From the Editor’s Desk – October 2021

Squidge Rugby Video Dissects Canada v Chile Plus Article in The Times UK on the Demise of Canadian Rugby

The aftermath of Canada’s loss to Chile and its early departure from World Cup qualifying continues to be felt.

Squidge Rugby who has become a bit of a celebrity technical analyst, even hired by World Rugby at one point, has focused his latest effort on Canada v Chile. It’s just over 12 minutes and worth the view. For extra credits, take a look at the video comments on YouTube.

There was also a recent article in The Times (UK) that focused on the demise of Canadian rugby, in the process interviewing Chris Lefevre, Bryan Ray and Sally Dennis.

There’s a common theme throughout, Canada needs to rebuild, starting at the top, with its leadership. There needs to be a culture change.

Rugby Canada have gone into their familiar, turtle stance, where they go into their review/committee shell until things blow over. The usual result is a vague, feel good statement a month or two down the road, containing little substance and no significant change to the leadership.

The most effective action at this point by the rugby community would be to talk to your provincial unions, they are the only members of Rugby Canada, and demand some accountability and information sharing from them in their dealing with Rugby Canada. You’re not likely to get much from Rugby Canada themselves.

from Squidge Rugby

from The Times (UK)
Canada rugby: From World Cup quarter-final to failing to qualify – how nation reached their nadir

The North American side were beaten over two legs by Chile earlier this month and will not be at the showpiece event for the first time in its history

Stadium Lille-Métropole in Villeneuve-d’Ascq and Estadio Elías Figueroa Brander in Valparaíso are two grounds etched into Canadian men’s rugby history for different reasons. Both were venues for defeats in different circumstances: on October 20, 1991, they lost 29-13 to New Zealand in a World Cup quarter-final; on October 9, 2021, they lost 33-24 to Chile in a second-leg qualifier, meaning Canada would be absent from the men’s global showpiece in 2023 for the first time in its history. From zenith to nadir in 30 years.

Canada is a proud rugby territory, the home of Gareth Rees and Al Charron. In the 1990s, they overcame Argentina, a Scotland XV, an England XV, France, and Wales in Cardiff. Now they are in the abyss, ranked No 23 in the world.

There is talk of bloodlust, of pitchforks and torches. Critics want drastic change. Chris Le Fevre is one such voice. The former prop, who played for Canada against the Barbarians in 1976, was a member of the World Rugby council and of the Rugby Canada board. Four years ago, he wrote an open letter on “the demise of Canada men’s XV rugby on the world stage”. This was no overnight surprise.

The charge sheet is varied, depending on whom you consult: a dilution of resources with sevens in the Olympic era; a governing body lacking global perspective, that has a chief executive in the east despite rugby operations being in the west; bad hiring decisions; the absence of fixtures domestically and internationally during the pandemic; and the absence of top players from Europe, either unable to play or not wanting to. All parties agree that there was still enough quality in the squad for Chile to have been beaten.

Bryan Ray, the co-founder of Americas Rugby News, has chronicled much of the decline. “It’s internal strife, not ideal coaching structure, poor preparation and bad timing,” he says. “It just all came together in one head.

“Our governing body is quite dysfunctional behind the scenes. We had a guy called Mike Chu, who was our high performance director, he was from the New Zealand Rugby Union, he was an excellent guy that we had. I think he’s now the head of New Zealand’s coaching development — we never replaced him with anyone even remotely adequate [in 2015], so that was a big problem.”

Kieran Crowley, now the head coach of Italy, was Canada’s head coach from 2008 to 2016. The New Zealander agreed to lead the side through to the 2019 World Cup qualifiers but resigned days later. He was replaced by Mark Anscombe, another Kiwi, who was sacked the following year after poor results. “The team is only the product of a system and the system is [broken],” Anscombe said at the time. “And no one’s doing anything to improve it.” Kingsley Jones, the Welshman, was appointed and remains in charge.

