Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Checking in with Captain Al

November 29, 2006

Ex-Canadian skipper Al Charron has his latest commentary up looking at the Autumn Internationals from the past month and trying to see where Canada fits it to the grand scheme. And he wants to see some reason and common sense exercised by Canadian fans and fly-by media.


To win international tests you have to have your best players available. All the more so for a side like Canada whose team is comprised of guys who are not necessarily playing at a high level week in and week out.

Canada, no matter the substantial gains we have made on and off the field in recent years, is still behind the eight ball when it comes to facing most teams who rank above them. Samoa and Fiji somewhat being the exception as far as resources and finances go.

You want of course to win every game you play but wanting and realising are two different things. Most certainly you want to win international test matches against sides who are generally about your level and those below you as far as world rankings go, but the icing on the cake of course is to beat teams who are significantly higher ranked then you.

To do so then you best have your top players available and on the field and in Canada's case our best players have to show up with their A game in tow and hope that they get more than their share of the 50/50 calls and 50/50 bounces. Otherwise it is the old 'Well done Canada' speech with a foreign accent at the banquet.

I'm not trying to give the players, coaches or administrators an out or excuses because frankly I still think on any given day we can produce a significant win against one of the big boys, but I also am not going to shit on them if they lose as long as they exhibit a performance that demonstrates they gave their very best.

Why? Because I know what they are up against. I'm not some jaded fly-by-night Canadian rugby fan or cynical dumb-ass journalist/media type that covers rugby once in a blue moon when his editor or producer hands him the rugby assignment and only looks at the final score without knowing the whole story.

It has always been a difficult task for Canada to win test matches, but in today's rugby world against the elite countries it has become monumentally more difficult. Yet Canada gets bashed in the press and over the internet because it is falsely assumed we should be better than we are. And of course Canada should/could be better but the blame does not lie with the coaches and the players but rather the structure of play in this country.

Not dispensing anything new here but if Canada wants to ever give itself better odds at winning games against the big boys of the rugby world then we need more kids playing at a younger age, revamping most Canadian rugby clubs' coaching structures and very importantly having a league system across the board that plays at a high level in a very worthwhile, well-run competitive structure week in and week out. Easier said than done, as playing rugby unfortunately does not capture the sporting imagination of the present general Canadian public.

If you want to criticize the team, then evaluate and disparage the effort if it is lacking, or perhaps the basic skills if it is consistently breaking down. But try to bear in mind that these players and coaches don't set out to lose, or to misrepresent our country. They are proud Canadians who want nothing better to win and bring honour and pride to both rugby and non rugby fans every time they sport our country's colours.

I will dispense with continuing on with this rant as it is covered material from articles in the past, But I also hope that the Johnny Critics of the Canadian rugby community realise that we are playing and competing in a different world.

The typical fan in Canada sees all the training our players are doing, the more money the programs have and figure we are on par with the Wales of the world. Give your head a shake!

On a different-but-related matter; When the fixture was announced last month that Canada will be playing the All Blacks in New Zealand next year (June 16) in the run-up to the World Cup, it reminded me of the 1995 RWC preparation for both sides. The All Blacks selected their starting XV (minus Lomu) and smashed Canada with a huge score. Al Charron was Canada's starting flanker for that test match, so I wrote Al and asked him what it was like for him personally and for the team going through that buzzsaw. I wondered whether that result prepared the Canadian boys for South Africa RWC 1995, or if it had the opposite effect and deteriorated morale and confidence?

Charron replied, in part:

"Yes, when I saw that Canada was going to play the ABs I though how similar it was to 1995 and I thought to myself I could address that in a column around that time -- funny that you thought the same.

"In regards to your question I will try to answer it simply as I obviously will go into greater detail with the article.....

"But yes it was a crushing and we were a mess mentally after that... [B]ut it did help us going into our RWC games with Australia and South Africa where we held our own.

"Side note, I should never have played against the All Blacks as I was near death coming out of the Fjji game two weeks before (concussion, heat exhaustion, sick and first game in close to six months following major shoulder surgery) landed me in a Hospital spewing bodily fluids all over the place. Told after the fact that based on the trauma I went through I should not have been doing anything physical for at least a month, and of course playing the All Blacks is not physical or demanding thus that was following doctors recommendations!!! (do note sarcasm!)."

Next years' NZ vs. Canada test match is still over six months away, but when Charron gets his column up, as surely as I'll be captivated by his story I'll just as surely get a link to the column posted here.


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