OITA, Japan (Reuters) - Canada rugby captain Tyler Ardron is under no illusions of the monumentality of the task facing his side in their next two World Cup fixtures but said it would put his players in the “shop window” and ultimately help improve the team in the long run.
The North Americans were beaten 48-7 by Italy in their Pool B opener at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium on Thursday and now face three-times world champions New Zealand on Oct. 2 in Oita before meeting South Africa on Oct. 8 in Kobe.
Ardron, one of the few Canadians playing in a top-tier club competition - for New Zealand club Waikato Chiefs in the international Super Rugby competition - recognized his side were unlikely to upset either of the southern hemisphere nations.
“We’re at the World Cup to play against the best (and) ... for this game (against Italy) we were definitely not the favorites and that showed on the scoreboard,” Ardron said.
“(Against New Zealand) we have to go out and put out something that we are proud of.
“For a lot of guys this is a shop window and hopefully some of them can put on a hell of a performance out there and get a contract.
“That would be a win for us.”
Wins on the field may be few and far between for tier-two nations at the tournament, such as Uruguay’s victory over Fiji in Kamaishi on Wednesday.
The Italians, however, were in no mood to allow a second shock within the space of 24 hours and demonstrated the benefits of having a team comprised of full-time professionals playing regular test matches.
Canada coach Kingsley Jones, however, said Thursday’s performance had been a major step up for his side, which has struggled internationally for a number of years and was the last to qualify for the tournament.
The advent of Major League Rugby (MLR) in North America launched two years ago, however, is an important development in bridging the gap between tier-one and tier-two nations and for the development of players in Canada and the United States, he said.
“It was a big reality check when I came to Canada just how difficult it was to get the players together. They all held down day jobs,” said Jones.
“But I think the MLR is a lifeline for Canada and the United States. It’s a pathway for players and coaches.”
Jones said there were 51 Canadians contracted to MLR clubs last season. Less than 18 months ago, more than 40 were working other jobs.
“That’s a big step in the right direction,” he said.
“MLR still has a way to go. It’s still in its infancy but it is certainly a pathway into the top levels.
“In the long term I’m sure it will get up to speed and be a good competitive competition, so that is critical.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Christopher Cushing