The start of Canada’s National Championship this weekend marks the next step in the Canucks’ preparations for the RWC 2019 global repechage in Marseilles this November.
All home-based players will be made available for the first couple of rounds as national team coach Kingsley Jones assesses the strength in depth of his squad, before a national A team travels to France for a two-game tour against Castres and Clermont Auvergne, on 11 and 17 August respectively.
The latter rounds of the National Championship and the World Rugby Americas Pacific Challenge, to be played in Uruguay in October, gives Jones further opportunities to ponder his options before the showdown in France.
“The next few months are absolutely critical as we prepare for the repechage, and we are committed to doing everything possible to ensure we are prepared, both physically and mentally, to compete come November,” said the Welshman.
“We are working diligently with our high-performance staff in Langford along with the overseas clubs to ensure our domestic-based athletes and overseas professionals are receiving top quality game-time and training to be match-fit over the next five months. I want to have a wider selection group to choose from in November to ensure the best players available take the field in the repechage tournament.”
The repechage tournament will be played on a round-robin basis, with the winner automatically claiming the 20th and final ticket to Rugby World Cup 2019. The full line-up will be confirmed on completion of the Rugby Africa Gold Cup in late August with the runner-up from that region joining confirmed participants Canada, Hong Kong and Germany.
Canada have an ever-present record at Rugby World Cups, dating back to the first tournament in 1987, but Jones insists qualifying this time around would be on a par with when he led Russia to RWC 2011.
“I think it would be an equal achievement. It (the repechage) is going to be an interesting little tournament. Hong Kong have just won seven on the trot and that helps with momentum. Germany have got a physical pack and are well-drilled so there will be some challenges there and if it’s going to be Kenya, they are a different type of team again,” Jones said.
“Canada have struggled in the last couple of years and trying to pull that back in a short space of time is a challenge for everybody involved here. I am still confident we will do it (qualify) but the message has to be to that it’s going to be tough.
“I don’t care who we face in the competition, we have to be ready and play well. We haven’t won three tests on the trot for goodness knows how long, and that’s probably what we have got to do. Our target is to win all three games, it’s as simple as that.”
Even so, Canada’s rich Rugby World Cup pedigree – they made the quarter-finals in 1991 – marks them down as favourites in most people’s eyes to join New Zealand, South Africa, Italy and Africa 1 in Pool B at Japan 2019.
“People have got to remember that we’ve got amateur players and we’re playing fully professional teams,” Jones added. “When you look at Hong Kong, they are in training every morning for four hours.
“At the moment, our ranking of 22 is about right, it’s where we are at.”