Rugby

Fired men's rugby coach Mark Anscombe says 'system is broken'

Mark Anscombe's tenure as Canadian men's rugby coach ended abruptly Thursday when the New Zealander was fired after just 16 months on the job.

Recent losses put Canada's participation in rugby World Cup in jeopardy

Mark Anscombe has been fired as coach of Canada's men's rugby team. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Mark Anscombe's tenure as Canadian men's rugby coach ended abruptly Thursday when the New Zealander was fired after just 16 months on the job.

Rugby Canada said the move came after an "extensive review" of the national men's 15s program in the wake of Canada stumbling at the first hurdle of World Cup qualifying.

Anscombe, while not surprised, reacted to the news with disappointment and anger.

"At the end of the day, the team is only the product of a system and the system is [broken]," he said in an interview Thursday. "And no one's doing anything to improve it.

"What are we doing in this country to help the athlete? And the answer is absolutely nothing."

A straight shooter, he has consistently argued Canada is up against it in the rugby world because too many of its athletes are not playing at a high enough level and are not conditioned to compete on the international scene.

Blunt message

It was a blunt message that likely did no go down well with the players in question.

The Canadian men, currently ranked 23rd in the world, lost to the 17th-ranked U.S. in a two-game aggregate series, tying the Eagles 28-28 in Hamilton on June 24 before falling 52-16 in San Diego on July 1.

"It is very apparent to all in the Canadian rugby community that in order for our men's 15s team to be a successful and respected program we must continue to drive a culture of excellence, commitment and discipline," Jim Dixon, Rugby Canada's GM of rugby operations and performance, said in a statement announcing the firing.

"This goes for every level of the game. As a collective community we must address the gaps in our system and strive to provide our young players with the best possible environment to excel in the game, and we have a lot of work to do in this regard."

Challenges ahead

Canada has another chance to qualify, via a playoff with No. 18 Uruguay early next year with the loser relegated to a world repechage.

Changing horse in mid-stream would seem a questionable strategy — Anscombe was under contract through the 2019 World Cup. The two Rugby Canada executives will have more to say Friday in a media conference call.

Getting to the World Cup qualification is crucial to the men's program, with much needed funds from World Rugby accompanying qualification. Canada has never failed to qualify.

In the same statement, Rugby Canada CEO Allen Vansen said there will be a global search for a new coach.

"Fulfilling this important role is critical for Rugby Canada and we will take the necessary time to find the right candidate," Vansen said.

Anscombe's test record as coach was 2-11-1 but it can be argued that he never got to field his strongest team because of injuries and club commitments.

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