Canadian rugby coach Ric Suggitt dies suddenly at age of 58

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Canadian rugby coach Ric Suggitt, who guided national teams on both side of the border, has died. He was 58.

Suggitt, head coach of the women’s team at the University of Lethbridge, died Tuesday from a medical complication, according to a release from the school.

Suggitt, who joined Rugby Canada in 1999, coached the Canadian men at the 2007 Rugby World Cup. He also coached the Canadian men’s sevens team. On the women’s side, he guided the senior 15s team and under-19 and under-23 programs.

The Edmonton native led the U.S. women’s sevens team from 2010 through the end of the 2014-15 World Series season, helping the side qualify for the Rio Olympics and to a silver medal at the 2015 Pan American Games where it lost 55-7 to Canada in the final.

“Very, very sad day for rugby and so many athletes @RugbyCanada @USARugby and beyond,” former Canada rugby captain Gareth Rees said via Twitter. “He invested huge time to help always with a smile!”

Suggitt took over the Pronghorns program in 2015.

“He was a larger-than-life figure that demanded the best from all of us but gave back all he had in return and his energy was contagious,” a school statement said. “His passing is heartbreaking for all of us in the Pronghorn family.”

“Ric, or Sluggo, as he was affectionately known was only with our program for a few short years but his impact has been profound,” it continued. “He was a coach of the highest calibre, a colleague, a mentor but most importantly he was a friend to all of us here.”

Suggitt left Rugby Canada when his contract was not renewed in the wake of an 0-3-1 performance at the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France.

But the record perhaps did not tell the whole story. The Canadians led Wales 17-9 after 45 minutes of their tournament opener but let the Welsh back in the game and lost 42-17.

Down 22-16 in the final minute against Fiji, Canada coughed the ball up a metre from the Fijian goal-line. A Fijian ran the ball the length of the field to complete a 29-16 win. A disallowed Canadian try in the 72nd minute didn’t help matters.

Against Japan, Canada led 12-5 only to see the Japanese score a try that was converted with the last kick of the game for a 12-12 draw. The Canadians, already upset over a disallowed Morgan Williams try, thought the whistle should have been blown well before the score.

At the time, Rugby Canada said Suggitt would have to reapply for the job if he wanted it.

While other teams were fully professional, Suggitt had to deal with a tight budget and limited access to his overseas pros.

He saw the bright side, saying those obstacles were good for the coaching staff.

”It make us work harder and have to try to find better ways to use our resources so we can at least try to match the fully professional teams step by step,” he said in 2005. “And we’re getting there.”

Canada was ranked 13th in the world at the time. It is 23rd today,

Suggitt, who succeeded David Clark as men’s coach in February 2004, had a 10-18-1 record as Canadian coach, although not all of those matches had Test status.

Rugby Canada said Suggitt will be honoured at Saturday’s Canada-U.S. men’s game in San Diego.

“It is with great sadness the Canadian rugby community mourns the sudden passing of Ric Suggitt, someone who did so much for our sport in this country,” Rugby Canada board chairman Tim Powers said in a statement.

The rugby community was quick to mourn Suggitt.

“Devastated to hear shock news of Ric Suggitt. Friend, great coach more importantly Great Man. Always grateful of his support & friendship RIP,” said current Canadian sevens coach Damian McGrath.

Under Suggitt, the U.S. women’s sevens team scored its first ever win over New Zealand, 34-5 in Amsterdam in 2015.

“I was always proud to call Ric a friend, enjoyed his company, and he frequently brought a smile to my face, as he did to so many,” USA Rugby CEO Dan Payne said in a statement. “He will be greatly missed and always remembered as a great man for North American rugby.”

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