The 2009 Churchill Cup tournament kicked off in Glendale, Colorado on Saturday with England Saxons and Canada claiming opening wins. The Saxons, winners of the last two Churchill Cups, had a hard-fought 28-20 victory over Argentina Jaguars, while Canada scored a bonus point 42-10 defeat of Georgia in the first match in the Ireland ‘A’ pool.
Canada’s five-try success marked their first ever pool match win in the six-year history of the Churchill Cup, giving them a boost of confidence ahead of next Wednesday’s clash with Ireland ‘A’.
Matt Evans (2), Aaron Carpenter, Nanyak Dala and recent Glasgow Warriors signing DTH van der Merwe shared out the victors’ tries in the first ever Test match between Canada and Georgia.
Full-back James Pritchard displayed his place-kicking quality, landing four conversions and three penalty goals, while the play-making of former Edinburgh out-half Ander Monro saw him pick up the man-of-the-match award.
Georgia, whom Ireland ‘A’ face next Sunday, scored their only try through replacement David Dadunashvili and full-back Merab Kvirikashvili added a conversion and a penalty.
Captained for the tournament by John Muldoon and coached by Declan Kidney and his senior coaching staff, Ireland ‘A’ will be gunning for their first Churchill Cup title after winning the Plate final for the past three years.
Indeed, immediately after last June’s 33-8 Plate final win over Argentina ‘A’, out-half Jonathan Sexton was already setting his sights on challenge for the top prize in 2009.
“It was a good way to end the tournament. That’s three Plate wins in a row so we have to step it up next year,” he said.
Under the watchful eyes of Kidney and company, the 27-man Ireland ‘A’ squad has been busily preparing for their fast-approaching Pool A fixtures against Canada and Georgia.
Three players who made their Test debuts on the recent summer tour to Canada and the USA are also in the ‘A’ panel – Denis Hurley, Muldoon and Niall Ronan – increasing the number of senior-capped players in the Colorado squad to nine.
Sexton, Cian Healy and Devin Toner, members of Leinster’s Heineken Cup final-winning squad, will be hoping to impress the national coaches ahead of the November Tests, along with four English-based players.
The quartet are Neil Best and James Downey, who recently won the European Challenge Cup with Northampton Saints, Leicester Tigers winger Johne Murphy and prop John Andress, who has signed for Harlequins for next season.
Murphy said: “I’m looking forward to it. It’s a big opportunity. The senior management are in charge, so it’s a chance to go out there and hopefully get in their thoughts for next season.
“The Churchill Cup is just the icing on the cake for me. I enjoyed the year with Leicester, it’s been a brilliant season for Irish rugby and hopefully we can finish it by lifting the cup.”
Commenting on his approach to the tournament, head coach Kidney said: “The three games in the Churchill Cup tournament will increase the opportunity for pitch time for players, so we felt that it would be important to bring some players on the senior tour and the Churchill Cup.
“I know that players such as Keith Earls and Darren Cave benefited hugely from their Churchill Cup exposure, so this will be a good opportunity for many of the players who have not been involved before.
“We will be playing Canada for the third time in a year with our third different team as well as playing Georgia, who we faced in the last World Cup, so it will be good exposure for the players to Test level rugby.”
The Ireland ‘A’ v Canada match will be broadcast live on Sky Sports 2 next Wednesday, and we will also be running our O2 MatchDay Live service here on IrishRugby.ie throughout the tournament.
For more information on the 2009 Churchill Cup, log on to www.churchillcuprugby.net.
IRELAND ‘A’ Squad (Churchill Cup 2009):
John Andress (Exeter Chiefs)*
Neil Best (Northampton Saints)
Isaac Boss (Ballymena/Ulster)
Tony Buckley (Shannon/Munster)
Fionn Carr (Galwegians/Connacht)*
Sean Cronin (Buccaneers/Connacht)*
James Downey (Northampton Saints)*
Denis Fogarty (Cork Constitution/Munster)*
Cian Healy (Clontarf/Leinster)*
Chris Henry (Ballymena/Ulster)*
Trevor Hogan (Blackrock College/Leinster)
Denis Hurley (Cork Constitution/Munster)
Felix Jones (Seapoint/Leinster)*
Simon Keogh (Old Belvedere/Leinster)*
Keith Matthews (Buccaneers/Connacht)*
Fergus McFadden (UCD/Leinster)*
John Muldoon (Galwegians/Connacht) (capt)
Frank Murphy (Buccaneers/Connacht)*
Johne Murphy (Leicester Tigers)*
Sean O’Brien (Clontarf/Leinster)*
Niall O’Connor (Belfast Harlequins/Ulster)*
Ed O’Donoghue (Instonians/Ulster)*
Niall Ronan (Shannon/Munster)
Donnacha Ryan (Shannon/Munster)
Jonathan Sexton (St. Mary’s College/Leinster)*
Devin Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster)*
Bryan Young (Ballymena/Ulster)
N.B. *Denotes uncapped at full international level
Ireland ‘A’ Churchill Cup Schedule:
Ireland ‘A’ v Canada, Wednesday, June 10, 4.30pm (local time)/11.30pm (Irish time), Infinity Park, Glendale, Colorado (live Sky Sports 2)
Georgia v Ireland ‘A’, Sunday, June 14, 3.30pm (local time)/10.30pm (Irish time), Infinity Park, Glendale, Colorado (live Sky Sports 2)
Play-Off Finals Day, Sunday, June 21, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Denver, Colorado (all finals live Sky Sports 1)