By Greg Stutchbury
OITA, Japan (Reuters) – The haves and have nots of world rugby will meet again on Wednesday when the three-time champion All Blacks face Canada in their World Cup Pool B clash with concerns the gap could be starkly displayed on the scoreboard.
The All Blacks are all full-time professionals, earning hundreds of thousands of dollars with basics of the game drilled in them since they were five-year-olds.
Canada’s players juggle jobs, run their own business or are studying and just happen to play rugby, normally after trying ice hockey or Canadian football.
“The simple thing is we’re amateur rugby players against professional rugby players. It’s as simple as that,” Canada coach Kingsley Jones said on Tuesday ahead of the match at Oita Stadium.
“There isn’t a pathway for players any longer so we’ve got guys here who are holding down day jobs.
“Some of them had to compromise their jobs (to be in Japan), and I think it’s a huge achievement to be here for the team.
“Now we’re here we’ve got to be as competitive as we can.”
Canada were hammered 48-7 by Italy in their opening encounter in Fukuoka and Jones said nerves, apprehension and excitement had probably got the better of his players, which led to numerous basic errors and missed tackles.
Italy stormed to a 17-0 lead inside the first quarter and never looked back and while Jones said his side had “left a lot of points out there”, he knew they had to be better against the All Blacks.
“I think there was a little bit of anxiety in the first 20 minutes,” Jones said.
“We made a lot of mistakes but a lot of them were in the first 20 … so we have to start better.
“If we don’t … then it will be a tough day.”
New Zealand have made no secret of the fact that while they respect Canada, they see the match more as an opportunity to finetune their game on their path to the quarter-finals.
Under the retractable roof with an All Blacks side itching to play at pace and Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga looking to exploit space, there are concerns the score could blow out and even surpass Canada’s 79-15 defeat at the 2011 World Cup.
“It hasn’t come into my head, but I know it is a tough task and a big challenge,” Jones said when asked if there were concerns the 100-point barrier could be breached.
“If we break the game down and concentrate on the process and win the small battles … there have been parts of the game that have been good and other parts that we need to improve.
“We have to just focus on those things and win the small battles and the scoreboard will look after itself.”
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)