A name distant but familiar to Canadian rugby fans is making a welcome return to national colours next weekend in Tokyo. Chauncey O’Toole was on the top of the rugby world in 2011. After storming through the final rendition of the Churchill Cup he signed with Ospreys and had been described, perhaps overzealously, as the best amateur player in the world. He played well enough in the World Cup but stuttered in Wales and never quite reached the heights most had hoped for him.
Fast forward a year and half and all of a sudden he was a forgotten man, nowhere to be seen on the rugby landscape. Somewhere amidst the toil and frustration of professional rugby he’d decided that his post-rugby future needed due consideration. Firefighting is the path he chose, a pursuit of other Canadian internationals of recent days gone by, names like Derek Daypuck, Pat Riordan, and Morgan Williams come to mind among others. In doing so O’Toole would have to step aside from rugby for a while, and so for nearly a year now he has been out of sight, but not out of mind.
Having recently returned to Victoria from his native New Brunswick, he ran out to play some XVs for the first time only a couple weeks ago and looked set to join the 7s circuit later on, perhaps on the UK leg, but with injuries to Connor Braid and Justin Douglas he has been fast-tracked back into the team headed for Tokyo in a few days time. With his future concerns now dealt with and his rugby career back in full swing Canadian fans are hoping that we see a return of his best form. He’s only just turned 28 and should be refreshed and ready to make a run for the World Cup and maybe the Olympics, at the very least providing stiff competition to some of the incumbents like Nanyak Dala and Adam Kleeberger.
Joining O’Toole on this leg are deposed XVs halfback Sean White and u20 graduate Jake Webster, the latter making his IRB circuit debut. White has seen his spot in the senior side handed to Phil Mack, ironically the man he is filling in for this tournament, and with Jamie Mackenzie and a host of young contenders queuing up behind, not to mention the impending qualification of Scottish-born Gordon McRorie on residency grounds, it doesn’t look like he’ll get it back any time soon. Compounding matters is the fact that he rarely plays scrumhalf for James Bay and seems unwilling to move to another club to work on the skills and decision making that have let him down at senior level. White is probably best advised to concentrate on the abbreviated code if he still wants to play international rugby.
Webster is on the up-and-up after switching his focus from grid-iron to the oval ball. He was undersized for that sport anyway but his combination of speed and strength have found him a home on the wing in rugby, not unlike another recent football convert, Jeff Hassler. It’s unlikely he’ll see much game time given the tough competition they’ll be facing though it will serve as an invaluable look into what it takes to perform at the senior international level.
It’s also nice to see Morgan Williams back travelling with the team. He’s currently in charge of the Maple Leafs development side and is earmarked to replace Geraint John as head coach, probably following the 2016 Olympics. It’s a role he has filled before, under different Rugby Canada leadership might still have, and certainly one he is perfectly suited to. He is filling in for Kieran Crowley, the senior national coach, who will be with the national u20 side as they head first to England then to Hong Kong to compete in the 2nd tier junior world tournament.
Canada face Wales, Portugal, and circuit leaders New Zealand in their pool. Having finished 6th and 3rd in the previous two tournament they now sit in 9th spot in the season standings, and trail Kenya by only 4 points.
*caps represent the number of tournaments played on the IRB circuit