World Cup hopefuls aim for top of rugby heap

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

London's Derek Daypuck and Lucan twins Mike and Dan Pletch are close to living their dream.

The three are among 32 players named to Canada's World Cup rugby team. All they have to do is survive coach Ric Suggitt's final two-man cut before they head to France for the tournament beginning Sept. 7.

"This is the pinnacle of everything you play for, everything you work for up to this point," Daypuck said from Victoria. "Looking back, making this team would make all the 6 a.m. sessions under the headlights of your cars worthwhile. When you put it all together, this would be the apex of everything."

When Daypuck mentioned pinnacle, he wasn't kidding. He's been working like crazy to make the team.

Mike Pletch was at McMaster University and had a year left to graduate. Dan Pletch was accepted at teacher's college but they passed and moved to Victoria to immerse themselves in training to prepare for the tournament. That's how important this is.

"We're excited," Mike Pletch said. "All the domestic players in Canada basically took a year off from school or a year off from work to make this team. That's what makes this satisfying.

"I had to really think about taking the year off. This was my graduating year but the World Cup is only every four years and if you're lucky, you'll get two chances and anything can happen. It's tough to turn that opportunity down."

Daypuck is careful about getting too far ahead of everything. He's wary that there are still two players who won't make the squad. He's a backline player and teams normally operate with 14 backline and 16 front players. Suggitt has only named 14 backline players but Daypuck said the coach may go with a 13-17 split.

"That means one back player and one forward still have to be cut," he said. "Things are looking good but nobody's safe. There's still a lot to play for."

Things are looking good because Daypuck, 29, has had a good run at the international level, though this would be his first 15-a-side World Cup.

He was named to the non-travelling reserve side before the last World Cup.

Daypuck was a member of Canada's seven-a-side World Cup team and has been a regular member of Canada's team for test matches.

"I thought I was pretty close to being named before the last World Cup. If a fullback had gone down, I would probably have been called. But I don't know if I was ready. That's probably why I wasn't selected," Daypuck said. "But it's different this time. I've got quite a lot of experience with the team. I have 18 caps, I've gained a wealth of experience. I have 20 or 21 7's tournament, the Commonwealth Games and World Cup. I'm definitely ready to go."

He thinks the Pletches are right there as well.

"They're developing into international props. They're well ahead of the game for their age," Daypuck said.

The Pletches are 24 and both play prop, one of the most physically demanding positions in rugby. Players take a few extra years to grow into the position.

"Props are prime in the late 20's, early 30's because they've had a chance to put on a lot of muscle," Mike Pletch said. "We've made our way onto the national team at an early age and that experience has really helped us develop quicker than other props at our age."

Both Mike and Dan have been regular members of the national team over the past few years. So while no one is saying they're a sure thing, chances are pretty good they'll be on the final 30-man roster.

Daypuck and the Pletches are graduates of the London St. George rugby program.

Daypuck said he's ready. He's put on about 10 pounds and says he's in the "shape of his life.

"I've been playing well over the last year-and-a-half," he said. "The last five or six tests I've played pretty solid. My defence (has) been a big part of my game. I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing."

Canada is ranked 13th in the world. They'll play in Pool B, along with No. 2 Australia, No. 3 France, No. 8 Wales, No. 12 Fiji and No. 18 Japan. The top two in the group will advance to the quarter-finals.

"A lot of people in Canada don't realize how big this is," Mike Pletch said. "It's the third-biggest event, behind the (soccer) World Cup and the Olympics.

"We're getting better. Of the teams that don't have professional rugby teams, we're ranked No. 2. What we need is some sort of professional league in North America."

Brother Dan signed a contract with a pro team in France. Mike is headed back to McMaster to finish his fifth year and then plans to look for a pro contract in Europe.

But that's later. Right now, the only trip the local trio is interested in is to France, with 27 other guys and 19 other nations.


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