From the Editor's Desk - December 2019

December 27 2019

BCRN 2019

Is MLR Enough to Reverse the Trend for the Canadian Men's XVs Program?

The end of year is always a time for reflection, we're past christmas or solstice, depending on how you celebrate it and now in the home stretch for not only the end of the year but the end of a decade. The 20s are coming, the roaring 20s last century entered with a roar and finished with a crash but I'll let the reader ponder the parallels a hundred years later.

One of the the items I've been pondering in the rugbyverse is the MLR, is it enough to reverse the trend for the Canadian men's XVs program? It's the third year for the league and the second with a Canadian based team playing. It didn't have a noticeable impact in the 2019 RWC results, both USA and Canada struggled at the World Cup. The USA have about 10 times the number of players in the league so would arguably be the first country to benefit.

The MLR have upped their recruiting game this season with some big name signings, almost reminiscent of the Japan Top League. That's what nudged my attention to the MLR this week, this article in Runner's Sport, Japan Rugby: Decade In Review. One of the quotes in the article is from Michael Leitch, the captain of the Japanese team, "To be honest with you, Top League doesn’t prepare you well for Test matches. It will prepare you to beat Tier Two teams on a regular basis, but if you want to become a real formidable force in the world then you have got to be playing in the most competitive competition."

Japan are one of the success stories in World Rugby, going from 16th to 8th in a decade. Defeating Tier Two teams on a regular basis would be something to aspire to for Canada and USA but Japan had a brief hold of something greater when they had a team in Super Rugby for four seasons. The Sunwolves operating out of Tokyo started in 2016 but unfortunately were unable to negotiate the financial conditions to stay in Super Rugby beyond 2020 which will be their last season. Is Japan's success predominantly a result of Top League or the four year stint in Super League, or a combination of both plus other unique factors?

It also brings up the question of a MLR team in BC? Is Vancouver a MLR city? Personally I thought Vancouver was more a Super Rugby city playing out of BC Place with Victoria being more in line with MLR and filling up Westhills Stadium. Unfortunately after the Super Rugby expansion optimism post-2015 RWC, Super Rugby seems to be going the other direction post-2019 RWC by giving the Sunwolves their walking papers. RWC 2023 for North America will be primarily influenced by MLR, the one variation we have in Canada compared to the USA is the fulltime Pacific Pride Academy run by Jamie Cudmore and it should be apparent over the next two years how much of a factor that will be.

So back to the original question, is the MLR enough to reverse the trend for the Canadian men's XVs program? Is Ciaran Hearn at 34 going to improve with Old Glory after being with London Irish previously? Is Josh Larsen going to improve going from Otago in the Mitre 10 Cup to New England in the MLR? It's good that these players are keeping active at a fairly high level of rugby but they still have to come back into a Canadian system that hasn't performed well and is led by Kingsley Jones who hasn't to date inspired or produced results. My money is on Jamie Cudmore and his program in being the game changer, but only if and when he's given enough freedom to make the changes necessary. We'll find out more in July/August when the tests and ARC put the men's XVs back on display.

A final thought on momentum, something the women's XVs program has, the men's XVs program is still looking for. This linked article is written by Sara Svoboda and well worth a read, A Guide to Psychological Momentum, I picked it off Tyler Leggatt's (Upright Rugby) facebook page. Sara is pursuing her masters in the UK at the renowned Loughborough University, she's played for the national team, and her two sisters, as well as her dad and uncle have all worn Canada red. A great rugby family out of Belleville, Ontario.

Pemberton Holmes
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