COVID-19 Restrictions Impact North American Rugby

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Canada has played in every Rugby World Cup since the inception of the tournament in 1987, and the path for Canada to get to its 10th tournament at France in 2023 was just shortened. Due to the inability to host international matches during the COVID-19 global pandemic, the Rugby Americas North (RAN) competition involving Mexico and Caribbean nations that traditionally acts as the initial phase of qualification in this region for the Rugby World Cup will not be taking place in the current qualifying cycle. Thus, North American Rugby has had its course changed by COVID-19.

The impact of this decision is that the USA and Canada will automatically represent RAN in the next stages of qualification for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

“Over the last year we have held extensive discussions with World Rugby, Rugby Americas and our member unions in the hopes of building a realistic and practical pathway for Mexico and the Caribbean nations to play against each other on the road to France 2023,” Miguel Carner, RAN EXCO President, said in a statement.

“However, international travel bans and regional restrictions regarding local competition throughout our region have made it impossible to find a workable solution under the tight time frame required to put forward our qualified nations to compete for the Americas 1 and Americas 2 positions.” 

During previous Rugby World Cup cycles, the annual RAN competition, which features rugby unions from Mexico and Caribbean nations, has served as the launching point for Rugby World Cup qualifying as the region’s first-round RWC qualifier, involving all unions that are full members of World Rugby.

“We understand this news is disappointing for players, coaches and teams throughout our region that have worked hard over the last four years and dream of one day competing on rugby’s greatest stage,” Carner said.

“Moving forward RAN will be looking at ways in the near future to help unions develop further in the 15-a-side game, with hopefully more meaningful competition with an eye towards 2027.”

Canada-USA Qualifiers To Be Scheduled

Canada and the United States will square off in the Americas 1 play-off, a two-leg home-and-home qualifying series to see which country will gain the RAN spot in the tournament. Dates for those matches are still to be determined. The winner will be decided based on the aggregate score of the two matches.

The USA defeated Canada in this series to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. After a 28-28 draw in Canada, the United States were easy 52-16 victors in their home leg.

The Americans have qualified for all Rugby World Cups save the 1995 event. However, the USA has never advanced beyond the group stage of the tournament.

Canada made its best Rugby World Cup showing in 1991. The Canadians defeated Romania and Fiji to advance through the group stage, but were defeated by New Zealand in the quarterfinals.

The USA is currently slated 16th overall in the World Rugby rankings, while Canada is slotted in at No. 22.

Second Chance Qualifiers

The loser of the Americas 1 play-off drops into the Americas 2 play-off against the runner-up from the South American qualifier. 

Canada faced Uruguay in this qualifier in 2018 and lost both matches.The Uruguayans surprised Canada 38-29 in the away leg. On home soil, Uruguay edged Canada 32-31.

Last Chance Repechage

All hope is not lost for the side that drops the Americas 2 play-off, as Canada discovered en route to the 2019 Rugby World Cup. 

The runners-up in the Americas 2 play-off, the Asia/Pacific play-off and the Rugby Africa Cup 2022, as well as the third-place side from the Rugby Europe tournament, are all entered into the Final Qualification Tournament to determine the 20th team to qualify for the 2023 Rugby World Cup and earn the right to go to France. 

This was Canada’s path in 2019 to keeping the country’s perfect Rugby World Cup qualifying mark intact. Grouped with Germany, Kenya and Hong Kong in this event at Pierre-Delort Stadium in Marseille, France, the Canadian side went a perfect 3-0 to win the tourney and the last qualifying spot.

Canada defeated Kenya 65-19, toppled Germany 29-10 and downed Hong Kong 27-10 to advance.

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