Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Island rugby legend and first Canadian World Cup captain says it will be a long road back

Few in the country are experiencing a more bittersweet moment than Hans De Goede

A whirlwind summer for Canadian national teams saw Canada fall from Olympus, and crash and burn in the FIFA women’s soccer World Cup. The Canadian men’s basketball team rose from its qualifying burial on Blanshard for the Tokyo Olympics and qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics and will play for a medal today in the FIBA World Cup.

But few in the country are experiencing a more bittersweet moment than Hans De Goede. The Victoria rugby legend watched his daughter, standout Sophie De Goede out of Oak Bay High, qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics as Canada won the North American and Caribbean women’s rugby sevens qualifier last month at Starlight Stadium.

Now comes the difficult part for Canada’s first men’s World Cup captain, in 1987 — having to watch the first World Cup that doesn’t include Canada.

“I love rugby, so I am watching the games, but it is very disappointing that we are not there,” said Hans De Goede, the Vic High and James Bay Athletic Association great.

De Goede, twice an All-World XV selection, was at the tail end of his towering career when he captained Canada in the inaugural World Cup tournament co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia. Fellow Victorian Gareth Rees, out of St. Michaels University School and the University of Victoria Vikes, was a rising young star then for Canada, and went on to captain Canada in two World Cups and play in four. The sport is a staple here and Island players were in abundance at World Cups as Canada made the quarter-finals in 1991, giving the All Blacks all they could handle, and headlines also in 2011 but for another reason as the Canadian players were nicknamed the Beardos for their flowing facial hair which captured the imagination of fans around the world.

But all that is over as the rugby world has passed the Canadian men by as the once-reliable second-tier nation has spiralled into the third tier. The Langford-based Canada team had never failed to qualify for the World Cup before this one and has played in all nine previous editions. But now it’s Uruguay and Chile representing the Americas region at World Cup 2023 in France, which began Friday. The bad news is it doesn’t bode well for a return even in 2027 when you consider that the U.S., a shock non-qualifier this year, is also ranked ahead of Canada in the region. Or that previous non-traditional rugby nations such as Portugal and Spain are ranked ahead of No. 23 Canada and getting bigger, better and stronger.

“What I have seen so far on the field at the World Cup are teams with such size and athleticism,” said De Goede.

“It’s going to be a long road back for Canada, but we are taking the steps at the Under-20 and Under-23 levels to return.

“I wish I could say it will be 2027 but it might take a couple of World Cup cycles until we are back again. It’s going to take a lot of hard work.”

To that end, De Goede is a board member of the Canada Rugby Foundation, which has raised $20 million to help the sport at the grassroots and development levels.

“We need to support coaching and our young players. I have been out to the Al Charron Centre in Langford and was really impressed by the work [former World Cup player] Phil Mack is doing with our top young, developmental players,” said De Goede. “And they are big, which is good and encouraging.”

The rebuilding has begun though the Pride and Maple Leaf U-23 and U-20 programs, but qualifying begins in two short years for World Cup 2027 in Australia. It may not be until the landmark 2031 World Cup, awarded to the United States, in which Canada can realistically think of a return.

[email protected]

>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: [email protected]