Riordan to captain Canada at Rugby World Cup
Captain Pat Riordan leads Canada's 50-man long list for this fall's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, a roster that is the result of more than two years of scrutiny by Kieran Crowley and his coaching staff.
The Canadian head coach will whittle down the squad to a final 30 in early July.
The International Rugby Board requires World Cup teams to submit an extended training list in June but Crowley does not have to submit his final roster until Aug. 22. He named the maximum number allowed.
"I wanted to make sure that we've covered all our bases as far as the players knowing where they stood and that sort of thing," Crowley said in an interview Saturday.
The long list includes just eight pros, only two of which -- lock Jamie Cudmore of France's Clermont Auvergne and winger DTH van der
Merwe of Scotland's Glasgow Warriors — play at the top level. Others like lock Luke Tait, fullback Matt Evans and winger Justin Mensah-Coker have played for top clubs overseas but are currently unattached.
Crowley, however, believes some of his domestic-based players have the talent to play overseas. And he has also made a point of showing that a professional contract does not mean automatic selection.
"When I first came over here, overseas pros expected to be picked. They thought that because they were overseas pros they were a long way ahead of the players playing in Canada," he said.
"And they might well have been, but certainly I've seen the development of players in Canada to the extent now where a lot of them could play over there. Just because you're playing overseas doesn't mean you're a shoo-in and that's been good because it's created real competition within the team which is what we're trying to create."
Crowley has all his players at his disposal with no injury concerns, although Tait (hand) and prop Mike Pletch (knee) are coming off surgeries. Both will be available for selection although neither has played recently.
The one prominent omission is veteran prop Kevin Tkachuk of the Glasgow Warriors. The 34-year-old Glasgow Warrior has won 50 caps for his country but has not figured in Crowley's squad recently.
"He's been a great servant to Canadian rugby," Crowley said. "He's played a lot of Test matches and he's always been available. "You respect his contributions to Canadian rugby.
"We just felt there's some players who have improved and have gone past Kevin in performances. I've explained that to him and obviously he's very disappointed. He's had his heart set on the World Cup."
There is no surprise as captain Riordan, a 31-year-old hooker with 37 caps, has been Crowley's constant choice as skipper.
Canada, ranked 15th in the world, opens the tournament on Sept. 14 against No. 16 Tonga in Whangarei. The Canadians subsequently play No. 6 France, No. 13 Japan and No. 1 New Zealand.
The final roster will come from the 50-man list, Crowley said, acknowledging there is little room for movement within it because there are no games ahead of an August home-and-away series with the U.S. that marks the final countdown to the tournament.
"It's just about getting the mix and the coverage right," said Crowley, meaning getting the right selection to cover off starting positions.
The squad features all the members of the 2011 Churchill Cup squad and is the product of Crowley's in-depth testing of the talent available to him. The former All Black laughed when asked how many players he has rotated through his squad since taking over the team in early 2008.
"I've got no idea," he said.
The experimentation seems to have worked.
Canada finished runner-up at the recent Churchill Cup in England with players like flanker Chauncey O'Toole and prop Hubert Buydens turning heads.
Despite its largely amateur squad, Canada won kudos for its fitness and defence with Crowley praising the work of sevens coach Geraint James, strength coach Matt Barr and guest coaches Neil Barnes and Clive Griffiths.
Crowley also refuses to use the challenges facing a rugby coach in Canada as a crutch.
"It is what it is, isn't it? There's no good comes from worrying about it. You just get out there. No matter who we play or what competition we go in, we'll do the same things."