|New Zealand All Blacks' Israel Dagg (R) tackles Canada's Matt Evans during their Rugby World Cup Pool A match at Wellington Regional Stadium on October 2, 2011. (REUTERS/Anthony Phelps)
Four years later, nothing has changed.
Canada returns home from its 2011 Rugby World Cup campaign after a bruising 79-15 loss to New Zealand on Sunday having accomplished only a little more than in its lacklustre 2007 tournament.
The Canadian side remains a team good enough to qualify for the sport’s quadrannual showcase but accomplishes very little once it gets there.
The Canadians tried their best to be one of the 12 nations to automatically qualify for the 2015 tournament, but Tonga’s upset win over France on Saturday meant Canada finished fourth in its pool with a 1-2-1 record and will have to enter the qualifying rounds if it hopes to take its place in England.
Canada showed good things. The team battled very hard right to the end, a point that was well noted by coach Kieran Crowley. The Canadians ability to defend was not only evident in their win over Tonga but in their gritty effort against France. They didn’t quit when Japan looked to have an upset victory over them in their grasp. And the facial hair on some of the guys, particularly Adam Kleeberger and Hubert Buydens, will be etched in memory.
They were never going to beat New Zealand, which has lost only 37 times at home in the past 107 years and has lost only to Australia, South Africa, England and France in that time.
But the Kiwis showed Canada how it’s done. The forwards, strong and technical, won scrums and lineouts they had no business winning. They of course dominated in open space but it was their ability to move forward in close quarters that was most impressive.
Canada missed a lot of tackles, but it was the lateral quickness of each of the New Zealand players that caused that. The Canadians did capitalize on some sloppy play by the All Blacks, which they converted into eight of their points including the second of two tries by Conor Trainor. And they did play an otherwise disciplined game.
But they lack speed, the speed France showed when wearing them down in the second half, the speed Japan used to nearly upset them, and the speed New Zealand dominated them with on a wet afternoon in Wellington.
And unless this is addressed, not only will they never be able to pull upsets over the top nations, there’s a threat they’ll be passed by those below them.
You’ll see many comments that, at least Canada finished better than the United States, which had only a win over fledgling Russia. But remember in 1986 when Canada qualified for soccer’s world cup and U.S. soccer wasn’t on anyone’s radar. With a TV deal with NBC in place, USA Rugby looks for a similar upward climb which will only hurt its northern neighbours even more.
Canada’s senior men’s national rugby program has some building blocks and foundation to improve going forward. It’s how it uses them that will determine its success.
Three of the matches in next weekend’s round of eight feature teams who know each other very well. On Saturday, Six Nations rivals Wales and Ireland meet in Wellington while England and France meet in Auckland. Tri-Nations combatants Australia and South Africa kick off in Wellington on Sunday. New Zealand faces Argentina in the other match in Auckland.