As always we start the New Year looking back over the past twelve months and handing out our verdict on the top ten teams, as well as Canada, USA and Georgia, and what they got out of the year on a score out of ten. We start off in the Americas looking at our own backyard, then move South of the Equator to the “Big Three”. We then journey back North in July to look at the Six Nations Competitors as the Northern Hemisphere season ends.
We’ll be the first to admit it’s completely subjective based on what we saw and where in our humble opinions it leaves the teams heading into 2018. We highlight the match we most enjoyed from each of the teams and we try to pick the player who made the greatest contribution to their national cause in 2017 as well as the player that we feel is most likely to catch the eye in 2018. So take from it what you will but without any further ado let’s get into it in part 2 where we take a look at how Canada fared.
Canada – 3/10
Of all the end of year reports we have to file for 2017, this is the most painful to write. No matter which way you cut it, it’s been a truly dismal year for Canada. Perhaps only France, South Africa and Italy were feeling the same way that the men from north of the 49th parallel did at the end of 2017.
There was very little to get excited about for Canada as they came to the end of a year that saw them fall outside of the top twenty in World Rugby’s rankings. To add insult to injury, they also failed in their initial attempt at qualification for the World Cup in 2019 – something Canada has always been successful in doing since the tournament’s inception in 1987. To make matters worse they found themselves under the stewardship of their fourth Coach since the World Cup and managed to record a paltry two wins from 13 matches. Fortunately, Canada will get another chance at qualifying for the Rugby World Cup at the end of this month when they play Uruguay at home and away.
Canada got 2017 off to a dismal start with a poor showing in the Annual Americas Rugby Championship. Poor execution and discipline coupled with little or no sense of urgency or structure on the pitch, meant that Argentina and the USA in particular ran rings around the Canadians as they suffered heavy losses to both teams. Canada did manage to get one convincing win at home against Chile but this was soon put in perspective by embarrassing defeats away to Brazil and Uruguay.
The two Test home series in June against Georgia and Romania brought Canada no joy either as they failed to score a point against the Georgians and were summarily dismissed by Romania. Canada’s track record against both East European sides has been poor for several years now.
The June series was followed by a first attempt at World Cup qualifying against the USA in a two-match series. Canada rallied in the opening leg in Hamilton and put in their best performance of the year but had to settle for a draw. The second away leg in San Diego saw Canada annihilated by a rampant US side, and thus fail to qualify for the tournament for the first time in its history.
The World Cup debacle saw Rugby Canada looking for scapegoats and after just over a year in the job Coach Mark Anscombe was given his marching orders. Relative unknown, Welshman Kingsley Jones, became the latest holder of what is rapidly being seen as a poisoned chalice.
Thus, with a new Coach and hopefully a new sense of purpose Canada headed to Europe in November seeking redemption. Despite the presence of some overseas based all-star players like DTH van der Merwe and Taylor Paris, such aspirations ultimately proved unfounded. Canada were thrashed comprehensively by Georgia and Fiji. They managed to labour past a surprisingly feisty Spain for Canada’s second win of the year, but at times even that appeared to hang in the balance until the final whistle.
In short, it has been a very rough year for Canada, and it is hard to see where the improvement is going to come from to turn their fortunes around. Canada sadly needs to say goodbye to some of the veterans it has used to prop the side up in the past two years and really focus on developing some young blood. We saw glimpses of some promising talent in some of the younger members of Canada’s squad this year, so there is a lot to work with provided the support structures are put in place.
Canada needs to build a results-based winning culture over the next few years. By doing so Canada would re-establish themselves as a thorny and difficult opponent akin to the glorious Canadian sides of the 90s. At present this is something they are light years away from as they languish at 21 in the world rankings. This will require a change in philosophy and a reality check from senior management in Canadian rugby. At present said management seems stuck in the past and the nostalgia of Canada’s glory days, with little or no understanding as to how the modern game has and is evolving.
There are some positives on the horizon with the news that Canada will field a team from Vancouver in the 2019 Major League Rugby club tournament in the US – North America’s first serious foray into professional club rugby. There is also a strong possibility that a second Canadian team from Toronto will be added in 2020.
We hope for the best for Canada in 2018 but right now the jury is out and we reserve judgement till we see how Canada fares in this year’s edition of the Americas Rugby Championship.
Match of the year – Canada vs USA – Hamilton – June 24th – Canada 28/USA 28.
This was without doubt Canada’s best performance of the year against a very good USA side. Canada pulled out all the stops and played some fantastic rugby and were seriously unlucky not to get the win in front of a fanatical home crowd. However, Canada’s ongoing inability to close out big games even when things are going their way continued to haunt them. Nevertheless, there was plenty to cheer about and Canadian players will no doubt be reviewing the video footage of this match as they seek to find some inspiration for their tough World Cup qualifying series against Uruguay at the end of the month.
Player of the year – DTH van der Merwe.
Once again, the South African born winger gets the nod as our best player by a country mile. Consistently outstanding and a joy to watch, DTH always impresses. As a result the team often expects him to single-handedly rescue Canada from the brink of disaster, a role which he seems to relish, but unlike many other sports, rugby is a game that rarely allows an individual the opportunity to save a sinking ship.
Player to watch in 2018 – Brock Staller.
For us Staller represented everything that is good about the future of Canadian rugby. The powerful utility back is a ferocious competitor and also possesses an exceptionally useful and reliable boot. If Staller can get some more big game time and exposure then this talented player should develop into part of the bedrock of a Canadian challenge over the next few years.
We’ll end this report card with video highlights of what we considered to be Canada’s finest effort this year even if it only ended in a draw. The match in Hamilton in June between Canada and the USA as a World Cup qualifier had all the hallmarks of great Test rugby, and despite the result is a performance that Canada can look back on with their heads held high!
To be continued – up next the USA!