TOKYO (Reuters) - Avoiding a potentially tortuous qualification process for the next Rugby World Cup will undoubtedly be a factor in Canada’s opening Pool B clash against Italy in Fukuoka on Thursday.
The North Americans were the last side to qualify for the global showpiece in Japan and had to win a four-nation repechage tournament last year to keep up their record of having played at every World Cup.
While both sides face off at 4.45 p.m. (0745 GMT) at the Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium with belief they could win all their games at the World Cup, few expect either to make the last eight.
World rugby heavyweights New Zealand and South Africa are also in Pool B and, short of several upsets of the scale of Japan beating the Springboks four years ago in England, the two should ease into the quarter-finals.
Finishing third in the pool is probably the best outcome for either Italy or Canada, with all of the third-placed finishers in Japan automatically qualifying for France in 2023.
Conor O’Shea’s Italian side have already seized a small advantage in that race, clinching a bonus-point victory by running in seven tries against Namibia in Osaka on Sunday.
O’Shea, however, was still unhappy with that performance and expected the team to lift their intensity and skill execution against the Canadians.
“We said in the changing room after the match that we weren’t satisfied,” O’Shea said on Tuesday. “We scored seven tries and wasted another seven or eight which shows we can create tries.
“It is in the past. It was the first match of the tournament and as (England coach) Eddie Jones said, ‘just win it’.”
The former Ireland fullback was forced to make 10 changes to his starting side due to the quick turnaround following the Namibia match, with regular fullback Jayden Hayward making his first start at centre.
They also only had one full training run together after travelling to the largest city on the southern island of Kyushu.
Canada coach Kingsley Jones, who said before the World Cup they were starting behind everyone else because of the late qualification, has used their delayed start to the tournament to immerse the team in Japanese culture.
Jones selected former Ireland age-group flyhalf Peter Nelson to guide his team around the field on Thursday after the 26-year-old made his Canada debut just two months ago.
Editing by Tony Lawrence