With preparations under way for the 2012 Canadian Rugby Championship season, National Senior Men's Team head coach Kieran Crowley hopes domestic rugby can continue to thrive.
Now heading into its third year as the CRC, Canada's domestic competition faced its biggest challenge in 2011, with 19 elite players leaving the tournament to attend the Rugby World Cup as members of Canada's squad.
But it appears the plans to create a domestic competition, selection pathway and depth in the national rugby ranks is working.
Rather than hinder domestic competition, Crowley feels Rugby World Cup 2011 forced CRC teams to evolve and contributed to positive growth on home soil.
"With the World Cup, it forced clubs to put younger guys in and we have to give the young guys a go," Crowley said. "I believe it creates depth."
When he took over the reigns of the national men's team in 2008, Crowley was adamant Canada needed a high-level domestic competition.
Not only does he believe it creates depth, but acts as a selection tour for the national side, as in 2010 players went from the CRC to the ARC tour as part of the Canada Selects and then on to the November test series as part of the national side.
"It has given players a chance to compete at a high level," Crowley said. "We can't be selecting guys from club games. We have to see them in compete at a higher level and be put under pressure."
Another interesting development in the competition is CRC sides taking on external, highly regarded, sides and winning.
Of 12 games played between CRC sides and external clubs, Canadians have come up with seven wins and five losses. Some of the more notable results include the BC Bears defeating Russia 35-11, The Rock beating Esher 21-15 and Ontario beating Salta Province of Argentina 39-17.
Ontario Blues manager Mark Winokur has worked with the side for three years and coached Toronto during the Super League days.
He has seen the benefits of the CRC and the approach of developing high-quality players through domestic competition and external clashes.
"There were so many teams in the Super League that it didn't have the same competitive balance," Winokur said. "This league puts the top 100 players in the country against each other week in, week out."
Winokur's Blues won the CRC in 2011 and have beat external sides U.S.A. Selects, British Police and Salta Province.
"It clearly shows that we are exposing our players to better both domestic and international competition and getting better results than with previous domestic sides," he said.
Crowley also supports the approach of CRC sides taking on external touring teams.
"It exposes them to other countries and different styles of play," Crowley said. "It's something we'd hope would develop and it's grown each year. It's outstanding for the players and gives them something to strive for and high quality games."
CRC commissioner Gord Sneddon has seen exciting developments in the competition as it expanded from 2010 to 2011 and more external sides look to take on Canada's regional teams.
"Absolutely it has grown in a positive way," Sneddon said. "In Canada we had the NA4 and Rugby Canada Super League which weren't really serving our needs, but the CRC seems to fit the bill.
"We've seen a lot more external teams interested in it. We weren't getting the external teams before. There's a real interest from South American and the U.K. to receive teams and send them over."
In addition to the Ontario Blues success in the 2011 season, Sneddon has seen positive growth across the league.
The 2010 season saw Atlantic-based side The Rock take the championship on the back of a strong localized elite training centre and a broad talent ID program stretching as far east as Quebec.
While they didn't win the 2010 season, the Prairie Wolf Pack have been extremely competitive, contesting the inaugural CRC championship with The Rock and pooling players from across the region to form a unified rugby front.
"The level of competition across all four teams has been consistently high with all sides evenly matched," Sneddon said. "The performance of The Rock and the Wolf Pack in the 2011 competition ensured that there were no easy fixtures with every game highly competitive and the result always in question."
The Canadian Rugby Championship schedule will be finalized in late November, but the Ontario Blues have already secured a pre-season tour of South America as reward for claiming the title in 2011.
The Blues will take on Chile, Uruguay and Salta Province from May 3 to 14.
For Crowley, this is just one in many of the positive steps necessary to move Canada's domestic competition and overall quality of players forward.
"We've got to help develop it," Crowley said. "The competition has gone to two rounds which is great. It would be good to create a cross-border competition and work on the age grade competition. We've got to keep the momentum going.
"It's a massive development tool and a step in the pathway to national selection."
Gilbert has released a new line of rugby cleats. The Gilbert Virtuo 8S is part of the exciting new product. Check it out.
The entire All Blacks apparel line has been updated for 2013/14. Check out the New Zealand All Blacks polo.
The Nike Tiempo is a solid rugby cleat and one of few styles still made from full-grain natural leather.
The Gilbert Blitz 8S rugby cleat is a great cleat at a great price of $69.99. Get a new pair of cleats today.
A cool looking all black rugby cleat with the high performance adidas is known for. Get in the Gear!
Wear the crest of the British and Irish Lions on your t-shirt. A great look for the summer.
The All Blacks Performance t-shirt is black with hints of blue from the training jersey. Very Cool.
The New Zealand All Blacks training jersey for 2013/14. Get in the Gear!
The USA Rugby Pro Alternate rugby jersey is perfect for any fan of the Eagles. Get yours to wear during the summer Test matches.
The NEW All Blacks 2013/14 jersey has arrived at World Rugby Shop. Dare to wear the colors of the All Blacks.