12/23/2015 16:31 EST | Updated 12/23/2016 00:12 EST

Rugby Canada looks to upgrade domestic talent, search for funding continues

TORONTO — Ask Canadian rugby coach Kieran Crowley when he expects to field his top team and the former All Black pauses.

"That's a good question," he responded.

"To answer your question, I'm not 100 per cent sure," he said after a lengthy response.

Thanks to a new contract extension, the 54-year-old New Zealander has two more years at the Canadian helm along with a shopping list of improvements needed for the men's program. Huge challenges remain for a Canadian team ranked 19th in the world that lost all four matches at the 2015 World Cup.

Canada has its top players overseas. And, following the lead of elite rugby nations, it has opted to separate the sevens and fifteens talent pools. With the Canadian men's sevens team focused on the HSBC World Series and a June Olympic repechage qualifying tournament, that sevens talent is fully occupied. Own The Podium, which helps fund the sevens team, will also have a major say in the matter.

"There's some real challenges around that. But those sort of things give other players opportunities," Crowley told a media conference call Wednesday.

Canada will get its overseas players back in June and November international windows. In the meantime, Rugby Canada is looking to float the domestic rugby boat so homegrown talent can rise up.

Crowley's new deal runs through the August 2017 qualifying for the next Rugby World Cup.

His contract extension and program upgrades were endorsed by Rugby Canada's board of directors after being recommended by the organization's Rugby World Cup review committee

World Rugby says despite its winless showing at the World Cup, Canada was one of the Tier 2 nations that made improvements on the field. Canada also won kudos for its attacking style of play. Still, the Canadians lost winnable games against Italy and Romania.

While many of Rugby Canada's review committee conclusions are to be commended, they are hardly ground-breaking: greater communication with the provinces and a "robust, transparent" talent identification system, to name two.

Jim Dixon, Rugby Canada's general manager of rugby operations and performance, says just because Canada has already been doing some of the things in the report, it doesn't mean it can't do them better.

Rugby Canada's main goal is to provide improved competition for players along with a better training environment. That involves centralizing its top domestic fifteens players, as the sevens squad is.

Finding the funding for that is an ongoing process.

"Certainly there is an enhanced level of support forthcoming to help support Rugby Canada with its ambitions with relation to the rugby department," said Dixon.

Canada is not joining the proposed U.S. pro league — the Professional Rugby Organization — until 2017 at the earliest. Competition is slated to kick off in April 2016 with six teams in the U.S. northeast, Rocky Mountains and California.

Crowley says he would be open to staying on as Canadian coach once the two year-year extension is done.

"As I sit here now, that would be the aim if that eventuated," he said. "You never know what's round the corner, do you though?"

He believes he has more to offer.

"I know the Canadian rugby landscape," said Crowley, who was named national team coach in 2008. "It's a challenging one and completely different to a lot of other countries."


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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press