|Photo: ABC Phil MacKenzie and DTH van der Merwe celebrate|
Tonga's monumental upset win over France last Saturday was one of the biggest upsets in Rugby World Cup history but it was not enough for the South Sea Islanders to get through to the Quarter Finals as Tonga had already lost two matches, vs New Zealand and Canada. It was therefore not Tonga but Canada who were instrumental in the results of Pool A. In defeating Tonga and drawing 23-23 with Japan, Canada effectively eliminated Tonga from the tournament. In the end it was not enough to qualify for England 2015, as the draw with Japan meant Tonga scored more championship points, but the result means Canada did France a huge favor as had Tonga defeated Canada then the French would have been eliminated at the pool stage for the first time in Rugby World Cup history. Such is the contribution of the North Americans that they did better than Fiji, who four years ago, were in the Quarter Finals.
The Canadian campaign can be called nothing other than successful and 2015 looms as a chance for the side to do even better and target a return to the Quarter Finals for the first time since 1991. Canada's success in New Zealand came despite only Jamie Cudmore (secondrow) and DTH van der Merwe (centre) recieving regular game time at the highest level. A number of other players are professionals or are joining top level clubs, notably Jebb Sinclair (secondrow) and Chauncey O'Toole (backrow), following the World Cup but the fact that Canada only had two speaks wonders for the work of the governing body of Canadian rugby, Rugby Canada and shows what can be achieved with financial aid from the IRB. The two organizations have combined to create the Canadian Rugby Championship (CRC) and also the Americas Rugby Championship (ARC) which have both enabled the players a chance of competing regularly at a superior level and thus being far better prepared for international duty.
South American countries including Brazil, Chile and Uruguay are to compete in the new annual South American Championship with Argentina in 2012 and the three teams have all shown progress in recent years. The sides have far fewer professional players and are significantly behind Argentina, Canada and the USA but could all potentially join the second tier (from the third) with appropriate funding from the IRB. Argentina has automatically qualified for England 2015 as it reached the Quarter Finals of New Zealand 2011 and will face the host nation on Sunday in Auckland. The winner will face either Australia or South Africa in the Semi Finals.