TOKYO, 15 Oct - Having qualified for every Rugby World Cup, not advanced beyond the pool stage since 1991, and failed to win a game at RWC 2015, the aim for the Canucks at this tournament was simple: win at least one match.
In the end, their hopes were dashed not only by their higher-ranked rivals but by Typhoon Hagibis.
Being denied their best chance of victory, against Namibia, has left the players with a lack of closure and uncertainty about the future.
"It's really tough to say if you've improved in the past four years,” said Canada's captain Tyler Ardron. "Well, it's not hard to say. We've improved. Every team has improved in the past four years. It's, 'have we closed the gap on the teams above us in the past four years?'"
The answer is unclear.
From the team’s arrival in Japan, head coach Kingsley Jones encouraged observers to stay "realistic". A short preparation period, 10 months, after they were last team to qualify via the intercontinental repechage, left a big gap between Canada and their Pool B rivals.
While victory against Italy, and automatic qualification for RWC 2023, was a spoken goal for the Canucks, the main target was the closing match against a fellow Tier 2 nation, Namibia.
"I feel the team's grown, but we haven't actually been able to measure our growth," Jones said after game was cancelled six hours before kick-off. "I believe we would have won today. I think that would have given us a sense of an outcome. This feels like there's no outcome at the moment."
Jones has praised Canada's ability to get the ball wide and stretch New Zealand and South Africa at times, but stressed the need to sustain this pressure for longer periods. The Welshman also expressed his concern about squad depth in some positions, especially fly-half, where he relied on Ireland-born Peter Nelson, who made his Canada debut only in July.
Given the longer-term plan to keep Jones in charge, he should have an opportunity to improve in these areas.
Player of the tournament
With only two tries, it is hard to single out Canada’s main attacking force, but Ardron and Nelson kept the team moving forward when possible. The future looks bright in the front row, particularly with the performances of hooker Andrew Quattrin.
Memorable moment off the pitch
Canada proved particularly popular in Japan thanks to their eagerness to embrace the local culture. So it was only fitting that when their final match against Namibia was cancelled, the players helped locals in Kamaishi to clean up debris left by the typhoon, a gesture of goodwill that won hearts and minds all over Japan.
Following the cancellation of their match in Kamaishi, @RugbyCanada players headed out to help with recovery efforts, showing the true values of the game.— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 13, 2019
Amazing scenes and brilliant to see from the team. #RWC2019 pic.twitter.com/jdXQlyD2ZM
Memorable moment on the pitch
Matt Heaton had a Rugby World Cup debut to forget when he fumbled the ball with the try line at his mercy in Canada's opening match against Italy, inspiring Instagram memes and even a manga cartoon. But the back-row responded with great humour and vowed to make up for his clumsiness at the next opportunity. He did just that with Canada's only try of the match against South Africa.
Canada's focus from the start was to set a foundation for future Rugby World Cups as far as 2027. Up to 20 of the RWC 2019 squad could return if Canada qualify for RWC 2023, notably front-row players Quattrin, Conor Keys and Djustice Sears-Duru. The growth of Major League Rugby is also expected to bring fresh talent into the squad.
Canada's all-time top try scorer, 33-year-old DTH van der Merwe, will retire to work as a firefighter.
Quotes of the tournament
"I went into the changing room and it was silent. I thought when I was walking in there that it was empty and I’d gone in the wrong changing room. And there were about 12 guys out of the group reading books. It struck me. I've never seen that before. They’re different to a lot of rugby players I coached." - head coach Kingsley Jones on the team's 'book club'.
"These are the guys you grow up watching. They have no idea who I am. I'm just an average Joe to them. To me, these are the best players in the world, arguably the best 23 players in the world. I'm a no one to them so I'm down for that job. I like being a no one.” - hooker Andrew Quattrin before playing against champions New Zealand.
How did they do?
Lost to Italy 48-7
Lost to New Zealand 63-0
Lost to South Africa 66-7
Drew against Namibia due to match cancellation
Canada by numbers
15 - Appearances at a Rugby World Cup, a record for a Canadian player, set by DTH van der Merwe in the match against South Africa
10 - Months Canada had to prepare for RWC 2019, from qualifying through a repechage tournament in November 2018 to landing in Japan
6 - Jigsaw puzzles the players put together as a group during their free time in Japan
3 - Rugby World Cups Canada have finished without recording a win