WELLINGTON, New Zealand - Tonga's shocking win over France at the Rugby World Cup was costly not only to the French, who lost both face and reputation, but also for a Canadian team which may feel the effects for much longer.
The Canadian players were among a handful rugby fans cheering for France against the underdog Tongans and coach Kieran Crowley admitted after his team's 79-15 loss to New Zealand on Sunday they had been moved by pure self-interest.
If Canada had been able to finish third in its five-team pool — meeting its goal for the tournament — it stood to earn automatic qualification for the next World Cup in four years time and with it the extra investment and matches that might be channeled its way by the International Rugby Board.
That win and Canada's loss in back-to-back days have now made its future far more uncertain.
"Overall, it was a pretty emotional rollercoaster for us yesterday because we had an objective to make that top three and we were going well until that game last night," Crowley said. "Full credit to Tonga, they came out and they played well and the French obviously didn't.
"But our guys felt as though they'd played a game last night, I think, just watching it. Then today we were up for it and we might have been a little 'deer in the headlights' for a little bit. We came out of our defensive structure in the first 10 minutes, we had a couple of shooters and when you play a team like the All Blacks they make you pay for that."
Crowley said from a tournament perspective, he was happy with the first three games.
"Today I couldn't fault the commitment or anything like that from the guys," he said. "They were still making the big hits at the end and some real positives came out of the tournament for us."
Crowley said lower-ranked nations like Canada desperately needed matches against top sides to lift the standard of their rugby. A better pool placing might have brought to Canada the matches and the investment that would make a major difference to its future.
"I think the disappointing thing for us is last night because if we'd already qualified for the next World Cup it's IRB funding, it's IRB games and that side of thing," he said. "So, I don't think a lot of people understand the importance of that sort of thing.
"From where the Canadian boys want to be we're making some very good progress but we just need the games at the top level. I think the games against the middle-ranked teams — Scotland, Italy — if we can get games against them for a consistent period I think we could make a lot of progress. So hopefully in 18 months we'll have a program that allows us to do that."
Crowley, who was part of New Zealand's winning squad in 1987, hopes to be able to guide Canada through that 18 month period to an improved position in world rugby. He has already signed on again as Canada's national coach with that objective.
Canada "came to me about four or five months ago and asked if I'd sign on after the World Cup because it looked like I was going to end after the World Cup," he said. "I didn't want World Cup results to affect their decision so thank God that happened before today.
"I've signed on for another 18 months so that's through to July, 2013 at the moment which I'm really happy about."