Rugby Canada: Five things they need to do in the future

Rugby Canada celebrates after qualifying for the 2019 Rugby World Cup at Delort Stadium

ANALYSIS – Rugby Canada for the first time ever will not appear in a Rugby World Cup. Despite the presence of MLR side, the Toronto Arrows, there is still work that needs to be done. Here are just a few that Canada needs to do to get back on top.

Rugby Canada: What they should do in the future?

Rugby Canada and the Toronto Arrows continue to work together

This along with the point just below might be the most important points for Rugby Canada. This is what co-founder of the Toronto Arrows Bill Webb said about his vision for Rugby Canada in his interview with Last Word on Sports:

“I believe that in five years, we could be in the top 15 in the world. A decade from now, I think it’s possible to maybe be in the low teens in terms of our national ranking or international ranking if we work really intelligently and work together in Canada.”

An example of Rugby Canada and the Arrows working together is with acquiring the services of Howley. Webb revealed with his interview with Last Word on Sports that Rob Howley came with the Arrows thanks to his relationship with Rugby Canada head coach Kingsley Jones. Howley was also part of Rugby Canada’s coaching staff.

There is a pathway seen above of playing for the Arrows. In addition, Toronto has also been drafting just Canadian university players.

Toronto Arrows games to be continued to be shown on TSN

This might be one of the two most important points for Rugby Canada. This might be Toronto-centric, but right now there is only one MLR team from Canada and that team is the Toronto Arrows. For people living outside of Toronto in Canada to see the game, it must be shown on television nationally like this year. Getting a TV deal with TSN is a hard thing to do, so Arrows fans should take advantage of this.

Toronto Arrows Media Partner TSN to Deliver New ‘Arrows in an Hour’ Series

As the team makes its mark, the goal should be to make all games nationally televised on TSN. For some of their games this year, they were streamed on App. However, it is an important start and a great way to get more eyeballs on the team. With recent games now not being shown of Rugby Canada on TV cable, the Arrows will be needed more than ever to grow the game in Canada.

Why is this important? Well, look at the growth of sports on TV and new pro sports teams in recent years. Tennis, basketball, soccer, and box lacrosse are much more popular now than in the 1990s. There is a lot of competition and being on TV is a competitive advantage. Canada is a crowded sports market, that does not include just traditional sports like ice hockey, curling, and Canadian Football. Also, watching a game on TSN allows fans from outside of Toronto to support their Arrows. Lastly, having a platform for TSN for the Arrows means that potentially any future Canadian MLR teams can be shown nationally on TV.

Getting more MLR teams and/or a professional rugby union league

This is one many people will list. Rightfully so as Canada deserves to have more than one MLR team. MLR Commissioner George Killebrew said this in his interview with Last Word on Sports when asked about expansion in Canada within the next 10 years:

“I fully expect those expansion teams to not just be in the US and we fully expect another team in Canada, preferably even two.”

Vancouver is listed as an obvious spot because of its rugby heritage. Montreal is the other one that comes to mind. A census in 2017 states that these three cities contain one/third of Canada’s population according to Jordan Press of The Canadian Press. In terms of the largest urban agglomerations, Montreal is 21st while Vancouver is 30th.

Those two cities along with Toronto can change rugby union in Canada as it has for Canada in MLS. However, this should not rule other cities out of the picture like Halifax. In the end, it will come down to who has the money. Canada though does not need that many MLR teams to change the club game in Canada.

When and if a second pro rugby union team in Canada comes into form, an open cup could be played within Canada. This would be like the Canadian Championship. The possibly two-three MLR teams in Canada can play a single or two-legged format against each other and the top university and college team in Canada (universities are colleges in America, and colleges are community colleges in the U.S.) can also participate in the competition. The winner can then get some hardware as the MLR champion does. It is an idea that the Arrows or U Sports could look to in the future. A Canadian pro rugby union league is unlikely right now.

Looking at what the South American teams are doing

Everyone knows that Argentina is the best team in the Americas, however traditionally after that, it was Rugby Canada and then USA Rugby. Unfortunately, for Canada, they are now losing to USA and Uruguay and in October to Chile. To be honest, USA Rugby might also face some troubles against Chile as they did lose to Canada last month.

Three of the best four teams right now are in South America and that is not a coincidence. When Chile still had trouble against bigger teams in the Americas, these grassroots were being built. Selknam and High-Performance Centres in particular had increased the level of play within Chile according to Americas Rugby News. Chile also started defeating Uruguay, a team they typically lost to in 2018 and 2019. For example, last July, they only lost to Uruguay by five points.

Working together with Rugby League Canada

As of right now, only Toronto had experienced having a professional rugby league and/or union team. It has not happened yet, but in two years, that will all change. Unfortunately, the Ottawa Aces XIII do not have an RFL team but may not have a NARL team next year. However, the CCCRL, which will initially be played with rugby nines of rugby league will see several Canadian cities getting teams. This includes two teams from Montreal, Hamilton, Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, and Toronto (not connected with the Wolfpack). Each city listed for the CCCRL will have pro men’s and women’s teams. Now all the CCCRL teams will play in Toronto at Lamport Stadium for a shortened season in 2022. However, they are all going to play in their home markets from 2023 onwards.

That will make Canada only the second country in the world to have more pro men’s rugby league teams than pro men’s rugby union teams. Saying that the code taught in schools and the sport with the higher registration numbers is rugby union in Canada. Hence, the need to work together to benefit both parties. Encouraging kids to play both codes of rugby will be beneficial if they decided to pursue a professional rugby union career. This is what rugby union great Jeremy Guscott, a Bath, English, and Lions great said according to Sports4Kids:

“The passing skills in all positions in league are far superior to those in union. The best sides in League are very clinical – when the opportunity arises the skills allow for good accuracy and execution. Union could definitely learn from having those skill sets.”

To add to that, in the same article, Jonathan David said that: “The handling skills in league are higher generally.”

There are benefits that both parties should consider. This is also one advantage even some elite rugby union nations do not have, so Rugby Canada should not waste that opportunity.

Five things Canada Rugby can do in the future

There might be some other ideas not thought of that other people might have. Notice that this article did not look at why Rugby Canada did not qualify. Having no professional team until recently had to do with it. MLR is also a young league and still needs to improve in quality. When that happens, Rugby Canada will be in a better place than it is today. In fact, the work has already started with the pathway provided by Webb of the Arrows.

Yes, not qualifying to the Rugby World Cup sucks, but at least there’s a way out of it (the picture above showed Rugby Canada making the 2019 Rugby World Cup). The fact that the Arrows got that TSN deal was massive. This would also make it easier for any future MLR team to be featured nationally on TSN. That is not something to sniff at and the Arrows deserve a lot of credit for that. Sportsnet and TSN will look at Rugby Canada when they start winning again. This can be seen with Sportsnet and the Canadian men’s soccer team. Sports networks like winners, which is still a work in progress for Rugby Canada.

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