Canada Rugby World Cup Preview
Source: BORIS HORVAT / AFP/ GETTY IMAGES
The rugby world descends on Japan this month as the 2019 Rugby World Cup officially kicks off on September 20th, 2019. The tournament will open with the hosts taking on Russia. There is plenty of excitement surrounding the tournament as it is arguably the most wide-open World Cup ever. Canada will be competing in Group B alongside the All Blacks, Springboks, Namibia, and Italy. It is certainly a challenging group. In part 1 of Layman’s Sports’ Canada Rugby World Cup preview, we will take a look at the history of Canada at the Rugby World Cup and the long road to qualify for 2019.
Canada’s History at the Rugby World Cup
Canada is one of 12 nations that has competed at every Rugby World Cup. The first RWC was held in 1987 and 2019 marks the 9th playing of the World Cup. Romania has failed to qualify for the 2019 tournament (for a variety of reasons), and the number of nations to participate in every World Cup will drop to 11 (New Zealand, Australia, England, France, Wales, Argentina, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Japan, and Italy). Canada’s best performance at the RWC came at the 1991 tournament hosted by the Five Nations. The Canadian squad was led by captain Mark Wyatt as well as two World Rugby Hall of Famers in Al Charron and Gareth Rees. They competed in Group 4 against Fiji, France, and Romania. With victories over Fiji and Romania, Canada reached the quarterfinals for the first time. In the quarterfinals, Canada would meet the an All Blacks squad captained by Gary Whetton and featuring Grant Fox, John Kirwan, and Sean Fitzpatrick. Chris Tynan and Charron would be the try scorers for Canada with Rees adding a conversion and one penalty from Wyatt. Ultimately, Canada would fall to the All Blacks 29-13. This game remains the only quarterfinal match Canada has ever played at the RWC.
The next tournament in 1995, Canada found themselves in a pool with Romania, Australia, and the hosting South Africa Springboks. Canada would open the tournament by slaughtering Romania 34-3. A loss the Wallabies would set up a crucial final pool match with the Springboks. The game was a legendary clash and would soon become known as the “Battle of Boet Erasmus”. The game got off to a bizarre start as a power outage delayed kickoff by 45min. Once, the game was underway it became an intense, physical affair. The intensity of the match would soon boil over. Canadian winger Winston Stanley was hit into touch by Springbok winger Pieter Hendriks. The two wingers got into a scuffle and Scott Stewart rushed in to aid Stanley. Springbok hooker James Dalton jumped in and a massive brawl was sparked. Ultimately, James Dalton, Gareth Rees, and Rod Snow would all receive red cards for their role in the brawl. 3 red cards in one match is still a record to this day. South Africa won the game 20-0 and would go on to win the World Cup.
Canada has not made it out of the pool stage since the 1991 tournament. However, the Canadians have always found a way to be competitive in the tournament often earning at least one win. 2007 ended that streak when they suffered losses to Wales, Australia, and Fiji. They also played Japan to a 12-12 draw and Canada finished last in the pool. Canada would bounce back at the next tournament in 2011. Canada would open the tournament with a 25-20 victory over Tonga with three tries from Jebb Sinclair, Aaron Carpenter, and Phil Mackenzie leading the way. This win propelled Canada to 11th in the World Rugby (at the time IRB) rankings, the highest-ranking Canada has ever achieved. Canada would once again draw Japan and finish the tournament with a 1-1-2 record. Unfortunately, Canada has had a steady fall in the world rankings since then. At the 2015 tournament, Canada lost every game in the pool stage for the first time. This included a 17-15 loss to Romania where Canada was leading 15-0 with 20 minutes to play. The disappointing 2015 tournament would set Canada on the long road to qualification for Japan. That road would begin with a coaching change.
The Road to Japan 2019
Canada has a long road to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. Following the 2015 RWC, head coach Kieran Crowley was re-signed to be Canada’s head coach through to 2017, but just a few weeks after signing the extension he left to become the head coach of Benetton in the Pro14. Crowley was replaced by Mark Anscombe, and they struggled under his leadership. They finished 5th overall at the 2017 Americas Rugby Championship, which included their first loss to Brazil. Canada was then given their first opportunity to qualify for the 2019 RWC, a two-match series with the USA. The first game would be played to a 28-28 draw creating a winner take all 2nd match. That game ended up being a blowout as Cam Dolan scored the first 2 of 7 tries on route to 52-16 thrashing of Canada. Anscombe was fired soon after Canada failed to qualify.
Kingsley Jones would succeed Anscombe on September 21, 2017 and begin working on earning a spot in the RWC. Jones was given his first opportunity to lead Canada to the RWC with 2 match series against Uruguay. Uruguay would take the first match 38-29 and head back to Montevideo with a series lead. In Montevideo, Canada held a 15-0 lead after the opening half-hour. However, Uruguay would storm back and take a 32-26 lead following an Andres Vilaseca try in the 74th minute (Felipe Berchesi with the conversion). DTH van der Merwe scored at try in the 80th minute, but Shane O’Leary’s attempt at a quick drop kick conversion didn’t connect and Canada lost 32-31 (70-60 on aggregate). Canada had failed to qualify for the RWC for the second time. However, they would be given one more shot at qualifying at the Repechage tournament later in the year.
Canada would go on to finish 4th at the Americas Rugby Championship that year with wins coming against Chile and Brazil. During the June Internationals, Canada would drop all three of their matches to Scotland, Russia, and USA. After the three losses, it was off to the Repechage Tournament for one last chance at qualifying for the Rugby World Cup. In the Repechage tournament, Canada would compete for the final ticket to Japan against Kenya, Germany, and Hong Kong. Up first was Kenya. Van der Merwe had a hat-trick as Canada dominated the Kenyans to earn a massive 65-19 victory to open the tournament. This game also marked the first cap of Mike Sheppard’s career. He picked up a try to celebrate the occasion. Canada would follow that up with another strong performance against Germany picking up a 29-10 victory on the back of tries from Lucas Rumball, Tyler Ardron, Matt Evans, and Gordon McRorie. Hong Kong would also pick up wins against Kenya and Germany setting up a winner take all final. Ray Barkwill picked up the game’s opening try in what would unfortunately be his last test match for Canada. The legendary Canadian hooker would be forced to retire due to injury following the tournament. Van der Merwe had another multi-try performance and Canada defeated Hong Kong 27-10 to book their ticket to Japan.
The work was far from over after winning the Repechage Tournament. Canada had qualified for the RWC, but they would be placed in a very difficult group with 3 of the 4 other countries being tier 1 rugby nations. Canada’s group consists of New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, and Namibia. In the next part of the Layman’s Sports Canadian Rugby World Cup Preview we will take a look at the build up to the RWC through the Americas Rugby Championship, a full MLR season, the Pacific Nations Cup, and their 3 warm-up games. The 2019 season provided plenty of intriguing positional battles and Kingsley Jones was left with a lot of difficult decisions to make regarding the final roster.