2011 Rugby World Cup: how will Canada do?

Team Canada flanker Jamie Cudmore, gives directions during Rugby World Cup qualifying.

Canada kicks off its 2011 Rugby World Cup match tonight against Tonga and if you haven’t been watching the tournament thus far, there’s nothing like a little bit of national pride to increase interest.

As a former British colony and appreciator of hard-nosed sports, Canada has a soft spot for rugby, but the game has yet to become anything more than an amateur pastime. It’s strange that a sport so similar to football, with common historical roots, is so underappreciated.

Without the boring history lesson (we wore an onion on our belt… which was the style of the time) American and Canadian Football owe its creation to a series of divergences from Rugby. One hundred and fifty years removed from the divergences, the similarities are still evident.

Rugby scrums look a lot like the line of scrimmage in football (looking at the words, one can imagine a similar origin). Both games have an ‘end zone’, a similar scoring system, and a division of labour that requires unique skill sets from players of different speeds and sizes. Props and Hookers are the Guards and Tackles of Rugby; Scrum Halfs and Fly Halfs, the Running Backs and Returners.

Through understanding these similarities, a bridge can be gapped and the daunting task of learning to appreciate a completely new sport is lessened. The Rugby World Cup offers chance to see the world’s best, in a quick, high-stakes tournament that much of the world is already watching.

Below is a quick preview of team Canada and a few of the favourites to win it all.

TEAM CANADA:

In the 20-team World Cup, only five teams have a realistic shot at winning – New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England and France. There is a second tier of mid-powers that have a small chance – Ireland, Argentina, Wales, Scotland, and Samoa and then there is everybody else.

Canada is with everybody else.

Our men’s national team often sits on the periphery of 3rd tier power, and meaningless fodder – a thick line, found in almost every sport, but the demarcation is particularly pronounced in Rugby.

Canada is a 5000-to-1 long shot to win the tournament. Those are mind-boggling odds.

Consider the 2010, 32 team, World Cup of Soccer: astronomical underdogs North Korea and New Zealand were 1000-to-1 to win it all. 5000-1 odds should be reserved for fictional historical battles, like if the 2010-11 Vancouver Giants played a fantasy team of the greatest NHLers of the last century. After New Zealand drubs us 123-0 on October 2nd, we should invite the Kiwi national ice hockey team over for a tour. It’s only fair.

I recently talked with Canadian Rugby Association’s Doug Crosse about Canada’s chances and a few things to look for in the tournament.

What does Canada need to do to call this tournament a success?

“The primary goal will be to get wins over Japan and Tonga - finish third in the pool and thus automatically qualify for the next World Cup in England in 2015. Beyond that - obviously every team has a goal for a quarter-final berth -- but by doing the first goal -- the second goal becomes more of a possibility.”

Who should Canadian fans look forward to watching on team Canada?

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