Let me entertain you? Not with lopsided loss

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 2:50 PM ET

No self-respecting rugby squad worth its pack weight in pride would enter an international test match not figuring to win.

But when Canada squares off against England 'A' in the Churchill Cup tomorrow, the hopes of the home side must be considered a long shot at best. Even against the backup club of World Cup hopefuls and promising prospects, the Canadians don't have much of a hope.

Just don't tell them that.

"England knows they're going to be in for a battle and they know what we're like," said Canada's head coach Ric Suggitt, who got his career started with the Edmonton Clansmen.

It's true that England will get the best the 13th-ranked Canadians can offer on the day. Tough and rugged is Canada's forte. The Canucks are a team that has utilized Suggitt's coaching wizardry, which allows any player to take on "adventuresome" play at any given time. The Canadians have long been one of the most respected second-tier nations in the world rankings.

"They deserve that respect," said England coach Joe Lydon. "Their time is coming. I think they're going to turn the corner soon. I just hope it's not too soon - like Sunday."

When it comes down to it, wins, or even nail-biter losses to the top-ranked nations, are what matters in the court of public opinion.

"It's a tough sell,'' admitted Captain Canada Mike Webb, whose club suffered a 60-3 setback to Wales last weekend. The Canadians have also been whipped by Italy and France in recent times.

"There are positives but selling positives out of games like that are very hard," added Webb. "Most of the Canadian public doesn't understand where we're coming from or where we're trying to go. But some great results would certainly do a lot to help that."

Where they've been is a bare-bones operation that gradually built itself up to a spot in the IRB's top 10 and warm responses from international crowds at World Cups. Where the Canadians are hoping to get is back to the World Cup scene with some reasonable goals for success.

Those may not come next time around in 2007, but perhaps in 2011 or 2015 when the current crop of young stars, now in their early 20s, become seasoned veterans.

If all goes according to plan, then those Canadian teams should be rather entertaining. Problem is the team in the here and now needs to put something together to keep interest up.

"We need to start putting some wins on the board, there's no doubt about that," said Webb. "I guess it's typically Canadian to lose well but give it all you have. That's not good enough anymore. Our supporters want to see some wins."

In round one of last year's Churchill Cup, England throttled Canada 48-23. It will take a parting of the sea-type miracle for Canada to knock off the visitors, although a close call would restore a bit of faith.

"We're not going in thinking we're going to get the crap kicked out of us," said Suggitt. "We're always striving to get closer. We can't be a world powerhouse overnight.

"I think we are at the stage now where we can start putting some pressure on the world powers.''


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