CALGARY (Reuters) - A two-win target at the World Cup looks like a mighty tall order for Canada, stinging from a disappointing Pacific Nations Cup and a troubling record of no victories so far in 2015.
Coach Kieran Crowley is looking for the two wins Canada, who have played at every World Cup, need to guarantee qualification for the 2019 tournament in Japan with Ireland, France, Italy and Romania lining up to deny them in Pool D.
At 18th in the world, Canada are the lowest-ranked team in the pool and highly unlikely to equal their previous best result when they reached the quarter-finals in 1991.
Canada lost their four matches in the Pacific Nations Cup in August but showed signs of improvement as the tournament progressed, losing only narrowly in the last few minutes to both Samoa and the United States.
However, a 41-23 home loss to the United States in a more recent World Cup warm-up raised further questions for Crowley before he named his 31-man tournament roster.
Speaking after the match, former All Black Crowley said his team had not competed at the breakdown and gave away too many penalties and turnovers.
Canada have impressive backs and can look good on the counter-attack, but they struggle scrummaging against heavy-duty packs and have issues in the lineout.
Without a forward platform, wings Jeff Hassler and DTH van der Merwe will have few opportunities to shine.
In the key half back positions, Phil Mack and Gord McRorie are competing to be first choice scrumhalf, while Nathan Hirayama and Liam Underwood are fighting it out for the No. 10 jersey.
Strength in depth among the forwards is a concern however, illustrated by the fact that No. 8 Aaron Carpenter has also won caps playing in the front row as a hooker.
Carpenter captained Canada in the test against the United States, taking over from utility forward Tyler Ardron, who injured his knee during the Pacific Nations Cup but is expected to be fit for the World Cup.
One notable absentee in Canada’s squad is 36-year-old fullback James Pritchard, Canada’s leading all-time points scorer, who announced his international retirement after being left off Crowley’s provisional roster.
Editing by Rex Gowar