Rugby Canada Updates – February 2021

*Rugby Canada Remove John Tait as Women’s National 7s Coach as Senior Player Discontent Sparks Changes*

[ed. comments below]

When I first heard about this my first thought was, only Rugby Canada can create a rugby drama when there’s no rugby. People were messaging and texting, what’s with the women’s rugby 7s program?

From reading the Rugby Canada media release, Neil Davidson’s press report (both appended below) and talking to a few rugby people, it looks like Rugby Canada have put John Tait on leave while they investigate player complaints.

It’s looking like the issue is one revolving around power with senior players wanting more say in running the program. The power issue can also be framed in the relationship between coach and players and how it affects their emotions. According to Rugby Canada there’s an “independent investigator” who will review the situation, there’s no word on who the investigator is or their background.

It’s a disappointing turn of events as John Tait is an immensely popular person in the rugby community and was the source of pride as one of the few Canadians actually having a leadership role in a rugby decision-making position at Rugby Canada. The men’s national programs, both XVs and 7s, are led by people recruited from offshore. The women’s programs were Canadian owned and operated and ran well. Not anymore, Rugby Canada have now appointed Australian, Mick Byrne, as the new coach through to the Olympics. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.

The loser in the end will be the women’s 7s program, with this divisive situation, it will likely impact the program’s reputation and support. Does Rugby Canada’s top leadership own some of the blame? Apparently this divisive situation has been going on for months, there are staff on stress leave. Did they not think of intervening by appointing a mediator or facilitator to work together with the two sides for a solution? Now they have damaged reputations, not only of individuals but of the program, and quite likely set themselves up for legal action.

COVID is causing stress throughout the world, this looks like a prime example. In a perfect, non-COVID world, the Olympics would have gone ahead in 2020 and regardless of Canada’s result, a new coach would have been appointed and some senior players would have retired. John Tait would have just focused on his Director role in charge of both the women’s 7s and XVs program. The new coach ideally would have been a Canadian woman who has worked her way up through the coaching ranks, there are a few candidates. The COVID version didn’t play out that way and the Canada’s women’s 7s program has gone back a step or two.

We’ll keep on top of the situation, if you have any insights on this story contact or use the comment feature below.

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Rugby Canada launches probe, revamps women’s 7s coaching staff after players complain
from Canadian Press by Neil Davidson

A complaint from members of the Canadian women’s sevens team has prompted Rugby Canada to call in an independent investigator and revamp the team coaching staff.

The sevens side is coached by John Tait, a former Canadian international who serves as Rugby Canada’s director of women’s high performance. The 47-year-old coached the sevens women to a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and gold at the 2015 Pan-American Games.

In its five-paragraph release Friday, Rugby Canada did not name Tait, say who was the subject of the investigation or specify the complaint. But Tait does not figure in the new-look coaching setup.

“Of course, matters of employment and confidentiality are really important to us. I would ask you to draw your own conclusions,” Rugby Canada CEO Allen Vansen said in an interview when asked if Tait was involved in the complaint.

In a subsequent email, he said: “matters related to employees are confidential.”

Vansen said he could not provide further details about the complaint other than to say: “I can certainly share that the complaints are from multiple individuals.”

Tait, in a text to The Canadian Press, said he can’t comment at this time but hoped to be able to speak on the matter in the coming weeks.

“It’s surreal,” he said.

Tait, an imposing figure at six foot eight, won 37 caps for Canada from 1997 to 2002. He played professionally in Wales with Cardiff and France with CA Brive.

He has been a coaching constant at Rugby Canada for more than a decade, having served as an assistant coach with the men’s 15s team and head coach of the women’s 15s team prior to taking over the sevens women. Last August, the father of three was given additional responsibilities, handed the high-performance role on the women’s side in addition to his sevens head coaching duties.

Team captain Ghislaine Landry confirmed that the complaint was made by the entire team but declined further comment.

In the statement, Vansen said: “Rugby Canada is taking these concerns very seriously. We are following our internal policies and procedures that are in alignment with established national response guidelines, and in a manner that reflects our values.”

He said he hoped the investigator’s report will be completed by the end of March. “And we have been assured it will be no later than mid-April.”

The clock is ticking. The Olympic rugby sevens competition is scheduled for July 26-31 in Tokyo. And reputations are at stake.

The Canadian women are a medal threat. They were third in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series standings when the season shut down after five events last year, having finished runner-up at three events and third at a fourth.

Canada was third overall the previous season, lifting the trophy at the Kitakyushu Sevens in Japan in April 2019. It marked the first cup win for the Canadian women since 2017.

Sandro Fiorino, head coach of the women’s 15s team, has temporarily moved from Ontario to Langford, B.C., to serve as interim sevens coach with help from Maria Gallo, an assistant coach with the 15s team.

Mick Byrne, a specialist coach with both New Zealand and Australia who has consulted remotely with the Canadian sevens side since 2012, “will assume the role of national senior women’s sevens interim head coach through to the Olympic Games.” Rugby Canada said in the statement.

Byrne is not currently in Canada. Vansen said Rugby Canada is working on the necessary paperwork to get him into the country.

“We remain united and focused on our goal of winning a medal at the Olympic Games.” Landry said in email to The Canadian Press. “We are training together and are confident in the interim plan. We look forward to working with Mick, Sandro and Maria.”

The World Series ground to a halt when the pandemic stuck. Rugby Canada says the women are expected to travel to a tournament in early April with Byrne expected to join the team on the trip.

from Rugby Canada


February 5, 2021 (Langford, BC) – While addressing a complaint that was received from National Senior Women’s 7s players, Rugby Canada has developed an interim technical leadership plan in collaboration with the team that will support their goals in preparing for the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. The team remains united and focused on the ultimate goal of winning a medal at the Olympic Games and building a legacy that will empower the next generation on and off the field.

Rugby Canada has engaged an independent investigator to address the matter. “Rugby Canada is taking these concerns very seriously. We are following our internal policies and procedures that are in alignment with established national response guidelines, and in a manner that reflects our values. As per our policies and to reflect our commitment to confidentiality, we will update our community once the process has been completed,” shared Rugby Canada CEO Allen Vansen.

Sandro Fiorino, National Senior Women’s 15s Head Coach, has temporarily relocated to Langford and is acting as interim Head Coach to oversee training. Fiorino is being assisted by National Senior Women’s 15s Assistant Coach Maria Gallo. Fiorino will be with the 7s team until April and both coaches will maintain their roles with the National Women’s 15s team as they prepare for RWC 2021 later in the year.

Mick Byrne will assume the role of National Senior Women’s 7s interim Head Coach through to the Olympic Games. Byrne has been a specialist coach with both New Zealand and Australia and has consulted with the Canadian Women’s 7s team since 2012. “I am excited at the opportunity to lead this team into the Tokyo Olympics,” said Byrne. “I will be integrating with the team immediately in a remote capacity and look forward to joining in-person when able. I am very familiar with the players and systems and have great confidence that our team will be performing at our best come July.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic causing the cancellation of many HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series events, it is anticipated the National Women’s 7s team’s first competition of 2021 will take place in the Spring.

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