Teammates become rivals for RWC 2015 place
A year of camaraderie counts for little when a Rugby World Cup 2015 qualification place is at stake.
Two players who know this as well as anyone are London Scottish teammates Tyler Hotson of Canada and Eric Fry of the USA. The two forwards spent last season playing alongside each other for the Exiles, but in August found themselves pitched against each other in the crucial Americas 1 qualifier.
While Canada v USA is one of rugby’s great rivalries and a match which needs little extra edge, the home and away play-off presented both teams with the opportunity to become the first direct qualifier for RWC 2015.
In this exclusive interview, Hotson and Fry tell us what it’s like to line up against a teammate with a RWC 2015 berth on offer, and look forward to the challenges ahead.
The first leg of the play-off was in Charleston, South Carolina. How did it feel when you first saw each other before the match?
Fry: “We first saw each other the day before the game at the captain’s run, there was a smile and a handshake and that was it. It’s great to play against someone you know really well, especially in a RWC qualifier, it just adds an extra dimension. There is already so much pride playing for your country, and knowing that I was going to come back to the club and play with Tyler for the rest of the year, I really wanted to get in a couple of big hits in on him early on. We were desperate to get the win and bragging rights are a big thing in North America.”
Hotson: “We’re professionals and the main focus is obviously to win the game, but there was a lot of good banter beforehand. I think I also got a big shot in on Eric early in the first match! The fans in the USA were pretty loud and very passionate - they obviously had a very good time.
Canada won the first leg 27-9. Did you exchange any messages after the match?
Hotson: “There were a few. Mostly about tactics, trying to find out who was injured and who wasn’t and how training was going, but needless to say no-one gave anything away. I think both of us were trying to fish for information from the camp, it was all a bit sneaky.”
You both played at RWC 2011. Was that experience the highlight of your careers so far?
Fry: “Definitely. I played in the game against Australia in Wellington in front of over 30,000 people. That was an incredibly special moment for me.”
Hotson: “RWC 2011 was definitely a career highlight for me too. I’ll never forget the atmosphere at the first game we played against Tonga. We ended up winning that match and it was an incredibly close finish. To kick off a Rugby World Cup with a win against a team that was ranked three or four places above us at the time was one of the most special moments of my life. We finished the tournament against New Zealand and were the only team to score two tries against the All Blacks.”
We’re expecting about 400,000 international visitors for RWC 2015. What impression of rugby in England do you think that a North American would take away?
Fry: “People will be amazed how many people are talking about rugby and how knowledgeable people are about the game. In the USA you have rugby communities but they quite small and very spread out. Here in England you can find rugby communities almost anywhere you go.”
Hotson: “RWC 2011 was great in the sense that the locals adopted teams and made them feel very welcome. We saw Canadian flags everywhere we went. I think the Olympics gave England a great platform to build from. Any visitors who come here for the tournament will take away an impression that this is a very friendly and adoptive country.”
Canada will join France, Ireland, Italy and the Europe 2 qualifier in Pool D. How does that pool look from a Canadian perspective?
Hotson: “The big thing for us is that we’ve had a similar group of players playing since RWC 2011, and this now feels like a second cycle. In the current national team there are probably around 10 players who played in the last RWC and we are all very familiar with each other’s playing styles. There haven’t been any different coaching styles introduced, we’ve had time to develop as a group and that’s a huge positive for us. In terms of results, we’ve had a few setbacks since the last tournament – against Ireland for example. We’ve got work to do and I wouldn’t say that we are going to target making the quarter-finals, but if we get our full squad together then we do have a shot and we’ve got the players that can do it. In the squad we’ve got about seven or eight at the very highest level who are making an impact in elite tournaments like the Heineken Cup.
And the USA has a double-header against Uruguay in April 2014 which will determine the Americas 2 qualifier.
Fry: “I’ve only played against Uruguay at youth level, so it will be interesting to play against them for a RWC 2015 qualification spot. We’ve had mixed fortunes over the last few months with lots of games that were close but just went the wrong way. We really want to get re-started, get the attitude right, and make sure that we qualify. The second leg against Canada was encouraging but we are capable of playing much better and need to become more consistent with our play for the whole 80 minutes.”
Canada will open their campaign against Ireland at the Millennium Stadium. What sort of a reception will you be expecting there?
Hotson: “I can’t wait. I played there in 2008 and it’s one of the best stadiums I’ve ever played in. A lot depends on whether they keep the roof open. The Welsh fans are always very vocal and it’s a great way to start the tournament. RWC 2011 generated a lot of interest in Canada and I’ll be expecting a big Canadian travelling support to come over.
Canada schedule for RWC 2015
Sat Sep 19 – Ireland v Canada – Millennium Stadium
Sat Sep 26 – Italy v Canada – Elland Road
Thu Oct 1 – France v Canada – Stadium MK
Tue Oct 6 – Canada v Europe 2 – Leicester City Stadium