Rugby Canada faces ‘critical’ test at last-chance World Cup qualifier

Over the next three weekends, at a 5,000-seat facility in the south of France, the future of Canadian rugby will be sent in one of two very different directions. Three games, three unfamiliar opponents, one final berth in the 2019 Rugby World Cup on the line.

“This is,” says Canada’s head coach, Kingsley Jones, “a critical period.”

The Stakes

Here’s the deal. Canada’s national men’s team has thus far failed twice to qualify for next year’s World Cup in Japan, and now must win a last-chance repechage tournament in Marseille, France in order to claim the 20th and final spot in World Rugby’s ultimate competition. Hong Kong, Kenya, and Germany will compete with Canada in the tournament, with each team playing each other once. Whichever team finishes the round-robin in first place earns the World Cup berth.

There’s no underselling how important this tournament is for Canada, which has never missed a World Cup and never had much trouble qualifying. Only five years ago, Canada was consistently a top-15 team in World Rugby’s global rankings. But they have struggled mightily since the last World Cup in 2015, and now sit No. 23, trailing much smaller nations with far less historical success in the sport, such as Uruguay, Hong Kong, and Namibia.

But missing out on the tournament wouldn’t only be a further hit to the national program’s prestige — it would be extremely detrimental to its pocketbooks as well. In 2015, World Rugby contributed $3.7 million to Rugby Canada’s operations as it prepared for the World Cup. The following year, that number dropped to $2.1 million.

Rugby Canada estimates another $1 million — at least — will be lost if Canada loses the repechage tournament and fails to qualify.

The loss of funding could have a cascading effect on Rugby Canada’s other operations, …read more



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