NEWS
08/01/2011 11:51 EDT | Updated 10/01/2011 05:12 EDT

Canadian flanker Chauncey O'Toole impresses ahead of Rugby World Cup

TORONTO - Chauncey O'Toole is a man on the move.

Whether it's running down the sideline for an intercept try against Russia at the Churchill Cup or heading to the gym at Victoria's Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence, all roads are leading in one direction for the 25-year-old flanker from Belleisle, N.B.

The Rugby World Cup.

The six-foot-two, 238-pound O'Toole has 11 full caps for Canada and was named Sky Sports' tournament MVP at the Churchill Cup in England in June, when Canada lost 37-6 to the English Saxons in the final.

"Chauncey's the best player on form right now. He's playing some unbelievable rugby and he's got a ton ahead of him," said veteran Canadian back Ryan Smith, who's headed to his third World Cup.

"If he can get into the right setup, he's got a long long career ahead of him which bodes well for us."

O'Toole is more modest about his recent run, refusing to even accept he has laid claim to the Canadian No. 7.

"There's a lot of depth, a lot of great players there with guys like Adam Kleeberger, (Nanyak) Dala," he said. "I definitely wouldn't say I've made it my own by any means. It's really just game by game ...You've just got to play well if you want to hang on to your shirt."

Canada is well-stocked in the back row with Aaron Carpenter, Jeremy Kyne and Jebb Sinclair — a fellow New Brunswicker who just signed with England's London Irish — also headed to the World Cup.

Back row talent left behind includes Stan McKeen and Sean-Michael Stephen.

A move to a pro club overseas beckons for O'Toole after the World Cup, which runs Sept. 9 to Oct. 23 in New Zealand.

"He's been very good. There's been a lot of interest in him," Canadian coach Kieran Crowley said of O'Toole during the Churchill Cup.

O'Toole has already spent time in Britain, in 2009 with a Welsh regional developmental side that Rugby Canada sends talent to and briefly in 2010 with the Glasgow Warriors of the Magners League.

"A great experience," O'Toole said of his time in Wales, where he worked with former Wales assistant coach and current Canadian defence coach Clive Griffiths.

"I really think it helped my rugby a lot."

He signed with Glasgow last fall, thanks to fellow Canadians Kevin Tkachuk and DT van de Merwe who recommended him after the club was hit by injuries to the back row. It was a frustratingly short stint — he saw action in just one game, against the Newport Gwent Dragons.

"I would have like more of an opportunity (at Glasgow) but it is a business. The coaches, their jobs are at stake too. They have to produce wins, I guess, so he has to go with what he thinks is his best (lineup)."

Still O'Toole sees positives from spending time in a fully professional environment.

"Being over there for two months, I do think I'm capable of playing there. And I think there's a lot of Canadian guys that are capable of playing at that level. When you're just on a Canadian passport, it makes it a bit tougher with the import rules and stuff."

It's a theme Crowley has echoed on numerous occasions. Canadian rugby players have the talent to earn pro contracts but they somehow don't have the sex appeal that South Africans, Australians or Fijians do.

Still O'Toole's agent is hard at work looking to place his client overseas after the World Cup.

Canada's domestic rugby setup may lack a pro league, but O'Toole says he and his Canadian-based teammates aren't about to play second fiddle to anybody.

Canada's fitness was praised by rival coaches at the Churchill Cup and O'Toole says the Canadians "are right up there" when it comes to such preparation. In his view, the only difference between the Canadian and fully professional setups in other countries is the quality of games.

"But I think our training and our facilities are top-notch," he said.

O'Toole grew up playing hockey. A defenceman, he reckons he was "fairly good" at hockey and spent some time in the Maritime Junior Hockey League with the Miramichi Timberwolves.

But after becoming increasingly involved in rugby in high school and speaking to a few rugby coaches at 17 or 18, he looked to rugby as his sporting future.

He played age-group rugby in New Brunswick and took part in the Rugby Canada Super League and NA 4 tournament before being asked four years to move to Victoria as part of the national team's carded program.

He made his international debut against Ireland in 2009 in Vancouver.

These days rugby is his full time job, with the Canadian sevens and 15-man sides not to mention his club side — the Oak Bay Castaway Wanderers.

He cannot wait for the World Cup.

"When I first moved to Vancouver the (20)07 World Cup had just concluded. So that was the kind of the goal I set out for myself — was to be a part of the next one. So far, so good."

He enjoys training and living in the B.C. capital.

"If you're going to move away from home, Victoria's not really a bad place to be," he said.

But he's not exactly driving a Porsche.

"I think living modestly is probably the best way to put it," he said with a laugh. "It's not a ton of money but if you're smart about it, it's enough to get by on.

"We're getting paid to train and play rugby, so I can't really complain."