Editorials - January 2022

January 11 2022


Trying to Figure Out Canada's Rugby Woes: Analyzing Common Responses

[editor's comments below]

I had started this article in 2021, shortly after the men's XVs program exited the World Cup qualifying with a loss to Chile. There were a lot of comments on where the solution lay. When I say "Canada's Rugby Woes", it's specifically referring to the national men's XVs demise. The national women's XVs program is doing quite well.

The common theme on fixing the problem fell into three basic categories, increasing grassroots, more MLR teams and money. All those things are good in their own right but they don't specifically address the problem of fielding an elite men's XVs team to qualify for the World Cup, I list my reasons below.

What are the quick solutions, what are the long term solutions? I'd like to hear your ideas in the comments section.

One quick boost that comes to mind is getting men's rugby sanctioned as a university sport under the USPORT umbrella. Currently only women's rugby is sanctioned and it has made a huge contribution. There are people working on this behind the scenes and hopefully it comes to fruition in the next few years.

There are some other things I'd like to see, for example, widening the search for elite talent. Currently the men's XVs coach relies almost exclusively on MLR, with consideration given to the Pacific Pride program and the 7s program. There was a disconnect with the European pros and that needs to be addressed. I'd like to see more probable v possible matches, with players being given a chance to compete for a national team position based on current form. The women's XVs did this by bringing the top 50 to Halifax in August to let selectors see who was on form in head to head competition. They had a good November tour, winning 3 out of 4 and only losing to England who are world #1.

"The answer is grassroots rugby"

It may be the answer to questions like, how do we raise the profile of rugby, how do we increase club revenues, how do we get more people playing, how do we ensure the long term viability of rugby in the country, but it's not the answer to how we identify and prepare 23 players to put on the field to represent the country and win. If it was then we would be well ahead of Chile who have a fraction of the club infrastructure and registered players compared to Canada.

In 2011 Chile had 26 rugby clubs according to the archived iRB site. Canada had 309 clubs. More up to date stats (2020) on the World Rugby site has Chile at 2,998 Registered players and 12,881 total players, Canada, according to the same document, has 28,267 Registered players and 217,042 total players. Our top provinces Ontario (12,769 from RC 2019 AGM) and BC (7,917 from RC 2019 AGM) have more registered players than Chile.

Growing grassroots rugby is commendable and should be a focus for many of the reasons mentioned above, and yes it is a structural factor, but it's not the major factor in being able to field an elite team to qualify for the World Cup.

"MLR is the answer, we need more teams"

The USA and Canada teams were composed mostly from MLR players. The USA has 11 MLR teams and lost to Uruguay, Canada with 1 team and many players on USA teams, lost to Chile. When Canada and USA, filled with MLR players, toured to England, Wales and Ireland they were soundly beaten. Having MLR is great for allowing players to train full time and receive some remuneration. It's a higher level of play than the amateur leagues in North America. MLR may get better over the years but at the present it's not the answer to defeating Uruguay and Chile. It is a factor, one of many, but just adding more Canadian teams to MLR is not the answer, just ask USA.

"More money is the answer"

I'm sure Rugby Canada touts this line to the government and World Rugby every time they meet but actually more money, spent in the wrong places, may be part of the problem. What is Chile's rugby budget compared to Canada's. I don't have the figures but I'm guessing Chile doesn't get the same amount from World Rugby as they've never been to a World Cup. I'm pretty sure the Chilean government is not as generous as the Canadian government in supporting rugby athletes through Carding programs and Own the Podium. How much does the Chile CEO earn compared to Canada's, how about head coaches (Vansen purported to receive 300K+ and Jones ~$180K)? I'm guessing that Canada spends more across the board. I went to look at the Chile website, www.chilerugby.org, it's in maintenance, and has been for a while. They look like a union that spends it's money very carefully to get the outcomes they want, like World Cup qualifying. Rugby Canada can't say the same.

Pemberton Holmes
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