Damian McGrath saw predictability as one of Canada’s weaknesses in men’s rugby sevens when facing the country as an opponent.
Named the program’s new head coach on Friday, he plans to take that perspective and use it to his advantage as the team begins to build towards the 2020 Olympics.
“[Canada] is one of the biggest and most powerful teams in rugby sevens. On the day they could upset anyone,” the Englishman said on a conference call. “I think they struggled for consistency. My personal view was they didn’t make the best of what they had. They were a little bit one dimensional in what they did, which made it easier to play and coach against them.
“It’s easy to say, changing it is a different thing. I’m hoping that we can try and concentrate on strengths of what the players have as a group and we can make them a difficult bunch to play against.”
McGrath was fired by Samoa last month after leading the Pacific Islanders to a ninth-place finish in the 2015-16 HSBC Sevens World Series, including a Cup title in Paris. The 57-year-old succeeds Zimbabwe’s Liam Middleton, whose contract was not renewed after Canada failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics.
“It’s always a tough process to go through,” said Jim Dixon, Rugby Canada’s general manager of rugby operations and performance. “We had strong intentions of going to Rio and were very disappointed that we didn’t achieve that outcome. There were a lot of factors we looked at throughout that process. We engaged with a lot of the players confidentially.
“What was really evident is we need to create an environment where the players can express themselves ... they need a little bit more freedom.”
A Yorkshire native, McGrath has worked in rugby league and union, as well as sevens. He spent time with the Leeds Rhinos in England’s Super League and was England’s assistant coach at the 2000 Rugby League World Cup.
McGrath was a defence-skills coach for England ‘A’ at the 2005 Churchill Cup in rugby union, and was part of England’s sevens staff from 2001-2006.
“I work out of the basics, which is something I’ve done ever since I was a junior coach,” he said. “I always feel if you get the little things right you can make the big things happen.”
McGrath said his experience last season in Samoa was positive overall, but the last month was difficult.
“Pacific Island rugby, in terms of administration, is very volatile,” he said. “To say I was caught by surprise by the dismissal is an understatement, but it was to do with personal politics and board interference. I had to hand the matter over to my legal representatives because they ran roughshod over my contract.
“It’d be hard to sit here and watch people try and sully your reputation, but I’ve been humbled by the huge support I’ve had from the Samoan people.”
The 2016-17 Sevens Series opens Dec. 2 at the Dubai Sevens, where Canada has been drawn into a pool with Fiji, Argentina and Wales.
The Canadian men finished a disappointing 13th last season.
“The potential is huge,” McGrath said. “I hope that we can all be part of something that takes Rugby Canada to the forefront of World Rugby.”
When the players will get to meet their new coach remains a question mark, with McGrath’s immigration status still to be sorted out.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I just can’t wait to get in and get started.”