Rugby Canada flew to Japan Tuesday afternoon for the 2019 Rugby World Cup but without one of the men originally selected to travel as part of the 31-man squad.
Justin Blanchet, who left the pitch early in the first half of Saturday’s 20-15 loss to the USA with an apparent head injury, has been ruled out for the duration of the tournament.
His place is being taken by Josh Larsen, who was involved in Canada’s training camp and buildup games this summer.
Question marks still hover over another gritty forward Kyle Baillie, however. Late in the first half of Saturday’s gam, Baillie suffered a knee injury, which given the tape job appeared to be for a medial collateral ligament injury.
Sources told Americas Rugby News’ Bryan Ray that Baillie had indeed suffered such an MCL sprain; the minimum recovery time for such an injury is usuall two to four weeks.
Larsen joined the Canadian squad before the team departed for Japan on Tuesday afternoon.
“I am gutted for my mate, but am ecstatic about the opportunity. It was especially great to be able to share the news with my dad, who said he was happy for me, and proud of me for putting in the work to get here,” Larsen said in a statement.
“It is by far the pinnacle of my career, the biggest stop on my career to date.”
Saturday, Canada coach Kingsley Jones said it was hard to lose both forwards in the game.
“Losing our two biggest players against a big heavy team like the USA, that didn’t help us either,” Jones said. “Kyle Baillie’s been a leader for us. Justin Blanchet, he’s so physical, so that was blow to us.”
Blanchet’s story was an especially fun one: a native of Montreal, he and his brother Sam with their mother and her new partner to the U.K. when he was seven. The family settled in the small town of Lincoln, where they learned rugby.
The two ended up attending Exeter University, kept playing rugby there and eventually ended up playing for the Exeter Chiefs’ academy. Both brother played for Canada U16 and U17; Justin eventually was called up to an England U20 training camp but never played for the team. Sam played for England Sevens but has switched sports: he’s now a bobsledder.
According to Rugby Canada spokesperson Gareth Rees, Peter Nelson, who injured a finger as well during Saturday’s game, has been given the all-clear and isn’t expected to feel any last effects.