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Written By: Karen Gasbarino-Knutt
If you are a Canadian Rugby supporter, then you will be feeling much the same as the team, plus Rugby Canada administration, members of the other Rugby Canada teams, and long-time friends of the organization this week: gutted.
We are all gutted for the men who wanted so badly to qualify for Rugby World Cup next year in Japan, and gutted for our programs in general, which will all now take a hit because funding follows success.
Canada did not qualify as Americas Two when Uruguay beat them 70-60 on aggregate points across the two matches. They were not victorious, but they did not go quietly into the losing side. Right until the dying moments of the match last weekend in Montevideo, Uruguay, DTH van der Merwe was determined to close the gap and did. The result was a 32-31 victory by the home side. A loss for Canada.
Added to the 9 they were behind, ten points was the total spread between the two matches.
Taken into context, the fact that it was such a high points match is actually a positive for Canada.
Yes, I know. It was a loss, and it results in one final, last-gasp attempt for Canada to qualify for next year’s World Cup, through the four-team “global” repechage that will take place in November.
So, while Uruguay is off to Pool D to play Australia, Wales, Georgia and Fiji at World Cup – a very tough pool – Canada, currently sitting at 21 in the World Rugby Rankings, can look forward to playing one of a handful of other Tier Two national teams.
Of these four final play-off spots, there is the Europe/Oceana play off spot, as well as an African Cup final such as Kenya or Namibia. Conversely, it's likely Canada could find themselves facing 25th ranked Portugal, or a couple of other yet-to-be-determined teams. While the public is stuck on the fact that Canada will be forced to play the strong 16th ranked Samoa for the final berth, this is not necessarily the case.
Either way, this is not an enviable situation for Canada to find themselves in. Our national team was right there at the inception of Rugby World Cup in 1987, and hasn’t missed a single one since. In 1991, they were even a feared competitor and made it to the quarter finals, losing to New Zealand 29-13.
If they don’t win the final repechage, there will be far-reaching consequences for the Canadian program.
Allen Vansen, Rugby Canada’s CEO, released a statement following the loss. Among the apologies he offers on behalf of the players, coaching staff and program in general, he says “the failure to qualify as Americas 2 for the 2019 Men’s Rugby World Cup has significant financial challenges for Rugby Canada with a loss of key 2019 planning and preparation funding and missed commercial opportunities in the form of a marquee international match planned for November.”
He goes on to say essentially that a priority will be placed on securing that last remaining spot on the World Cup stage in Japan.
He then reminds supporters what people in the know will be aware of already; that a significant and thorough review was completed on the program in July of last year, including a change of coaching staff and leadership roles.
While the Men’s team hasn’t turned the losses of recent years around completely, there are certainly positive aspects to take away where one can clearly see there is marked improvement.
The overall match points have been higher. The defensive lines have been stronger. The kicking standards are starting to come up; there are a couple of really decent young kickers which gives us hope.
The games in 2017 were harder-fought, faster, and the team put in closer to 80 minute shifts than they have in a few years. There are also a couple of dedicated professional-level players who genuinely care about the program and want to see it through. And the team has respect for their leaders and coaches. Kinglsey Jones has effected change on the pitch and in the overall fitness of the team. He just ran out of the time he needed to slot them into the big show.
So, what needs to happen now is Rugby Canada sets to work. Every member of the team has pledged to do the hard graft to get it done. Supporters need to have faith and hold up the men and hope for the best in November.
We won’t discuss what happens if November isn’t a success. We won’t discuss it because we’ll go with the belief that it won’t even be an issue.
A wise man once said: “WE win but THEY lose”. I’ve never called Rugby Canada “they”. It is our team, and we are in it together. Serious supporters don’t fall off the “bandwagon.”
While there is a big job ahead, and it’s a very tenuous position to be in, now is the time more than ever to support the team.
We will see what happens. Either way, I’m still going to be a supporter. Because it will always turn itself around. And…it’s my team.