Canada participates in their seventh consecutive World Cup, one of twelve countries to do so; quarter-finalists in 1991, Canadian rugby has faltered somewhat in the years since and will have tempered expectations for 2011.
Pool A presents a stern challenge for the Canadians, with heavyweights France and hosts New Zealand overwhelming favourites to progress through to the quarter-finals this year. Tonga and Japan complete the pool, two games that Canada will target as winnable in order for a respectable finish. The Canucks however are ranked fifth in their pool and enjoy limited international exposure in comparison to the Pacific Island nations, especially with regards to Southern Hemisphere conditions, auguring for a difficult World Cup for the North Americans.
Canada has performed with reasonable success against fellow rugby minnows in each World Cup, enjoying victories in every tournament apart from a dour 2007 effort whilst never beating a top tier nation. A dangerous forward pack earned the Canadians a quarter-final berth in 1991 in which they were knocked out by reigning champions New Zealand in a tight game, having previously only lost to France in pool play in what has remained their finest achievement on the world stage. This golden generation of Canadian rugby also recorded victories over both Ireland and France in the following years; however a lack of professional rugby in Canada combined with exclusion from quality competition has led to a lack of similar results in the 21st century. Canada fell to Australia, Wales and Fiji in the recent 2007 World Cup before only managing a 12-12 draw, ominously, against an improving Japanese outfit.
Captained by hooker Pat Riordan and coached by Kiwi Kieran Crowley, Canada draws heavily on the national domestic league to supplement a handful of Europe-based professionals. The presence of Clermont’s Jamie Cudmore in the second row will be instrumental to his captain in an otherwise inexperienced pack; in Australian fullback Jason Pritchard Canada have a point-scoring machine to complement elder statesmen Ed Fairhurst and Ryan Smith (scrumhalf and centre respectively) in a back-line that blends youth with experience.
Canada begin their tournament with a crucial match with Tonga in Whangarei, before travelling south to Napier for a clash against the French. An important game against the Japanese at the same ground will go a long way towards defining their World Cup in 2011; the All Blacks lie in wait at the capital in what will most likely be Canada’s farewell from New Zealand in 2011.