Canada seek to maintain perfect attendance
Canada took a huge step towards securing their place at Rugby World Cup 2015 by beating neighbours USA 27-9 last weekend in the first leg of a play-off to determine the Americas 1 qualifier for the showpiece event in England.
The Canucks are firm favourites to become the first direct qualifier for England 2015 ahead of the second leg in front of a packed out BMO Field on Saturday with the USA Eagles needing to win by at 19 points or more in Toronto to deny their hosts.
If Canada do secure their place in Pool D alongside 2011 runners-up France, Ireland, Italy and the Europe 2 qualifier, then they will preserve their record of having participated in every Rugby World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1987.
Canada made their presence felt from the outset, despatching Tonga 37-4 in their first RWC match in Napier on 24 May 1987, scoring six tries and handing the Pacific islanders their heaviest defeat of the tournament.
Although Canada eventually lost their next pool phase matches to Ireland (46-19) and Wales (40-9), there were many positives to be taken from their first campaign. One of these was undoubtedly the emergence of fly half Gareth Rees, who would go on to become Canada's all-time leading scorer with 512 Test points, including 45 on the World Cup stage.
It was evident that this generation of Canadian players had a bright future ahead of them.
The golden era
The early 1990s saw the enigmatic rise of the national team and Canada’s most successful tournament to date, in fact the only time they have reached the quarter-finals was at RWC 1991.
Having arrived at the tournament as the Americas 1 qualifier, ahead of both Argentina and USA, the Canucks kick started their campaign with victories over Fiji (13-3) and Romania (19-11). Canada narrowly lost their final pool match against France 19-13, but their place in the knockout stages was already confirmed as Pool 4 runners-up.
This set up the dizzying prospect of a quarter-final against defending champions New Zealand. But despite scoring two tries and putting in an heroic effort, they eventually went down 29-13 to the All Blacks.
The quarter-final showing at RWC 1991, though, meant that Canada were guaranteed an automatic spot four years later in South Africa.
The build-up to RWC 1995 witnessed some of Canadian rugby’s finest moments, including iconic victories over traditional powerhouses France and Wales. Canada went into the tournament in fine form, but found themselves in a pool containing two of the tournament favourites, Australia and South Africa, and the mammoth task of repeating their run to the quarter-finals proved to be a bridge too far. Canada did impress, however, in their 34-3 defeat of Romania in Port Elizabeth.
RWC 1999 and beyond
At RWC 1999, Canada qualified as the Americas 2 side and were drawn in a pool with France, Namibia and RWC 1991 opponents Fiji. The South Sea islanders made up for their defeat eight years earlier with a 38-22 victory over the Canadians in Bordeaux. The win was decisive and meant that Fiji advanced to the quarter-finals ahead of Canada, who finished third in the pool ahead of Namibia.
Four years later, Canada went into RWC 2003 in high spirits, having recorded both a draw against Ireland and a victory against Scotland since their last campaign. Despite their impressive run of results prior to the tournament, Canada managed to record only one win in Australia, 24-7 against Tonga, and finished fourth New Zealand, Wales and Italy.
RWC 2007 in France was to prove a particularly disappointing tournament for Canada, and is the only occasion they failed to record a win at a Rugby World Cup, managing only a 12-12 draw against Japan.
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.
While the challenge of emulating the feat of the 1991 side and progressing to the quarter-finals may seem like a tall order, Canada have already beaten the majority of Europe’s elite and will see no reason why they can’t record another scalp, or two, at RWC 2015.