Thursday, March 29, 2007

Canada “A” tour perspective

April 30, 2006

Ian Kennedy, press officer at Rugby Canada, reviews the recently completed Canada 'A' tour to New Zealand. Comments from the Canadian players indicate this was a hugely positive and inspiring tour for their development and (hopefully) future results:

This just-completed Canada ‘A’ tour is only the first exchange that will come out of an agreement signed between Rugby Canada and the NZRU that will see other exchanges and tours in the future. Generally what happens is that the visiting country pays for its own flights, but once in the country all internal costs such as accommodation, internal transport and meals etc. are paid for by the host country.

In this regard the NZRU have treated the Canada ‘A’ touring party with unparalleled generosity. From CEO Chris Moller and Chairman Jock Hobbs on down to team liaisons Tony Ward and Kevin Black, putting Canada ‘A’ in very fine hotels, arranging for All-Black coaches to hold sessions, providing top-of-the line video analysis systems. From hosting receptions at the NZRU offices to taking the whole tour party to the Hurricanes versus Chiefs game at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, and generally being as generous, kind and considerate as any host could be. ...

“The speed and aggression in the games I played in was a great deal higher than what I’m used to in Canada,” says Irish Canadian lock Barry Ward. “This is the most intense coaching I’ve ever had in my life in such a short space of time, and it has been a lot to take in.

“I’ve been overwhelmed at times. The things I learned from Mike Cron the All Black scrum coach has been invaluable and he made every one of us better players because of those sessions. ...

Twenty-seven year old prop Iain Exner, a student of front row play, has also benefited. “If you play in the front row in Canada you have to learn front row technique on your own, but on this tour we’ve had coaching sessions with Mike Cron, and have had Kevin Wirachowski along as our scrum coach, so it has been the best I’ve ever had on a tour.

“I’ve learned very specific things that I’ve never been formally coached before. I already feel that my game has begun to improve because of this tour and it goes without saying that every player could say the same thing. This is a great thing for Rugby Canada to have made this connection with New Zealand and have them take us under their wing and help us improve.”

Twenty-two year old David Biddle, one of the bright stars of the Canada ‘A’ tour, offers: “This has been a really good tour playing against some good tough teams. The pace of the games we’ve played down here has shown me that I must go home and work on my speed and reaction time. I also have to work on my defensive running lines and the coaching staff have given me lots to work on to improve that when I get home. The computer game analysis program really helped me analyze my game and see what I need to improve on.”

Old hand twenty-seven cap winner Ed Fairhurst, one of the team captains speaks positively about the trip: “We’ve been constantly learning from the moment we arrived from the coaches that were brought in to the kind of competition we faced. We’ve become better players and a better team because of it. Even I learned things from SOS Sorenson, the scrum-half coach and Mick Byrne and I’ve learned things from the younger players too. An old dog can certainly learn new tricks.”

Bayside centre Chris Pack, the only players to play every minute of every game and who showed he is capable of playing at the next level, offers his thoughts on playing in New Zealand: “This was a very different experience than I thought it would be. The players we played against are very skilled and they bring a physical presence and intensity to every play, in every game.

Even when you play a team like Wanganui, which is a 2nd division club, they play like they expect to win and they feel they should win. They have this confidence about them that permeates from the All Blacks right down, that they are the best, that New Zealand rugby is the best, and that if they don’t win, they are letting their country down.

That attitude exudes a certain confidence in them and makes them play better which gives opponents like Canada ‘A’ a mountain to climb when you play them. We need to build that feeling in Canadian rugby. This tour has been a real step up for me having never played with a Canada Fifteens team before,” continued Biddle.

“The level of coaching we received has given me lots of stuff to go back home to work on and hopefully make me a better player. I also found this a happy tour with a great bunch of guys to be around and the organization and the activities -- like the skit night -- helped unite us and make us a better team because of it.”

Twenty year-old David Stockton, who is working as a part-time teacher and is playing for Auckland University for a year to improve his already considerable rugby skills, was asked to join the tour party for the last week and played in two games. “This was a real step up for me from U-19 and U-21 levels. I didn’t anticipate getting the call to the next level until after I returned from New Zealand next December.

“I found this a very worthwhile experience and particularly the video analysis system, which was a great learning tool. Everything you did in a game was exposed and it pinpointed every mistake and so made it a great learning tool.

“Because of these last two games I played with the Canada ‘A’ side I’ll be able to target things I can do to improve my game as I continue playing in Auckland, so that I will become more skillful and a better player. I hope I have been able to prove myself a little bit. I will definitely be working hard for the rest of the year to improve my play and hopefully be chosen again and make a greater contribution.”

“By playing the East-West and Hyde-Lay games, coming down here to New Zealand and having the NA 4 competition we are trying to create more high-level games for our players,” states Canada ‘A’ coach Ric Suggitt. “What we have to do now is try and create a domestic competition at home to match the kind of higher level opposition and games we saw here in New Zealand.”

Final word to Manager Bob McGeein: “This tour has gone exceptionally well. We’re very grateful for the support we have received from the New Zealand Rugby Union and how the players have responded to the tour. We can’t thank the NZRU enough for the amount of effort and work they have put into this tour, not only on the ground but for their financial support while here in New Zealand.

“Because the standard of our domestic rugby isn’t good enough to develop our top players sufficiently, tours like this are vital to preparing our players for international competition. These four games have really taxed us but we have learned a great deal from them. The players, especially in the Tasman team, were physically very big and that opened our eyes to how far ahead of us they are down here, and we must raise our level of domestic competition in Canada to a level like that. That is the message we will be taking back to Canada.”

“We improved as a team over the four games and in the last one showed how much our scrum improved. It was the best I’ve seen in a along time,” adds McGeein.

“We have given some younger players the opportunity to see what they are like against better competition and some have seized the opportunity while others will have to go back home and work on what they have learned and improve if they hope to reach the next level. I think both the players and management have learned a great deal in two weeks. All in all, a very successful tour.”

Full article here.

Earlier: Canada 'A' closes tour with win over Wanganui


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