RWC 2015 Spotlight - Canada
CANADA ON THE RWC STAGE
Canadian travellers always wear their national flag with enormous pride in order to distinguish themselves from their bigger North American neighbours, comments journalist and comedian Dom Joly in his hugely popular book ‘The Dark Tourist’. In rugby terms, though, Canada has no need to feel inferior to the USA, especially after they booked their place at Rugby World Cup 2015 following a two-legged win over their great rivals last month.
In doing so, Canada became the first direct qualifiers for the tournament in England and ensured their ever-present record at the Rugby World Cup will continue in two years’ time.
At the inaugural tournament in 1987 Canada made their presence felt from the outset, scoring six tries in Napier to beat Tonga 37-4. Although Canada eventually lost their next pool matches to Ireland (46-19) and Wales (40-9), there were many positives to be taken from their first campaign, not least the emergence of fly half Gareth Rees, who until recently was Canada’s all-time leading scorer with 491 Test points, 120 of them on the RWC stage.
RWC 1987 also provided the current Canada set-up with a Rugby World Cup winner in head coach and former All Black Kieran Crowley, full back cover for John Gallagher during New Zealand’s successful campaign on home soil.
Building on the promise shown at the first tournament, Canada – alongside Western Samoa – upset the established order by reaching the quarter-finals in 1991. In a period when sides with big, strong packs and a good kicker at No.10 seemingly held sway – England’s Grand Slam success earlier that year was certainly achieved in such a manner – Canada’s physicality up front and Rees’ reliability with the boot were always going to make them a threat. And so it proved.
Based in France, Canada opened up with two wins against Fiji (13-3) and Romania (19-11) before narrowly going down to the hosts 19-13. Nevertheless their place in the knockout stages was confirmed as Pool 4 runners-up. In the quarter-final in Lille, Canada found themselves up against reigning champions New Zealand. The All Blacks were a shadow of their former selves on the day, but still had enough in reserve to ward off a spirited performance from the Canucks, who ‘won’ the second half 10-8 to go down to a 29-13 defeat.
The quarter-final showing at RWC 1991, though, meant Canada were guaranteed an automatic spot four years later in South Africa. Historic wins over France and Wales in the build-up suggested the Canucks were not prepared to be ‘one tournament wonders’, but a cruel pool draw, which pitted them against two of the tournament favourites – defending champions Australia and hosts South Africa – meant they were always going to face an uphill battle to qualify for the knockout stages again.
Canada, though, still made their presence felt – in more ways than one. After a regulation win over Romania (34-3) and a brave defeat to Australia (27-11), Canada were determined to go down fighting in their final match against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth. They took this resolve a step too far, though, with three players – Gareth Rees and Rod Snow (both Canada) and James Dalton, of the eventual champions – sent off for their part in a mass brawl.
Canada threatened to shock an out-of-sorts France in their opening Pool C match at RWC 1999, trailing by a single point during the second half. But the loss of talisman Rees to injury eventually counted against them and France went on to record a 33-20 victory.
Rees returned to action for the second pool match against Fiji, when the South Sea Islanders made up for their defeat eight years earlier by winning 38-22 and qualifying for the quarter-finals at the Canucks’ expense. In what was to be his last match for Canada, Rees then landed a perfect 12 kicks from 12 for a 27-point haul in the record 72-11 win over Namibia in their final pool outing.
Canada once again enjoyed a good build-up to RWC 2003, recording both a draw and a victory against Scotland between tournaments. However they managed to record only one win in Australia, 24-7 against Tonga, and finished fourth in Pool D behind New Zealand, Wales and Italy.
RWC 2007 in France was the team’s worst showing, winless at the bottom of its pool. Featuring in only the second drawn match in the history of the tournament – and the first for 20 years – would have been no consolation to Canada, especially as Japan scored right at the death to tie the scores at 12-12.
At the most recent edition in New Zealand, though, Canada bounced back and beat a strong Tongan team 25-20 in Whangarei – one that would later beat finalists France – before battling to a draw with Japan for the second tournament running.
Having overtaken Gareth Rees’ national points-scoring record in June, Australian-born James Pritchard is now looking to emulate the Canadian legend and appear at a fourth Rugby World Cup in 2015. “It would be a fairytale ending, I’ve just got to keep the old body going,” the 34-year-old full back said.
There’s no looking past RWC 1991, the year Canada announced their arrival on the world stage by reaching the knockout stages for the one and only time in their history.
RWC 2007 in Nantes. Wales blitzed Canada with four second-half tries in quick succession, helping them to overturn a three-point half-time deficit and win 42-17. Canada never recovered from the setback and went on to finish bottom of their pool.
“For me, the highlight and greatest honour (of my rugby career) was to represent and play for my country on the world stage,” Canada rugby icon and former captain, Al Charron.
The dismissal of Gareth Rees and Rod Snow against South Africa in 1995 makes Canada the only team to have more than one man sent off in a Rugby World Cup match. Dan Baugh’s sending off for stamping four years later brought the Canadian red card total up to three – the joint highest of any team alongside Tonga in the history of the tournament.