TORONTO - A rare home game for the Canadian rugby team comes at a cost.
Kieran Crowley's team has had to juggle clinics, dinners, media responsibilities and other duties away from the practice pitch as it prepares for Saturday's Test match against the U.S. Eagles at Toronto's BMO Field.
"I'll be honest, I'm a little worried about this week," said Crowley, a man usually very comfortable in his own skin. "We've got a hell of a lot of distractions going on around things that have to be done for World Cup and there's a lot of things going on that I wouldn't normally agree to have going on if it wasn't the occasion it is.
"But I also realize you've got to promote the game in Canada and this is a great opportunity for it. Hopefully by Friday we can bring them back down to where they need to be and they can get their head space right."
"They appear to be handling it pretty well," added the former New Zealand All Black.
Crowley's challenge is to meet the team's responsibilities at a minimum cost to preparation.
Ever the canny coach, he did that Wednesday by bringing two players with minor knocks — Jeremy Kyne and Ander Monro — to a media availability at BMO Field. So he managed to fulfil his media duties without taking anyone away from practice at the team's training base about an hour's drive north of Toronto.
A pragmatist, Crowley's bottom line is performance on the pitch. He is not the kind of coach who issues curfews, preferring to put the onus on his players to look after themselves.
"These guys are grown men. They've got responsibilities. And if they don't know what is going to affect their performance, they never will. And in the end it's down to performance if you get picked (to play) or not. So if you're doing something that's going to affect that ... If things become an issue, I'd certainly step in."
Canada has not played at home since a November 2009 win over Russia in Burnaby, B.C. Since then, the Canadian men have played 10 matches, with stops in Belgium, England, Georgia, Portugal, Spain and the U.S.
Composure is key for Crowley, who remembers what happened in July 2009 when his Canadian side was beaten 12-6 in Charleston, S.C., in the first leg of its World Cup qualifier against the Americans.
"We got into that emotional side of the game," he recalled. "We just forgot about everything we went out there and said we were going to do because it was U.S. versus Canada. I think that's how it gets with a lot of sports between Canada and the U.S. Hopefully we've grown from that and we can keep composure.
"Composure for me is just doing all your homework and making sure when you go out on the field that you're ready for any situation that comes up."
The Canadians regathered the next week and thumped the U.S. 41-18 in Edmonton in the return leg of World Cup qualifying. Monro fondly remembers the home support that day.
"It really does give you that boost, especially in those tight situations and when the pressure's really on," he said. "It's like having a bit of a 16th man out there at times."
Crowley has only a few games left before its Sept. 14 World Cup opener against Tonga in Whangarei, New Zealand. After Saturday's game, Canada meets the U.S. a week later in Glendale, Colo. There will also be a warmup match Down Under against the Australian Barbarians.
"So we've got to get our combinations going," said Crowley. "So we've selected what we consider the best team for this particular game (Saturday)."
U.S. coach Eddie O’Sullivan is missing injured backs Chris Wyles (Saracens, England) and James Paterson (Highlanders, New Zealand). But he will be able to call on such overseas talent as flanker Todd Clever (Suntory Sungoliath, Japan), prop Shawn Pittman (London Welsh, England), lock Hayden Smith (Saracens) and winger Takudzwa Ngwenya (Biarritz, France)
Canada is currently ranked 16th in the IRB world rankings, one place ahead of the U.S.
"They play a physical type of game," Crowley said of the Americans. "They're very good at the pick-and-go game which is just the one-off runners. But as well as that they have a lot of experience coming back in that hasn't been there for the last couple of games, from guys that play overseas. So that will bring a bit more of an edge to their game, a bit more of probably a skill factor.
"We are very close in world rankings. We're expecting a challenge that's going to be right up there in terms of intensity."
Monro, for one, is welcoming the chance to play on the well-manicured turf at BMO Field.
"I wouldn't say I'm a pitch snob but I do really enjoy a nice ground," he said. "And this pitch here looks immaculate."