A 2021 overview of Canadian rugby of both codes

Rugby Canada's fly-half, Harry Jones passes the ball on July 26, 2021

The 2021 overview of Canadian rugby of both codes is mixed. There were some absolute highs with the formation of a new pro rugby league in Canada. However, there were also some low points, which were highlighted by Rugby Canada failing to qualify for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Canadian rugby –  Rugby union

Toronto Arrows

Starting off, the Toronto Arrows played their second full season in Major League Rugby. However, unfortunately, because of COVID-19, the Arrows had to play all their home games in Marietta, Georgia.

It was a season to forget for Arrows fans. However, it is important to note though that the Arrows had to play all their home games in the U.S. It causes a lot of psychological harm to the players. People need to remember why the Arrows were so good in 2019. They won seven of their eight games at home, and that is why they made the playoffs that year. They did not have that this year and it cost them a lot of close losses. This included losing a nail-biter against Rugby ATL for the inaugural Fire and Ice Cup.

They got a lot of credit from a number of different people across North America. However, there may not be one more high-profile than the current prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau (seen above).

Toronto Arrows win over the Atlantic Selects

The Arrows though rewarded their fans, players, and coaches in October. They played against the Atlantic Selects (players playing in Atlantic Canada) and won that game in front of 1,247 fans at York Lions Stadium.

This is what head coach Chris Silverthorn said to Raheem Bashir after the game:

“You know what it was a bit sloppy the first half, just guys, young guys, maybe some nerves just get to know each other and haven’t played a lot of time together. But you know what we regrouped at halftime the second half was fantastic. The guys the skill execution was a lot better. The physicality was more focused, and it was more efficient, and you know, it showed in the scoreboard, so we were happy with it.”

Rugby Canada

Unfortunately, the darkest news for rugby of both codes is probably Rugby Canada not making the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Before 2023, Rugby Canada made every single Rugby World Cup. They can take inspiration from the Canadian men’s soccer team. However, the main goal should be for the Arrows to remain the national club team while trying to get more MLR teams within Canada. The deal with TSN will be needed so that rugby and casual sports fans can watch rugby union on TV. This is especially the case when Rugby Canada does not show games anymore on TSN or Sportsnet.

2023 Rugby World Cup qualifiers and Tokyo 2020

The Rugby World Cup qualifying for 2023 started well for Rugby Canada. They got a surprising win over the U.S. in the first game, only to lose badly on the road. They then faced Chile, where they again won the first leg at home. However, the win was only by one point and they ended up losing the second leg by nine points. The reasons for not making the Rugby World Cup could be because of being slow to having professional team(s). There are ways for Rugby Canada to improve the standard of their national team and it is important for Rugby Canada to look at them. Either way, it was a low point in Rugby Canada history. This is what Rugby Canada head coach said about the game according to The Canadian Press.

“It’s tough right now,” Canada coach Kingsley Jones said after the match. “The changing room is not a pleasant place. A lot of the boys are really upset, of course. It’s tough. I feel for them.”

Both the men’s and women’s rugby seven’s (variation of rugby union) played in Tokyo 2020. The Canadian men’s side (seen with Rugby Canada’s Harry Jones in the above picture)  lost in the quarterfinals to New Zealand while the women’s side failed to make the knockout stage.

Canada rugby – Rugby league

Generally, the news from rugby league this year was more positive than that of rugby union. However, the folding of the Ottawa Aces XIII was not good news. At the beginning of the year, it looked like there were going to have two professional rugby league teams. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, the Aces decided to move their team to Cornwall R.L.F.C.

Speaking of good news though, the formation of the NARL was announced early this year. It was supposed to have 14 teams. However, the league later shrank to five teams this year, with plans of a sixth team soon. There are also plans to have a pro women’s rugby league in North America. There was even an article by Love Rugby League, where the NARL stated they could see having a team in each Canadian province. Whether that is possible or not, it shows that the NARL is serious about expanding into Canada.

Toronto Wolfpack and the CCCRL

Speaking of the NARL, the Toronto Wolfpack are currently the lone Canadian team in the NARL. A team that many thought might have folded this time last year. The Wolfpack will probably be the most popular team in the NARL with loyal Wolfpack fans in the RFL days. This was seen in September when the Wolfpack won the inaugural Canada Cup over DC Cavalry Rugby.

Lastly, on the club scene, the CCCRL is another professional rugby league, which is based solely in Canada. They will have a nines version of rugby league for both men and women. They will start playing next year in Toronto before playing in their home markets in 2023. The teams in the league confirmed are Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Hamilton, Toronto, and Montreal. Having the three biggest markets in Canada in terms of population is a big deal for the sport in Canada (Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver have more than 1/3 of the Canadian population according to Jordan Press of The Canadian Press in 2017).

One might look back at what happened in 2021 as the possible golden age of the Canadian Rugby League national teams. Additionally, there is also the Canada Grizzlies Masters rugby league team, which began a trip to England last month.

Canadian rugby overview of 2021

There is a lot to look forward to, especially as a rugby league fan. The Rugby League World Cup in 2021 was delayed to 2022. The Canada Ravens (women’s national rugby league team) will be participating in that Rugby League World Cup. There will be some time to learn who some of these players are as the CCCRL will kick off in 2022. Also, the Wolfpack plans to have a four-team Canada Cup next year along with the NARL season, which will start in May.

There are also things to look forward to in rugby union. Most notably, the Toronto Arrows will play their first home game within Canada outside of Ontario. They will have their first home game in Canada at Langford against the defending MLR champions, the LA Giltinis on February 11. They will also play their first home game in Toronto since 2019 against rivals Rugby ATL on April 9. This is while the NARL plans to start their season on May 21.


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