Canada clinches Rugby World Cup spot amid strikes and chaos

When Canada lines up for its first game of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, against Italy in Fukuoka, there is like...

Posted: Dec 3, 2018 12:39 PM
Updated: Dec 3, 2018 12:39 PM

When Canada lines up for its first game of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, against Italy in Fukuoka, there is likely to be a swelling of national pride and just a smidgeon of residual relief.

Having left it to the last possible juncture to qualify for the four-yearly showcase -- which brings tension, considering Canada has competed at every single Rugby World Cup -- the Canucks won the repechage event in Marseille in November and go into World Cup Pool B with New Zealand, South Africa, Namibia and those Italians.

Asia

Canada

China

Continents and regions

East Asia

Hong Kong

Japan

North America

Rugby

Sports and recreation

The Americas

Rugby events

Rugby World Cup

Sports events

It has been a slog to get to this point.

Since the last World Cup in 2015 the men's 15-a-side team has tumbled down the global rankings, and in recent years has suffered humbling losses, including defeats against rivals USA and Uruguay in earlier World Cup qualifiers. There have been coaching reshuffles, financial restructuring and a lot of worry about funding if Canada were to fail on the road to Japan.

Visit cnn.com/sport for more news and videos

Yet in Marseille Canada negotiated its way past Kenya, Germany and Hong Kong and safeguarded part of its future.

Now it is all settled, Canadian players and management can look back on how tough it was. Did the athletes feel the pressure of history, given Canada had never missed a World Cup before?

"We talked about it the whole time," says DTH van der Merwe, the free-scoring wing who bagged five tries in the repechage event. "We all knew that the stakes were high.

"If we didn't make it we'd be the first Canadian team not to go to the World Cup. That's plain and simple. Then you lose all the funding which is massive for professional sports and for Rugby Canada. World Cup funding is huge and we don't have massive backers who could pull us out of this rut. I'm happy we got there."

According to Gareth Rees, a fly-half for Canada in the first four World Cups and now Rugby Canada's director of commercial and program relations, qualification is a much-needed boon for a nation that has had real struggles of late.

"The invention of the World Cup was hugely important for Canadian rugby," he explains. "It gave us a focal point every four years and when that opportunity was perhaps not there, it forced us to rethink a few things. "It would have been a big problem had we not made it to Japan.

"Firstly finances would have been up, out the door. There's a lot of support that comes from World Rugby because you're part of the World Cup family. And obviously for young athletes we compete with ice hockey and gridiron and soccer and every other sport in Canada. So to not have that showpiece every four years would not allow us to attract the best athletes and not allow us to grow the game as we want."

READ: Joe Schmidt to step down as Ireland coach

'We've been through a lean patch'

There has been a tightening of belts in the last few years.

You know of the floundering fortunes of the men's 15s side. Then earlier this year, with the union taking the tough decision to merge resources from sevens and 15s, to make 15-a-side rugby its stated priority, there was friction.

Men's sevens players refused to sign new deals. Sevens players who had historically featured for Canada in 15s World Cups and qualification, made themselves unavailable for this repechage event.

Issues have been resolved in Canada now and the Canucks will be at rugby's biggest party once again, this time in Japan. However, there would have been serious questions asked about Canada's rugby future had the outcome been different.

In September 2017, former Wales flanker and ex-Russia coach Kingsley Jones took up the reigns to try and guide Canada through an earlier qualifier that it ultimately lost to Uruguay. To the relief of a nation, Jones helped the team realize its dream at this last-chance event.

READ: Homophobic attack prompts France team to wear rainbow laces

He lays out the size of the task: "You are where you are for a reason. I don't think it's dragging the team through it -- we've been through a lean patch.

"A lot of very good players finished in 2015 and it leaves a hole. We've worked hard to create more depth, all down to the support of Rugby Canada, the support of all the local clubs in Canada to release players so they're able to train, do extra conditioning sessions.

