The CFL’s Toronto Argonauts may or may not become a future tenant at the city’s renovated BMO Field, but Rugby Canada is fully behind Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.’s plan to increase the seating capacity to 30,000, with the possibility of adding another 10,000 down the road.
“We need more seats in the stadium. Please build them, we will sell them,” said a confident Gareth Rees, the Canadian men’s national team manager, buoyed by Tuesday’s announcement of a multiyear sponsorship deal between Rugby Canada and the courier company DHL.
“I’m confident that rugby will sell, that this will be a step on the pathway of rugby attendance in this country. I’ll get in trouble for this, but we need a bigger stadium to play Canadian rugby matches in, and that’s fantastic.”
For the fourth consecutive year, Canada is preparing to play international rugby at Toronto FC’s habitual home field, a facility Rees describes as the rugby program’s “spiritual home.”
Canada welcomes Scotland to town on Saturday, and while a sellout to rival last November’s contest against New Zealand might be a tall order, organizers are hoping for a crowd to match the 20,396 who turned out to watch Ireland last July, especially given Toronto’s attachment to the auld country.
“There are a lot of Scots in Canadian culture and Canadian history, and I hope we really test the loyalty of some of those Canadian Scots, put some pressure on them,” Rees said. “We obviously are looking at the performance, especially after last week.”
That performance was a puzzling implosion against Japan at Vancouver’s Swangard Stadium last Saturday. With Canada comfortably in front 25-9 at the break, Japan was allowed to score 25 unanswered points in the second half to run out a comfortable winner in the first game of the six-team Pacific Nations Cup. The win was just Japan’s second on Canadian soil.
Canadian lock Tyler Ardron, captaining Canada for the first time, admitted picking his teammates up after such a deflating loss was an early test of his leadership skills.
“There was a lot of disappointment in the changing room after the game, and it hurt, definitely,” he confessed. “What I’ve said is ‘just look back this whole week to think of that feeling and that’s what we don’t want to happen again.’ So just use that, whether it’s in training or your spare time doing a little extra work.”
Ardron, from Lakefield, Ont., acknowledges that his team may have shown a bit of inexperience in closing out the Japan game, and he noted that “there’s still a couple of basic things that need to get fixed.”
Chief among those will be defensive structure at set pieces and better discipline, not taking poor penalties – infringements that directly led to 15 points from the boot of Japanese fullback Ayumu Goromaru.
Scotland enters the game fresh off last Saturday’s 24-6 win over the United States in Houston, a debut victory for new head coach Vern Cotter. The New Zealander, described endearingly as a “hard taskmaster” by Scotland forward Jim Hamilton, saw his team move up to No. 8 in the world following the victory, but his players know that that the difference between so-called Tier 1 nations such as Scotland and the Tier 2 nations of the world isn’t as big as it once was.
“I think it’s clear for everyone to see that the gap is definitely shorter now,” says Hamilton, who tore ankle ligaments in last Saturday’s win and will miss the game against 16th-ranked Canada. “We’ve watched the Canadians at length on tape; I think where teams [have] struggled in the past is the set-piece part of the game.
“I think the efficiency in Canada and Japan and the USA is their lineout and their scrum and that gap has certainly closed and I think we’ll see that going forward to the  World Cup.”