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Canada powers past Belgium in rugby Test match in Halifax

CANADA 45 BELGIUM 0 It is going to be a long, pain‑ staking route from its Langford base to the 2027 World Cup for the Canadian men’s rugby team.
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Canada’s Conor Keys, left, and Belgium’s Toon Deceuninck go up for the ball at a lineout in Halifax on Saturday. DARREN CALABRESE, CP

CANADA 45 BELGIUM 0

It is going to be a long, pain‑ staking route from its Langford base to the 2027 World Cup for the Canadian men’s rugby team. The first portion of the process involves climbing from the world third tier back into the second tier after missing out on qualifying for the 2023 World Cup, the first edition that will not include Canada.

So, world No. 26-ranked Belgium represents the sort of opponent No. 21 Canada must defeat in its bid to regain credibility. Canada did just that Saturday by thumping Belgium 45-0 in a Test match played before about 4,500 fans at the Wanderers Ground in Halifax, N.S. Canada thundered away in the second half after leading 10-0 at the break.

Canadian starters included University of Victoria Vikes graduate Jake Ilnicki of the Castaway Wanderers of Oak Bay, former UVic player Conor Keys, Josh Larsen of Nanaimo from the New England Free Jacks of Major League Rugby and Quinn Ngwati of Victoria from United New York of MLS. Coming off the bench were Luke Campbell of Victoria from Old Glory D.C. of MLS and Gradyn Bowd of the Castaway Wanderers while Canada’s emerging generation was represented by a couple of players dressed from the Langford-based Rugby Canada academy program Pacific Pride — Matthew Oworu and Dawson Fatoric.

Despite the national team’s Island roots, this victory had a real East Coast flavour to it, especially for Nova Scotian Cooper Coats, who scored a try and kicked two converts.

“I couldn’t have asked for more,” said Coats, in his post-game TSN interview with Victoria rugby legend Gareth Rees.

“The support was incredible all week. I dreamed of being able to score in front of the home fans.”

The win followed-up Canada’s 24-0 victory over Belgium on Nov. 13 at Stade Nelson Mandela in Brussels.

Canada will now be looking to knock off surprising No. 15 Spain next Saturday at TD Place in Ottawa in what is seen as a key indicator Test against a former third-tier nation that has elevated itself into the second tier. It’s the same path Canada needs to take over the next few years.

“Spain is pretty good right now and we have to turn this around,” said Coats.

In women’s rugby, meanwhile, No. 4 Canada will play No. 6 Italy in a Test match July 24 at Starlight Stadium in Langford with both national sides preparing for the 2022 World Cup from Oct. 8 to Nov. 12 in New Zealand.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com