A proud day for Munster hero Pat Parfrey

Ireland’s clash with Canada this evening may not be as momentous as last week’s historic win over the All Blacks, but one man will treasure the fixture.

A proud day for Munster hero Pat Parfrey

Cork native Pat Parfrey, who emigrated to Newfoundland 32 years ago, is now a respected physician. He has also become a revered figure in Canadian rugby.

After coaching London Irish, he moved to Canada and propelled the regional and national game forward, coaching Montreal Irish and eventually reaching the summit as Canada head coach in a term that saw him face his native country at Lansdowne Road in 1997, as well as at the Rugby World Cup two years later.

“I think I was the first foreign coach to sing the national anthem in Irish,” he laughs. “I was proud about that.”

The 66-year-old is the only man to have represented the Canucks on three fronts: national coach, president, and World Rugby representative, the latter a role he plans to hold “for the next eight years”.

An accomplished Munster winger that played in all of the province’s games between 1970-77, including the 3-3 draw in 1973 against the All Blacks, Parfrey won one Irish cap, again playing New Zealand in a 15-6 defeat at Lansdowne Road.

And 44 years later, Lansdowne Road is where Dr Parfrey will return for the eighth meeting of Ireland and Canada, where his son Patrick will represent Canada from the bench. There is no indecision about who he will get behind.

“I’ve lived in Canada longer than Ireland and while I like going back to Ireland, and would support Ireland in general, whenever they are playing Canada, I’m supporting Canada. I’m going as more of a parent than a representative.

“Patrick was in the dressing room after that game (in 1997) and he’s back 19 years later in the same dressing room, this time as a player.”

To add to a whirlwind week in his life, Parfrey was at Soldier Field last weekend to bask in Ireland’s triumph after 111 years of trying. After close calls playing for both Munster and Ireland, and not so close calls coaching Canada, the physician noted how “special” the victory was.

“It was fantastic. I’ve played against them on four or five occasions. It was the attacking instinct that won that game. To attack the All Blacks from a scrum in the middle of the field, then to get a five-metre scrum and attack off a back-row play, it just showed where Ireland’s heads were that day.”

Did it evoke memories of playing the All Blacks in the 1970s?

“That’s so long ago,” he laughs. “I was with John O’Driscoll, Pat Whelan, and Tom Grace in Chicago, all guys who I have played with and against, so it was special. I’ll tell you that the (figure of eight, in tribute to Antony Foley) haka response did evoke memories of the Munster haka (in 2008), which was the most hair-raising experience.“

The former winger flew from Chicago back to Canada, stopping off briefly in Newfoundland before travelling to Dublin on Thursday.

He anticipates Ireland will give Canada a “difficult” time, given the visitors’ lack of depth.

However, he fully expects the Canucks to match Romania in Bucharest next weekend and Samoa in Grenoble in the final game of their November schedule.

“Canada will be really stretched because we’re an amateur country playing against a professional country. But, you know, sometimes when you’re playing better teams, you fear the result and it’s that fear that drives you as a player, it can drive you to greater physical capacities.

“(Head coach) Mark Anscombe has a job in pulling the pieces together in terms of depth. That’s our biggest problem.”

Canada has produced a crop of players who have planted the red and white flag at the peak of club rugby. However, the transition from amateur to professional hurt prospects of becoming a serious rugby nation.

“Everything changed in 1996 when the game went professional. The best players took the opportunity to become professional athletes and the impact in Canada was that it diminished the strength of domestic Canadian rugby.

“Our capacity to start a professional league never came around because of this and it’s only now that people are saying ‘could Canada have the strength to put a team in the PRO12 or Super Rugby in the future?

“Those questions are finally being asked and if Canada can do that, then you can be damn sure that we’re going to get better.”

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