"It came through (at the repechage) and the whole country's allowed these players to be here, to work hard and win three games on the trot."

What next?

Asked immediately after qualification what this means for an upcoming Americas Rugby Championship tournament and then World Cup preparation, Jones laughs: "I haven't got a clue!

"I've been to World Cups before but I've finished this, we got our season mapped out if this happened but it's the wrong time to ask me.

"I'll think about it on the journey home, I guess!"

Gathering his thoughts he continues: "It probably hasn't hit me yet that we're going. We'll have a breathe, look forward to going to Japan. It will be great.

"I'm not focused on the All Blacks tonight! We've just had a big period, but it'll be great to be in that group. We've got a good team, we're growing. We've got a winning habit."

Huntsville
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 75°
Florence
Broken Clouds
77° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 78°
Fayetteville
Few Clouds
73° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 73°
Decatur
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 72°
Scottsboro
Overcast
73° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 74°
Feels Like: 73°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 99926

Reported Deaths: 1781
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson13258244
Mobile10517207
Montgomery6835149
Madison544734
Tuscaloosa423076
Baldwin365125
Unassigned363064
Shelby330936
Marshall318937
Lee270047
Morgan241118
Etowah216232
DeKalb183013
Calhoun180717
Elmore173138
Walker153964
Houston141912
Russell13872
St. Clair135418
Limestone134913
Dallas133123
Franklin128820
Cullman122712
Colbert120716
Lauderdale118919
Autauga117421
Escambia108717
Talladega104814
Jackson10144
Tallapoosa86579
Chambers84438
Dale83525
Clarke82610
Blount8124
Chilton8097
Butler76736
Coffee7646
Covington73720
Pike7087
Marion58026
Barbour5765
Lowndes57324
Marengo56515
Hale47826
Bullock46611
Winston45711
Perry4454
Washington44312
Bibb4425
Wilcox43210
Monroe4215
Pickens4049
Randolph40310
Conecuh39310
Sumter36418
Lawrence3512
Macon33914
Crenshaw3265
Choctaw28712
Cherokee2758
Henry2643
Clay2635
Geneva2631
Greene25211
Lamar2292
Fayette2125
Cleburne1271
Coosa1033
Out of AL00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 123914

Reported Deaths: 1233
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby23485308
Davidson20722217
Rutherford658955
Hamilton622053
Knox468540
Williamson357725
Sumner344972
Unassigned31424
Out of TN294714
Wilson232123
Bradley195613
Montgomery195213
Sevier18947
Putnam178518
Trousdale15836
Robertson156720
Hamblen140514
Blount131411
Washington12772
Maury12727
Tipton121110
Madison116018
Sullivan103714
Hardeman93017
Bedford92811
Macon86013
Lake7920
Loudon7493
Gibson7266
Bledsoe7081
Fayette7028
Dickson6982
Anderson6936
Dyer6638
Henderson6043
Cheatham5997
Jefferson5844
Obion5794
Lawrence5756
McMinn55320
Coffee5483
Rhea5382
Warren5334
Carter5246
Lauderdale5148
Haywood5106
Greene5048
Roane4852
Hawkins4837
Hardin4828
Cocke4783
Weakley4634
Cumberland4586
Smith4554
Monroe4529
Giles38513
McNairy3815
DeKalb3652
Franklin3324
Carroll3253
Lincoln3091
Marshall3044
White2945
Henry2900
Johnson2850
Claiborne2760
Hickman2730
Crockett2695
Campbell2541
Wayne2282
Marion2274
Chester2232
Decatur2163
Polk2073
Grainger2000
Overton1981
Unicoi1690
Union1620
Benton1591
Cannon1510
Jackson1291
Humphreys1283
Morgan1261
Scott1220
Grundy1142
Meigs1060
Sequatchie1060
Fentress960
Hancock812
Perry810
Clay780
Stewart780
Lewis741
Moore610
Houston590
Pickett371
Van Buren360

Community Events