Loss to Fiji takes its toll on Canada ahead of key World Cup qualifying series

Canada’s 57-17 weekend rugby loss to Fiji appears to have been a costly one.

Centre Ciaran Hearn, fullback Andrew Coe and winger Taylor Paris were all injured in the game against the hard-hitting Pacific Islanders at Narbonne, France.

Hearn was stretchered off with what appears to be a serious knee injury. Coe may have broken his arm while Paris hurt his hand.

While the official medical word was not out yet Tuesday, Paris may be the only one of the three who could be available for Canada’s World Cup qualifying series in January against Uruguay.

On the plus side, fly half Patrick Parfrey is said to be doing well after leaving the field with a head injury.

Canada emerged from the November tour with a 1-0-2 record, with a 37-27 win over No. 20 Spain sandwiched around losses to No. 12 Georgia (54-22) and No. 10 Fiji.

Still, the Canadian men, who opened the month with a 51-7 loss to the Maori All Blacks in Vancouver, climbed two spots to No. 21 in the world rankings.

Now the focus is on the Uruguay series, which represents Canada’s second chance to crack the 2019 World Cup field. The Canadians failed at the first attempt, losing to the 17th-ranked U.S. 80-44 on aggregate after a lopsided 52-16 loss in San Jose in July. The series defeat cost coach Mark Anscombe his job,

Should Canada stumble against No. 18 Uruguay, it will have one more chance to qualify via a world repechage tournament.

The Canadian men have taken part in every World Cup. Failure to keep that string alive would be costly, given it would likely see a reduction in its World Rugby funding.

Coach Kingsley Jones, in his first month at the Canadian helm, remains positive about World Cup qualifying.

“I’m mostly optimistic although I know it’s going to be a tough challenge,” he said Tuesday from Wales.

As for the November tour, Jones said he had probably eight to nine players who can perform consistently at the international level.

“The others are young players with a lot of potential,” he said. “We’ve got to fast-track those guys, get them up to speed which is a challenge.”

While praising Parfrey for stepping up in the No. 10 role, Jones said more experience and depth are needed at fly half and inside centre — especially with the expected loss of Hearn.

Connor Braid, currently with the men’s seven team in Dubai, is expected back for the Uruguay challenge. Jones also hopes to have a healthy Shane O’Leary back.

Jones said he had been impressed by Canada’s loose forwards, locks and the potential at tighthead prop.

He also singled out captain Phil Mack for his work at scrum half, calling him an “inspirational leader.”

“So lots to be positive about,” said the former Welsh international.

Jones expects to get all of his healthy talent for the Uruguay series, including back-rower Tyler Ardron who is playing for the Chiefs in New Zealand.

The Canadian coach is due to have knee surgery of his own Wednesday to repair a meniscus problem.

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