Canadians revel in outsider status

THEY play for clubs with names like Castaway Wanderers, Velox Valhallians, University of Victoria Vikings and Bayside Sharks. Their season is a stop-start affair because of the vast size of the country and its contrasting climates while their coach is still getting to know some of his squad.

Not surprisingly Canada are rank outsides for their clash with Ireland at Thomond Park on Saturday.

But such underdog status doesn’t seem to faze coaches Kieran Crowley and skipper Pat Riordan.

“We are up against a fully professional Irish team that trains five days a week, we are facing a massive challenge,” admits Crowley, whose distinguished career as a 19-times capped New Zealand fullback ended with defeat to Australia in a memorable World Cup semi-final at Lansdowne Road in 1991.

“As against that, we have eight professionals who play largely in Division One in England. If you were a betting man, who do you think should come out best from that situation?”

Ahead of their visit to Europe, Crowley warned his squad: “It’s not enough to just turn up and put the jersey on. You have to believe in the guys in that locker room and know they will be there for you when things get tough. These guys aren’t there yet — but I sense they are getting close.”

Skipper and hooker Riordan is a burly 29-year-old from Victoria who took up rugby aged 14 but unlike many of his peers, stuck with the oval ball instead of opting for the national favourites like ice hockey, football and lacrosse.

He looks like a man who could make his presence felt at Thomond Park on Saturday alongside front-row colleagues Kevin Tkachuk, who plays for the Glasgow Warriors, and the veteran John Thiel, who represented Canada against Ireland A in Belfast 11 years ago.

Unfortunately, the tourists have suffered numerous injuries, with the result that Morgan Williams, a 52- times capped scrumhalf but nowadays a member of the coaching staff, has come out of retirement for the tour. He is understudy at number nine for Ed Faighurst of English Division One side Cornish Pirates. Out-half is Ander Monro, who plays in Italy with Colorno and is earning his ninth cap.

The side last met in Toronto in 2000 with the Irish lucky to draw (27-27) thanks to an outstanding performance by Ronan O’Gara. The countries have only met on two other occasions at Test level — Ireland winning a 1987 World Cup Pool clash (46-19) and recording a 33-11 win 10 years later at Lansdowne Road.

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