Canada arrive in New Zealand with a World Cup winner at the helm and the belief that it is ready to take on the world's best.
Kieran Crowley, a member of the All Blacks squad that won the World Cup in 1987, has scoured Canada for talent since taking over as coach in early 2008.
"We're well-prepared," said veteran centre Ryan Smith, one of four in the Canadian squad who will be playing in their third World Cup. "All the guys that are in this group have bought into what Kieran's been teaching, coaching. It's an excellent coaching group, not just with Kieran."
Crowley has surrounded himself with quality help in forwards coach Neil Barnes, defensive coach Clive Griffiths, scrum coach Mike Shelley and assistant coach Geraint John.
Barnes worked with Crowley when he coached Taranaki in New Zealand's National Provincial Championship. Griffiths is a former Wales assistant coach who was in charge of defence during the Welsh 2005 Grand Slam campaign. Shelley is a former Leeds and England 'A' player who coaches the Canadian Under-20 squad. And John is a former player and assistant coach at powerful Welsh club Cardiff who runs the Canadian Sevens program.
"It's the best prepared group I've been part of," Smith said. "I'm the most excited I've been."
The 14th-ranked Canadians face daunting competition in Pool A, with matches against No.1-ranked New Zealand, No.4 France, No.12 Tonga and No.13 Japan.
Realistically the goal is wins over Tonga and Japan, but Canada has been buoyed by reaching the Churchill Cup final the last two years, losing to the England Saxons both times.
"I'm very confident in our team," flanker Chauncey O'Toole said. "I mean, we're not just going there to make up the numbers. We're going there to compete and to win games."
Crowley has earned the respect of his team by selecting on form. And he has given plenty of players a chance to showcase their skills.
"I thought when I first came over here that some people were getting into the team on reputation," said Crowley, a backup to All Blacks fullback John Gallagher at the '87 World Cup in New Zealand. "I didn't know anyone when I came here, to be honest. But then I saw some players playing for Canada and I saw some players who I thought had potential and who were just as good as the players who were playing.
"My big thing there is that you've only got the jersey for 80 minutes and you give it back and it might be your last opportunity, so you've got to earn that right to wear it again."
Crowley has long lamented that Canadian players don't get the attention they deserve from overseas clubs.
"I think any player in this group could get a contract, could play at Championship level (England's second tier) and a number of them can play at Premiership level," he said.
O'Toole (Ospreys) and fellow back row forward Jebb Sinclair (London Irish) have proved Crowley right with recent contracts.
Less than one-third of Canada's World Cup squad plays rugby professionally. The rest are domestic-based amateur players who get by on a modest monthly stipend from the Canadian government for elite athletes.
Some have other responsibilities. Smith, for example, will be putting his day job on hold to play at the World Cup, although as a Calgary-based oil and gas consultant can keep track of business via computer.
Speedy South African-born centre DTH van der Merwe (Glasgow Warriors) and hard-nosed lock Jamie Cudmore (Clermont Auverge, France) lead the overseas pro contingent. Van der Merwe - whose initials stand for Daniel Tailliferre Hauman - is a potential game-breaker. Cudmore, like Smith headed to his third World Cup, is a bruising blunt instrument of a forward who will cause opposition problems if he can manage to avoid the sin bin.
Hard-working hooker Pat Riordan captains the squad and anchors a front row that will likely feature Hubert Buydens and Jason Marshall.
Cudmore may well be joined in the second row by Sinclair, who has been shifted from the back row in recent games to accommodate the busy trio of O'Toole, Adam Kleeberger and Aaron Carpenter.
The forward pack is mobile but lacks bite at the line-out.
Veteran scrumhalf Ed Fairhurst partners flyhalf Ander Monro, likely with van der Merwe and Smith in the centres. The back three is expected to be wings Phil Mackenzie (Esher, England) and Ciaran Hearn and fullback James Pritchard (Bedford, England).
Opponents will pay for penalties against Canada with Pritchard renowned as an accurate kicker, with ample backup from Monro and Hearn, who is the team's long-distance specialist.
Rugby Canada has looked to all sports for talent. Marshall is a former university quarterback for the Simon Fraser Clansmen, while fellow prop Buydens is a former university offensive lineman who had a tryout with the Canadian Football League's British Columbia Lions.
Canada has also drawn on ties around the world to assemble its team.
Monro was raised in Scotland but was born in Canada while his Scottish father was stationed there as a member of the British army. The flyhalf now calls Victoria home. The Australian-born Pritchard qualifies for Canada by virtue of the fact that his grandfather was born in Ruthilda, Saskatchewan.
Backup No.8 Jeremy Kyne is a New Zealander who made Canada his home after meeting a Canadian woman in Australia. The relationship did not stick but Kyne stayed anyway.
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