The Langford-based Canadian rugby team hoped to be heroes on the pitch with a victory over Namibia in their last game of the 2019 World Cup.
The Canadian players instead became champions of a different kind after the game was cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis. Video and pictures of the Canadians pitching in and helping with the post-typhoon cleanup in Kamaishi, Japan, have gone viral.
“We even got a shout-out from the prime minister and that was pretty cool,” player Andrew Coe said as the team arrived at Victoria International Airport Monday morning.
“There was a landslide and we helped shovel out the road. It was not what we expected to be doing on game day. But our Canadian spirit and Canadian pride helped us finish the tournament on a high.”
Just not the sort of high that was expected with a victory over Namibia.
Canadian player Phil Mack of Victoria said the post-typhoon landscape was quite a sight.
“Our hotel was flooded, the streets were flooded and covered in mud and debris, and the boys stepped up and went out and volunteered to help clear the streets and nearby houses of the elderly,” Mack said.
“We wanted to be playing, but you can’t fight Mother Nature. It put rugby in perspective. It was very emotional, especially coming after what happened eight years ago.”
Mack was referring to the double blow Kamaishi has absorbed. The small, rugby-mad coastal community was devastated by 2011’s massive earthquake and tsunami, which caused more than 1,000 deaths in the town. A big part of its rebuild was the awarding of two World Cup rugby games and the construction of Recovery Memorial Stadium on the site where two schools had stood before being wiped out by the tsunami. (All the students followed their teachers and escaped in time to higher ground).
The town had waited years for its World Cup moment. And it got one when the Fiji-Uruguay game in Kamaishi was played under brilliant conditions before Hagibis hit. But the conclusion to the story was denied when the typhoon knocked out the Canada-Namibia game scheduled for Sunday afternoon (Saturday night Pacific time).
Kamaishi is in Iwate prefecture, of which Victoria’s sister city and nearby Morioka is the capital. The crowd for the game was expected to be strongly pro-Canadian because of that connection.
“It was a massive disappointment not to be able to play the game, but there was flooding and mudslides and we had to face reality,” said four-time World Cup legend Gareth Rees of Victoria, who was media manager for the Canadian team in Japan.
“I’m so proud of what the players did in helping out the people of Kamaishi in any way we could. This is a city that has gone through so much and rebuilt itself after 2011,” Rees said as the Canadian squad unloaded its gear Monday at Victoria airport.
“Our gesture helped make a true connection with the community of Kamaishi and its people that will not be forgotten. We were able to make something good out of an awful situation.”
The game will go into the books as a 0-0 draw. Canada and Namibia were each awarded two points and finish with records of 0-3-1 (zero wins, three losses and a tie) in the very difficult Pool B, which included legendary powers New Zealand All Black and South Africa Springboks, along with Six Nations side Italy.
> Canada, once solidly in the second tier of rugby-playing nations, should realize it is now looking squarely at third-tier status, Cleve Dheensaw writes on page B5.