Tyler Ardron has urged Canada to relish their chance to lock horns with a true rugby great when they face Paul O’Connell and Ireland in Cardiff on Saturday.
Toulon-bound lock O’Connell will bring down the curtain on his illustrious 13-year Test career at the end of this World Cup campaign, which begins against Ardron and the Canucks at the Millennium Stadium.
Few will give Kieran Crowley’s side, who are ranked 18th in the World Rugby rankings, much chance of causing an upset in the opening Pool D fixture. The majority of the 31-man squad is drawn from their domestic scene, with only six playing top-flight rugby outside their homeland.
Ospreys back-rower and captain Ardron is among the half dozen and has experience of facing many of the Irish players through his Guinness Pro12 commitments, including O’Connell.
And the 24-year-old, who is hoping to shake off a knee injury to lead his country in the Welsh capital, hopes going up against players of the calibre of the three-time Lions tourist will only benefit their development.
“There is no doubt that Paul O’Connell is a true giant of the game,” said Ardron.I’m sure he could continue to play at this level beyond the World Cup if he wanted to, he is that good a player.
“I have gone up against him and I know the edge and nous he brings to the game. I play alongside Alun Wyn Jones at the Ospreys and I know the regard he holds O’Connell in, I think that says everything.
“For us this is a big opportunity to test ourselves against players of his calibre. Ireland are the Six Nations champions and I am sure are seen as dark horses for the tournament so we will have our hands full.But we want to show the developments we are making, we have had a lot of time together, probably the most any Canadian side has had ahead of a World Cup.
“We want to put in a good performance, get our tournament off on the right foot and cause Ireland some problems. It is special for me to be playing in the country I have made my home over the last couple of years and I cannot wait to get going.” Leading his country in the game’s global showpiece caps a remarkable journey for Ardron, who did not discover rugby until his mid-teens having grown up dreaming of becoming an NHL star in the mould of Wayne Gretzky.
“I was like any other kid, from a young ago you have the skates, the stick, the helmet and pads and you start playing with your friends and you want to be a superstar like Gretzky or Joe Sakic.
“I loved it, and I was also good at volleyball, so I wasn’t really looking around at too many other sports.
“But, one day, my high school coach asked me to come and give rugby a shot. I didn’t know a huge amount about the game, although I was aware of it.
“So I went and gave it a go and I started watching games on TV or finding footage online to try and understand the game better.
“I started off in the centre but I was eventually moved forward into the back-row and things progressed from there.”
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