Current State Of Rugby Canada - March 2017

March 30 2017

Current State Of Rugby Canada - Article by Pat Parfrey; Upcoming Twitter Q&A with Tim Powers and Allen Vansen; Plus Editor's Comments

posted March 30 2017
[ed. comments below]

The Rugby Canada AGM is this weekend and it seems they're planning a bit of a communication offensive to engage the rugby public. Pat Parfrey opened with this article (see below) during the week and Tim Powers the chairman of Rugby Canada indicated he and Allen Vansen (the CEO) will be doing a Twitter Q&A on Friday and there will some streaming of AGM discussions. We'll publish details as they're made available. [Friday FB live at 10:05am PST, Twitter 1:30pm PST - both on Rugby Canada accounts]

First up is Pat Parfrey's commentary. I've appended my comments below the article as I find it interesting what's revealed by Rugby Canada's leadership in their discussions and their reasoning.

Current State Of Rugby Canada - by Pat Parfrey who is on the Rugby Canada Board and a World Rugby Council member

The role of Sevens

Over the next 2 weeks I will present a series of commentaries on rugby in Canada, providing fact and personal opinion on the role of sevens, the strategy for fifteens, income and expenditures, and governance.

A World Council member said to me that Canada should pick a priority in rugby as we were not strong enough to be involved in sevens and fifteens, men and women. Here are the pros and cons for our options.

1. Focus on Sevens, this is the option favored by Own the Podium
PRO Better results in Olympics, Canada 7s, World Sevens
CON Worse results in fifteens because top backs and some backrows not available.

2. Focus on fifteens, this is the option favored by World Rugby
PRO This is our traditional game, improved world rugby ranking, better at RWC.
CON No Canada 7s, no Olympics.

7s + 15s
3. An integrated program where players are used as Sevens and Fifteens coaches decide, this is the option favored by Rugby Canada
PRO Sevens get priority in winter and fifteens in the summer and fall. Best players available for both sevens and fifteens
CON Danger of athlete burnout, diffusion of effort limits results in both sevens and fifteens, fifteens results will suffer in the winter during ARC.

The problem with option 1 is illustrated by Karen Paquin and others Women’s sevens players, who want to play in the Womens RWC in Ireland this year, but to do so will have to withdraw from the Sevens program and the funding available to them. The fifteens team who will play at RWC may not be the strongest available to Canada.

The problem with option 2 is that we have become dependent on income from the Canada 7s as funding has decreased from Own The Podium and from World Rugby.

The problem with option 3 is our world ranking will diminish if winter tests in the ARC are lost when understrength teams play.

What would you do? I favor option 3.

First of all I find it interesting with all the issues including governance and strategy for fifteens that this was chosen first. I think the "traditionalists", Pat Parfrey and Chris Lefevre included, see the rise of 7s as a major cause of our men's XVs demise. Personally, I see 7s as an opportunity, and the fact they are focusing attention on the issue just reinforces my opinion that Rugby Canada leadership are not asking the right questions so are unlikely to come up with the right answers.

First question is why are the women successful in both 7s and XVs, 3rd in the world in both, yet the men struggle? In reality the men's 7s did well under Geraint John, and seem to be on the rise again under Damian McGrath. It flopped terribly under Liam Middleton which led to losing the Olympic Qualifer, bottoming out in the repechage tournament losing to Germany and subsequently losing the OTP funding. Yet I don't hear anyone asking the question, was an error made in hiring Liam Middleton and following that thread. Who made the decision, do we have the wrong people in key positions, are they still there, is any action being taken? I wouldn't expect Rugby Canada to look within to find some of the answers and that's a big blind spot.

Second item I noticed in Pat Parfrey's letter is the reason this was a valid discussion, "A World Council member said to me". Boom, I've long suspected Rugby Canada leadership are too subservient to World Rugby's wishes, it just takes a comment from someone at World Rugby HQ to launch action, however comments from the membership largely go unheeded. This weekend is a communication offensive by Rugby Canada but is it for show or will changes be made? It's easy to appear willing to listen but are minds already made up? Is an external intervention something worth considering, having an organization development specialist look at the Rugby Canada structure and make recommendations. Are two offices needed, do we need to divert money from management to players, is the size of Rugby Canada in line with the size of the rugby community in the country, is there duplication and waste, do we need more diversity on the board, there are a myriad of questions. The problem is that would require Rugby Canada leadership to consider the changes required might be within and that's unlikely to happen.

It's interesting that he says, "we have become dependent on income from the Canada 7s as funding", yet igoring the fact that for years we've become dependent on income from World Rugby, most of that for the men's XVs. Basically the men's XVs program is leased out to World Rugby, they make the calls, they say ARC is going to be like this and we comply then complain our rankings are going down because it's not our full strength team. Our selection of coaches for men's XVs seems very inline with what World Rugby would want, and pay for, people with reputations in the UK and NZ. It's not new, go back to May 2005 and the cancellation of the Pacific Pride program, this was one of the reasons Rugby Canada gave for the decision, "The mandate from the International Rugby Board, that if Rugby Canada is to be provided with additional funding for development that it be focused on the High Performance development of the Senior Men’s Program and that Rugby Canada control the High Performance program in order to control it’s future viability and expansion over time to all levels of elite programming." The iRB, now known as World Rugby, gives the men's XVs program money and it comes with strings. You want to know why the women's XVs program has been outperforming the men with almost no funding, you can start by pulling this thread and see where it leads.

There will be lots said over the coming weekend at the AGM, I've been writing about Rugby in Canada for over 12 years now, critiquing when necessary some of the decisions. Quite frankly I'm tired of words now, I want to see some action taken. I would be happy as a start to see a Pacific Pride U23 type residential program started again, the team plays together all year, in BC in the winter, across Canada in the summer, tours when possible. Do that now under the right leadership and I guarantee you Canada will not be losing to Brazil, Uruguay or Chile. They will start moving up the ranking table in XVs.

Pemberton Holmes
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