By Jerome Pugmire, The Associated Press
LEICESTER, England – When Canada’s players eventually fly home from the Rugby World Cup after their last match against Romania, it will be with fond memories of the attacking rugby they played and regrets over the opportunities they failed to take.
On the eve of the Pool D encounter, Canada coach Kieran Crowley reflected on the tournament and one match stood out: the 23-18 loss to Italy, where the Canadians failed to capitalize on a 10-0 lead.
“We watched that video and probably cried all the way through it,” Crowley said Monday. “We had overlaps and chances to score. We didn’t have the game sense to do it.”
Canada played some thrilling rugby against France last week, getting behind the defence and scoring two quick tries in the first half. Canada got to within six points of France after the restart, but then faded, losing 41-18. After the 50-7 defeat to Ireland in their opening match, Crowley underlined how Ireland had punished his team with its superior game management.
But Canada is not to blame for that.
In the four years between the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, Canada played three Tier One teams. In the first 12 days of this tournament, the Canadians played three, exposing their limitations as well as increasing their fatigue.
“We need to play Tier 1 countries, our decision makers (on the field) need to be at a club where they’re given decision-making games. We’ve made a lot of progress at skill level but we haven’t got over the line lately to get wins,” Crowley said. “There’s some mini-rugby starting up in Canada, but there is progress being made elsewhere as well. Romania have seven professional teams in Bucharest and that’s not something we can compete with.”
Veteran lock Jamie Cudmore, who captains Canada in the absence of the injured Tyler Ardron, remembers how he came into rugby late and thinks the game must be developed more at grassroots level in Canada.
“I started quite late, 16 or 17 years old. If you get to the international stage at 23 or 24 and been only playing five or six years that’s not enough,” said Cudmore, a regular for Clermont in France’s elite Top 14 league. “We need guys in our decision-making areas to be playing high-level competition week in, week out, and then we’ll start knocking over some of the big boys.”
Cudmore will play his 14th World Cup match, moving level with Canada record-holder Rod Snow.
Joking about his age, Cudmore says he’s so old “I’ve coached a few of the guys in the squad and that dates me a little bit.” Still, he’s in no hurry to walk away from international rugby.”
Lynn Howells’ Romania lineup should be the fresher side at Leicester’s City Stadium.
It has played only twice so far, losing 38-11 to France and 44-10 to Ireland, and had four days longer to prepare this match.
Romania is aiming to win its last two matches, this one and the last one against Italy, to take third spot and secure an automatic place for the 2019 World Cup.
“It’s time to produce a result and for the players to come out and play their best rugby,” coach Howells said. “But it’s a pretty nervous camp at the moment, they just want to go out there and play.”
He already has a pretty good idea how Canada will approach the game: with plenty of running and width.
“They don’t want the scrum because that’s what they try and stay away from,” he said. “We’re expecting more of a loose game.”