Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada Faces Challenging Road En Route to 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada Faces Challenging Road En Route to 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan

Article excerpt

Rugby World Cup road challenging for Canada

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Wednesday's Rugby World Cup draw in Japan will show Canada coach Mark Anscombe his ultimate destination.

But obstacles remain on Canada's journey to the 2019 tournament, starting with the 17th-ranked U.S. Eagles in a June home-and-away aggregate qualifying series.

Should the 22nd-ranked Canadian men fail against the U.S., they will have two more chances at making the 20-team World Cup field out of the Americas. There is a home-and-away series against a top South American team like No. 21 Uruguay (No. 9 Argentina has already qualified) with the winner advancing.

The loser of that playoff can still qualify via a world repechage tournament.

In addition to the Americans, Uruguayans and whoever else might stand in the way, Anscombe faces structural challenges in assembling his Canadian team.

At Rugby Canada's annual general meeting last month, the New Zealander spoke highly of his players' character and willingness to follow his program.

But he also painted a disturbing picture of a national team talent pool that was unfit and ill-prepared because of the lack of top-level domestic club competition.

"There's no sugar-coating it," Anscombe, just back from a European scouting trip, said in an interview. "There's work to be done."

Anscombe said players arrived out of shape for his first test match as Canada coach against Japan, with provincial rugby seasons either over or about to start.

"When we tested our squad in June last year it was quite appalling," Anscombe told the AGM.

In the 10 weeks ahead of the Japan game, 14 players had had less than two games while 13 had less than five. Only two had more than five.

Canada lost 26-22.

And in the November tests, when Anscombe was able to call on his top overseas players, he determined only three had been playing at a good level and preparation (two from the Pro12 and one from the English Premiership).

Eighteen others came from domestic club rugby, and four each from the English and French second-tier.

Conditioning for Anscombe means two things: fit to play and conditioned to play in the intense, pressure-filled cauldron of international ruby.

"Guys are getting fitter but they're not match-conditioned at a higher level," he said. "If you drive your motor vehicle around a racing circuit at 30 miles an hour, you're comfortable taking risks at 30 miles an hour and doing things and executing things at 30 miles an hour.

"But if you have to go into a competition and do it at 60, then I'm certain that you're not comfortable manoeuvring that vehicle around once in a blue moon at 60, are you? Our guys are comfortable at club level but they're not getting challenged enough at that higher end ... You don't have time on the ball, you don't have space on the ball. You're getting challenged a lot more. The hits are a lot harder.

"No matter how good you are, you only get better at that if you get familiar with doing it regularly."

In a 46-21 romp over a poor Russian side last June, Canada ran in four converted tries in the first 20 minutes. Anscombe said his players were averaging 60 running metres a minute in the first 20 minutes before falling to 40 running metres a minute, then 25 as the match wore on. …

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