Thursday, November 17, 2011

Canada looking to build ahead of 2012

Building on the success of Rugby World Cup 2011 seems to be well underway with Canadian ruigby authorities and the coaching staff all sharing similar opinions of the way forward for Canadian domestic rugby as the national mens team. With preparations under way for the 2012 Canadian Rugby Championship (CRC) season, Canadian Headcoach, Kieran Crowley recently told the official home of Canadian rugby, that he is wanting the CRC to continue to thrive. The CRC, Canada's domestic competition faced its biggest challenge in 2011, due to nineteen players being unavalible in the lead up to Rugby World Cup 2011. But, the 2011 tournament was, nonetheless, a success. Crowley, alongside his colleagues in Canada has pointed out that the system seems to be helping in numerous ways beyond simply having a good domestic competition. It is also enabling a pathway for players to break into the Canadian team and produce superior depth compared to what coahces previously had at their disposal.

Rather than hinder domestic competition, Crowley feels Rugby World Cup 2011 forced CRC teams to evolve and contributed to positive growth on home soil. "With the World Cup, it forced clubs to put younger guys in and we have to give the young guys a go," Crowley said. "I believe it creates depth." When he took over the reigns of the national men's team in 2008, Crowley was adamant Canada needed a high-level domestic competition. Not only does he believe it creates depth, but acts as a selection tour for the national side, as in 2010 players went from the CRC to the Americas Rugby Championship (ARC) tour as part of the Canada Selects and then on to the November test series as part of the national side. "It has given players a chance to compete at a high level," Crowley said. "We can't be selecting guys from club games. We have to see them in compete at a higher level and be put under pressure." Another interesting development in the competition is that CRC sides have been taking on external, highly regarded, sides and winning. Of 12 games played between CRC sides and external clubs, Canadians have won seven and lost five matches. Some of the more notable results include the BC Bears defeating Russia 35-11, The Rock beating English second division side Esher 21-15 and the Ontario Blues beating Salta Province of Argentina 39-17.

Ontario Blues manager Mark Winokur has worked with the side for three years and coached Toronto during the previous era which had the Super League. After seeing the results of the CRC Winokur believes that the change from the Super League to the CRC has been highly useful for Canada. He pointed out that "there were so many teams in the Super League that it didn't have the same competitive balance. "This league puts the top 100 players in the country against each other week in, week out." Winokur's Blues won the CRC in 2011 and have beat external sides the USA Selects, the British Police and Salta Province. "It clearly shows that we are exposing our players to better both domestic and international competition and getting better results than with previous domestic sides," he said. Crowley also supports the approach of CRC sides taking on external touring teams. "It exposes them to other countries and different styles of play," Crowley said. "It's something we'd hope would develop and it's grown each year. It's outstanding for the players and gives them something to strive for and high quality games."

CRC commissioner Gord Sneddon has seen exciting developments in the competition as it expanded from 2010 to 2011 and more external sides look to take on Canada's regional teams. "Absolutely it has grown in a positive way," Sneddon said. "In Canada we had the North American 4 (NA4) and Rugby Canada Super League which weren't really serving our needs, but the CRC seems to fit the bill. "We've seen a lot more external teams interested in it. We weren't getting the external teams before. There's a real interest from South American and the U.K. to receive teams and send them over." In addition to the Ontario Blues success in the 2011 season, Sneddon has seen positive growth across the league.

The 2010 season saw Atlantic-based side The Rock take the championship on the back of a strong localized elite training centre and a broad talent ID program stretching as far east as Quebec. While they didn't win the 2010 season, the Prairie Wolf Pack have been extremely competitive, contesting the inaugural CRC championship with The Rock and pooling players from across the region to form a unified rugby front. "The level of competition across all four teams has been consistently high with all sides evenly matched," Sneddon said. "The performance of The Rock and the Wolf Pack in the 2011 competition ensured that there were no easy fixtures with every game highly competitive and the result always in question."

Details for the 2012 Canadian Rugby Championship schedule will be finalized in late November, but the Ontario Blues have already secured a pre-season tour of South America as reward for claiming the title in 2011. The Ontario Blues will take on Chile, Uruguay and Salta Province from May 3 to 14. For Crowley, this is just one in many of the positive steps necessary to move Canada's domestic competition and overall quality of players forward.  "We've got to help develop it," Crowley said. "The competition has gone to two rounds which is great. It would be good to create a cross-border competition and work on the age grade competition. We've got to keep the momentum going. It's a massive development tool and a step in the pathway to national selection."

                       Canada vs Tonga - Rugby World Cup 2011

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