Rugby Canada has turned to another Kiwi to coach the men's national team, appointing Mark Anscombe to succeed former All Black Kieran Crowley.
The size of the challenge awaiting the 59-year-old Anscombe is shown by the fact that Canada was ranked 15th in the world in 2008 when the capable Crowley took over. The former New Zealand fullback did his best to widen the Canadian talent pool only to see Canada in 19th spot when he left in January to take over Italian club side Benetton Treviso.
The Canadian men, who went 1-6-1 in two trips to the World Cup under Crowley, currently stand 18th.
Anscombe spent three years as head coach of the Auckland ITM Cup side in New Zealand before taking charge of Ulster ahead of the 2012-13 RaboDirect Pro 12 (now Guinness Pro 12). In his first year, Ulster led the standings at 17-4-1 before losing in the final. The team went 15-7-0 the next season, losing in the semifinals, before he left the club in June 2014 with a year remaining on his contract.
He took Ulster to back-to-back Heineken Cup quarter-finals.
Anscombe led New Zealand to victory at the IRB Junior World Championships in 2011 after winning the same title as an assistant coach in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
"We feel very confident in Mark and his ability to move us forward," said Jim Dixon, Rugby Canada's GM of rugby operations and performance and fellow New Zealander.
Dixon said Anscombe was chosen because of his knowledge of the international landscape and depth of experience. Anscombe's personality and preferred style of play were also attractive, he added.
Anscombe inherits a squad that will be centralized full time beginning in August at the Canadian Rugby Centre of Excellence in Langford, B.C. Canada's top talent will likely remain overseas with their professional clubs, however.
But he will have to deal with geography and a scattered roster due to the lack of a domestic pro league as well as an increasing focus on sevens, which has diverted funding from the 15-man game.
While Anscombe pointed to elite European-based talent in captain Tyler Ardron, veteran lock Jamie Cudmore and some of Canada's backs such as winger DTH van der Merwe, "the challenge is to grow that depth and not just rely on one or two players."
Anscombe, who hopes to start in May, says his goal is create a culture that is honest, hard-working and intense. He wants his team to play to its strengths, while using hard work up front to create chances in the backs.
"We've got to earn the right to go wide. We've got to earn the right to have quality ball and then we've got to look after that ball when we have it."
While Canada played a more attractive style under Crowley, it lacked consistency and the ability to focus for 80 minutes. In a sport where one mistake can lead to seven points, that cost the Canadians.
Anscombe said he saw positives from Canada at the 2015 World Cup but also negatives.
"It's having the ability to be able, under pressure, to keep composure and to execute," Anscombe told a conference call. "It could just be a simple pass, it could be a simple tackle.
"At crucial times in all those games you saw people fall off tackles or execution of delivery wasn't accurate enough. That can only come if we've got the intensity put on us at training. But the key is playing at that (elite) level."
Canada is scheduled to face No. 10 Japan, No. 19 Russia and No. 14 Italy this June in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, respectively.
Qualification for the 2019 World Cup will take place in 2017.