshall went head to head for roughly 60 minute’s as Buyden’s Manawatu side beat Marshall and Hawke’s Bay. Both had successful seasons in New Zealand logging nearly 1500 between them. After Canada’s November tour Marshall moved back to France joining Taylor Paris at Agen.
Fellow front rower Jake Ilnicki also made an impact in the Southern Hemisphere playing six total matches, starting five, for the NSW Country Eagles. Ilnicki signed on as cover during the season and made an impression as the Eagles finished second in the table.
In the Premiership, Jebb Sinclair has been a mainstay for London Irish once again. He’s started eight matches so far this year. New cap Richard Thorpe is seeing time as London Welsh as the team endures a tough season. Also, Phil MacKenzie has made two appearances for Sale in the LV= Cup so far this season to round things off for Canadians in England’s top division.
Long-time stalwart James Pritchard is in his ninth season with Bedford. The club has rewarded his consistency with a testimonial season. Injuries have limited some of his time of the field but he still have three tries to his name. He’s joined this year by Montreal product Justin Blanchet.
Elsewhere in the RFU Championship, Aaron Carpenter and Matt Evans are both regular starters for the Cornish Pirates. Carpenter has successful made the move to hooker. Both Andrew Tiedemann and Brett Beukeboom and have similarly been seeing regular time at Plymouth Albion. Former Canada age-grade player Mark Kohler joined the club from Coventry in the summer but has been out with an ankle injury. Plymouth unfortunately sit at the bottom of the standings. Jon Phelan made the move from France to Doncaster in the offseason and has been a regular part of the club along with Tyler Hotson.
In other parts of Europe, Shane O’Leary moved from Grenoble to Connacht. He still has to make a first team appearance for the side but has been a regular with the Connacht Eagles in the British & Irish Cup as well as with Young Munster in the All-Ireland League. Also in Ireland, Jack Fitzpatrick has been a regular starter and try scorer for Trinity. Matt Heaton is playing with Otley in the National League 2 North, George Jeavons-Fellows is with Newcastle University, and Simon Sexton is with Loughborough University.
Richard Townsend was a regular for Ealing last season in the RFU Championship but following their relegation he made the move to France where he is seeing time with Eparnay in the Federale 1. In the same division Benoit Piffero is with Blagnac.
It wasn’t just Europe where players saw time at the lower divisions. A number of Canadians went to New Zealand this year. Djustice Sears-Duru played for North Otago in the Heartland Championship along with Matt Mullins. Aaron Flagg was with Taranaki’s developmental side, Ben LeSage played with Athletic Marist, Josh Larson was with Dunedin, and Sam Hayward was at Sydney University.