Coach of Canada’s rugby team wants to build depth before World Cup qualifier

Their backs are against a wall but having to wait until November for a last-ditch attempt to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup could benefit Canada’s national team.

Head coach Kingsley Jones plans to use the time between now and the repechage tournament to restore confidence and momentum, but most importantly create some depth on the squad.

“We really need to build depth and competition within the group,” Jones said in a telephone interview from Sacramento, Calif., where the team is training. “We need people challenging and pushing. We need to have competition throughout.

“If we get three first-choice players in each position, they put pressure on each other. It raises standards and performance levels.”

Increased depth would allow more options to decide on “the best player for that particular game and that style of play on that day.”

Jones, who took over the head coaching duties in late September, said he also will have more time to instill his philosophies and tactics on the team.

“The positive message is we have a chance to build and create,” said the former Welsh international flanker. “I have a chance now, with my coaches, to have an impact on the group.”

Canada missed a second chance at qualifying for the next year’s World Cup in Japan by losing 32-31 to Uruguay last weekend in Montevideo. The Canadians went into the final game of the two-leg series needing to win by 10 points after dropping the opening match 38-29 at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver.

The Canadian men have never failed to qualify for a Rugby World Cup. A 30-hour travel day from Uruguay to California gave the team plenty of time to contemplate the situation they have put themselves in.

“There was a lot of disappointment in the room,” said Jones. “We could have won the game on Saturday, which would have been a bit of a lemon to suck but it (would have) at least been a win.”

Beside a blow to their pride, the loss also was a financial hit for the Canadian program. A win over Uruguay would have ensured an immediate injection of US$448,000 from World Rugby in World Cup preparation money for Canada.

Canada’s fate will now be decided in a repechage tournament to be held at a neutral venue in November. Four countries will compete for the 20th and final spot at the World Cup. The other three countries will be decided by the results of remaining regional qualifiers.

The final qualifier will be slotted into Pool B, joining Africa 1, Italy, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Until then, Canada will play a series of games in the Americas Rugby Championship plus some international fixtures in June.

Canada’s first attempt at World Cup qualifying ended in an 80-44 aggregate defeat at the hands of the United States. That series included an embarrassing 52-16 loss in July. It also cost former coach Mark Anscombe his job.

Jones had little time to prepare for a Nov. 3 games against the New Zealand Maori All Blacks which Canada lost 51-9. In three other games since Canada has lost 54-22 to Georgia and 57-17 to Fiji while beating Spain 37-27.

Canada’s first game in the Americas Rugby Championship will be Feb. 10 in Sacramento against the U.S. Canada then plays Brazil Feb. 17 at Langford, B.C., then goes back on the road for games against Argentina on Feb. 24 and Chile March 3.

Jones believes the next several months gives the Canadian players the opportunity to acquire the tools needed to dig themselves out of the hole they are in.

“We have to take advantage of this,” he said, “Build a stronger group and start getting some winning habits. It’s better we play in November than now.”

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