Skip to content

Irish-born back Peter Nelson set for Canada rugby debut at Pacific Nations Cup


Some two months ahead of the Rugby World Cup, Irish-born back Peter Nelson will likely figure for Canada for the first time Saturday at the Pacific Nations Cup.

The Canadian men, currently ranked 21st in the world, play the 15th-ranked Americans in suburban Denver before travelling to face No. 9 Fiji on Aug. 2 and No. 13 Tonga on Aug. 8, with both games in Fiji.

The 26-year-old Nelson is a former Ireland under-20 fly half/fullback who qualifies for Canada via Canadian bloodlines. He made 60 appearances for Ulster before leaving after eight seasons with the provincial club.

Now he is in his first Canada camp, with a chance to quarterback the backline.

"A very good, solid player," said Jones.

Also a versatile one. Nelson can play fly half, centre and fullback. Jones is likely looking at him as a No. 10. A left-footed kicker, Nelson is good at distributing the ball.

"He's someone I've been looking at for a while," Jones said.

Ulster back Will Addison, whom Jones coached in England at Sale Sharks, helped Nelson connect with Canada.

"It's a small world. (Addison) gave him my phone number," Jones said. "He's got Canadian grandparents and Will gave him a nudge to give me a call ... And that's what happened."

Nelson and Toronto Arrows hooker Andrew Quattrin, 22, are the only uncapped members of the Canadian squad.

Jones has almost all of his talent in camp for the Pacific Nations although young back Theo Sauder is recovering from a shoulder injury. He is also buoyed by the fact that the arrival of Major League Rugby has given many of his charges a professional environment within which to work.

The 31-man roster features 15 players currently with Major League Rugby teams — including eight from the Toronto Arrows. Captain Tyler Ardron, who plays in New Zealand for Super Rugby's Chiefs, is one of eight players with overseas clubs. Five others are currently unattached with another three at Canadian amateur sides.

"It's very difficult to judge and select without players playing," said Jones. "You can't select purely on training form."

While he sees the North American pro league as still having room to grow, Jones believes it is improving each week.

Canada had more than 50 players currently under contract with MLR clubs in 2019.

"We had situations (in the past) where people couldn't get time off work," said Jones. "At least now we've got guys that play rugby for a living."

After the Pacific Nations, Canada will play Ireland's Leinster in Hamilton on Aug. 24, the B.C. All Stars in Langford, B.C., on Aug 30 and the U.S. in Vancouver on Sept. 7.

There are World Cup squad positions available, says Jones, who is looking to see how players who impressed in MLR make the jump to the international play.

"It's about me finding out about some players."

A sevens player like Andrew Coe could also find his way back in the 15s squad.

The U.S. has summoned two members of its high-flying sevens squad — captain Madison Hughes and Martin Iosefo — for the Pacific Nations Cup.

The Pacific Nations squad has plenty of leadership with former Canadian skippers DTH van der Merwe, Phil Mack, Hubert Buydens, Gord McRorie and Lucas Rumball.

The team is also healthy. 

Van der Merwe is just back from injury and Jones says he is great shape. Taylor Paris has been getting playing time at France's Castres. Fellow winger Jeff Hassler is rested after a rugby hiatus.

"So it's been pretty positive," said Jones. "But the proof's in the pudding now. It's how we bond together ... and how we grow to be ready for the start of September."

Canada has been drawn in Pool B at the World Cup in Japan along with No. 1 New Zealand, No. 5 South Africa, No. 14 Italy and No. 23 Namibia. The Canadians open Sept. 26 against Italy in Fukuoka City.

The Pacific Nations Cup field also includes No. 11 Japan and No. 16 Samoa.


Canada Roster

Tyler Ardron (capt.), Chiefs (New Zealand), Lakefield, Ont.; Kyle Baillie, New Orleans Gold (MLR), Summerside, P.E.I.; Justin Blanchet, unattached, Montreal; Nick Blevins, Calgary Hornets, Calgary; Rob Brouwer, Toronto Arrows, Lindsay, Ont.; Hubert Buydens, New Orleans Gold, Saskatoon; Luke Campbell, Toronto Arrows (MLR), Victoria; Jeff Hassler, Seattle Seawolves (MLR), Okotoks, Alta,.; Ciaran Hearn, unattached, Conception Bay South, N.L.; Matt Heaton, Darlington Mowden Park (England), Godmanchester, Que.; Eric Howard, New Orleans Gold (MLR), Ottawa; Jake Ilnicki, Seattle Seawolves (MLR), Williams Lake, B.C.; Cole Keith, Toronto Arrows (MLR), Sussex, N.B.; Conor Keys, unattached, Stittsville, Ont.; Ben LeSage, Calgary Canucks, Calgary; Phil Mack, Seattle Seawolves (MLR), Victoria; Jamie Mackenzie, Toronto Arrows, Oakville, Ont.; Gordon McRorie, Calgary Hornets, Calgary; Peter Nelson, unattached, Dungannon, Northern Ireland; Shane O'Leary, Nottingham Rugby (England), Cambellton, N.B.; Evan Olmstead, unattached, Vancouver; Patrick Parfrey, Toronto Arrows, St. John's, N.L.; Taylor Paris, Castres Olympique (France), Barrie, Ont.; Benoit Piffero, Blagnac SCR (France), Issoire, France; Andrew Quattrin, Toronto Arrows, Holland Landing, Ont.; Lucas Rumball, Toronto Arrows (MLR), Toronto; Djustice Sears-Duru, Seattle Seawolves (MLR), Oakville, Ont.; Mike Sheppard, Toronto Arrows (MLR), Brampton, Ont.; Matt Tierney, Castres Olympique (France), Oakville, Ont.; Conor Trainor, USON Nevers (France), Vancouver; DTH van der Merwe, Glasgow Warriors (Scotland), Regina.


Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter


Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks