TORONTO — After firing coach Mark Anscombe following a failed first crack at World Cup qualifying, Rugby Canada is starting to put the people in place to help turn around the men's national team program.
A new men's coach is expected to be named this week. A high-performance director will also be chosen in the weeks to come.
Former women's coach Francois Ratier started this week as head coach of the national fifteens academy. The French-born Quebecer is tasked with running the senior men's centralized program in Langford, B.C., on a day-to-day basis while providing technical leadership for national age-grade programs (both men and women).
"Those are three key positions that will not only help the men's 15s program but also have benefit to the rest of the organization," said Tim Powers, chair of Rugby Canada's board of directors.
"They're going to have to work as a team," he added. "There are no individual messiahs who are going to lead to the resurrection of Canadian rugby. Nobody should be putting that in their head or believe that that's the way to go.
"If we've learned one thing, it's that people in both their criticism and praise of Rugby Canada and certainly Rugby Canada personnel will point their finger at one person and say 'He or she's doing great' or 'He or she sucks.' If we fall victim to buying that approach we are not doing the game a service."
The issue of funding the men's program, currently ranked a dismal 24th in the world, was raised during a weekend meeting of the board in Toronto. The bottom line was more is needed to achieve success.
"The men's 15 team has to be a huge priority," said Powers. "It's key to our funding, it's vital to our community and it's vital to the growth of the game."
Powers says the board and senior management concluded that in addition to reviewing on-field operations, an examination of the entire organization is in order.
"We recognize we're at a crucial point as an organization," said Powers.
Some things are working, with Powers pointing to the recent improvement in the men's sevens, the ongoing success of the women's sevens and the fourth-ranked women's 15s team, despite a disappointing fifth-place performance at the recent 2017 World Cup.
The men's under-20 team performed poorly at the recent second-tier World Rugby U20 Trophy tournament, finishing seventh at the eight-team event.
"We're are trying to find key points and key areas that we need to address while at the same time making sure the things that are working continue to work as best they can," said Powers.
Anscombe, a New Zealander, was let go in August after Canada stumbled at the first World Cup qualifying obstacle, a two-game aggregate series with the 17th-ranked Americans. Canada is now preparing for a qualifying series against No. 18 Uruguay early next year.
Should Canada lose that series, there is one more chance at making the field for the 2019 World Cup in Japan — via a last-ditch repechage tournament.
Canada has never failed to qualify for the World Cup. Failure to do so could cost Rugby Canada much-needed funding from World Rugby.
Powers says making the next World Cup may be the No. 1 imperative but it is also the short-term goal. The longer target is to make the tournament and do well.
"Our goal has to be for 2023 and 2027 to elevate our standings and to potentially get to a place where we're competing for a berth in a playoff round."
While Ratier's new job is full-time unlike the women's coaching position which was deemed part-time, in many way the move is a leap of faith for the former winger.
He is leaving his wife, a teacher, and seven- and 10-year-old daughters behind in Montreal, at least for this school year. And he has taken the job without knowing the next Canadian coach, with whom he will work closely.
Without a pro league in Canada, domestic players face a huge jump in class when they play internationally. Ratier's main mission for the next few months will be to work with the new coach in preparing the carded men's athletes, who are centralized in Langford, for the Uruguay challenge.
Ratier will also work with provincial organizations and coaches across the country to develop a common system for improving core skills.
A native of La Rochefoucauld, France, Ratier had coached at almost every level of the game since coming to Quebec in 2003 following a pro career with SC Angouleme. He served as interim coach for the senior men's team in the Americas Rugby Championship in 2016.
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