The professional era has been a struggle for Canada. The nation’s best results came in the six years before the sport was declared open. The advent of Major League Rugby in 2018, with Toronto Arrows one of the 12 franchises, gives a foothold but will take time to bear results.

The defeat by Chile reiterated the difficulty of having to call up talent from overseas mid-season. The locks Evan Olmstead (Biarritz) and Tyler Duguid (Montpellier) stayed in France, as did Will Percillier (Stade Français), the 22-year-old scrum half. Tyler Ardron was parachuted in from Castres for the second leg.

“No one has any confidence in staff, no one has any confidence in the organisation,” Ray says. “Unless that’s turned around, we’re just going to continue to have problems.” Le Fevre tells The Times he received an email from “a many-cap player”, calling for a “clean house” on the board to start the long process of rebuilding for the “laughing stock of world rugby”.

Sally Dennis, the chairwoman of Rugby Canada, does not recognise these suggestions of players actively not wishing to represent the organisation, though she does cite the challenges of having players in Europe but needed for internationals in America. “Ideally we would have a team, and an organisation that people say, ‘I don’t care about my professional contract, I want to play for my country,’ I would love to create that culture that people would drop everything to come play for Canada, we’ve got a way to go maybe to create that,” she says.

Le Fevre believes a flawed system must be rebuilt from the bottom. He wants a leader like Agustín Pichot, the former Argentina scrum half, who was a pioneer for a country who were not that dissimilar to Canada in the early 1990s, but are now a Rugby Championship outfit.

Canada were unable to call upon some of their best players who are based overseas, such as Stade Français’ Percillier

Canada will miss out on significant funding from World Rugby due to their absence from the World Cup. It is a shortfall they could do without. “For various reasons, including limited resources, we haven’t really invested as much as we would have liked in our development pathway for our players,” Dennis says. “In recent years we’ve started doing that again, and that’s not going to change things overnight, but that is a change that’s already under way. We had disbanded some of our rugby academies and we had somewhat neglected that development pathway.”

There is the chicken-and-egg situation of fixtures against Tier One opposition. Last summer, Canada played England and Wales for the first time since 2004 and 2009 respectively. If a team is deemed not good enough to play regularly against the leading countries, they can fairly point out that being exposed to higher levels would bring improvement.

While the men’s XVs are in disarray, Canada’s women’s programme has been in better order. Women’s rugby is a varsity-funded sport at universities, unlike men’s rugby. They finished fifth in the 2017 World Cup, a year after beating Great Britain in the bronze-medal match at the Olympics. However, this year John Tait, the sevens coach, resigned after bullying allegations from players, though an independent review found no breaches of policy. The team finished ninth at the Tokyo Olympics.

A word on Chile, who face the United States in July over two legs, the winner joining England in pool D in 2023. The Superliga Americana de Rugby has created professional teams in six South American countries, with Selknam, in Santiago, representing Chile. The country has been given high performance status and was allocated £100,000 this year by World Rugby. The results of October 9 represented a realignment of power in Americas rugby (beneath Argentina) from north to south, with Uruguay beating the US to qualify as Americas 1 for the World Cup.

While Los Cóndores are on the cusp of a World Cup, Canada have six, potentially ten years to wait. The US is bidding to host one of those tournaments, potentially giving Canada an added geographic purpose.

What next? There is a review of Rugby Canada’s high-performance programme ongoing. Ray calls for restructuring of the union. “The people at the top aren’t going to fire themselves, so it’s really up to the provincial unions, the heads of those unions, to come together and make decisions,” he says. Le Fevre wants to build up a strong competition from the grass roots to an elite level, to put the country on a solid footing.

Just as there is a variety of blame to be apportioned, so will the solutions be argued. Dennis says it is not the time for knee-jerk reactions. “The future doesn’t look bright,” she says. “It’s a bit dark and cloudy and stormy, but it’s there. And we just have to be patient. We’ll be at the next World Cup, I’m absolutely confident about that.”

Posted in Editorials.