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New Canadian rugby coach says everyone will get a fair chance to impress

Mark Anscombe is shown in a Rugby Canada handout photo. Settled in Victoria for all of two weeks, new Canadian rugby coach Mark Anscombe is ready for the real work to begin. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Rugby Canada, Andrew Cornaga *MANDATORY CREDIT*
May 20, 2016 - 8:30 AM

Settled in Victoria for all of two weeks, new Canadian rugby coach Mark Anscombe is ready for the real work to begin.

The 59-year-old New Zealander gets to assess at least part of his talent pool at a camp starting May 28 ahead of his first international matches at Canada's helm — against Japan, Russia and Italy in June.

Anscombe watched footage of Canadian players and has drawn on the opinions of others in choosing the 35-man training camp roster. The talent pool has been thinned by injuries and sevens responsibilities, with eight uncapped players invited to the Shawnigan Lake camp.

Anscombe, who says he is coming in with an open mind, sees it as a chance for players to step up.

"We know a good bit about certain players," Anscombe said on a media conference call. "This is allowing us to get to see what our actual depth (is) in some positions. We're going to be a lot smarter and better positioned after June to move forward.

"Who knows who will come out of this program? That's an exciting stage. There could be two or three players that really put their hands up."

With just 14 returnees from last fall's Rugby World Cup, the camp roster is inexperienced, Anscombe acknowledged. Leadership from the veterans will be vital although he wasn't prepared to reveal his captain.

"That's something we have to sort out." he said. "There's a couple of names that clearly come to mind. I've got to talk to a few other people and then talk to a couple of players and then we'll get that cleared up."

Tyler Ardron, who was captain under former coach Kieran Crowley, is recovering from knee surgery. Fellow forward Jamie Cudmore, a veteran who served as skipper at the World Cup in Ardron's absence, will be in camp.

The 37-year-old Cudmore served as an assistant coach with the national team at the Americas Rugby Championship earlier this year under interim coach Francois Ratier.

Canada, ranked 18th in the world, plays No. 10 Japan at Vancouver's B.C. Place on June 11 before facing No. 19 Russia at the Calgary Rugby Park on June 18 and No. 14 Italy at Toronto's BMO Field on June 26.

Anscombe and his staff don't have much time before the matches. But the bigger picture is organizing the program and preparing his team for qualification for the 2019 World Cup.

He promised hard work and enthusiasm in the buildup to the June series, adding everyone will get a fair chance to impress.

"We've got to back ourselves," he said. "There's many a time underdogs come through if we have the right attitude and we put the right preparation in — and that's what we intend to do."

Many of the players will be auditioning to be part of the 20-man centralized program that Rugby Canada hopes to establish come August.

Anscombe's coaching staff includes Calgary's Graeme Moffat and English scrum coach Mike Shelley. New Zealand's Paul Feeney will be helping as a technical adviser during the June Tests.

Jim Dixon, Rugby Canada's general manager of rugby operations and performance, said the organization is continuing to work towards separate 15s and sevens squads but will reassess the sevens player pool after the Olympics.

Anscombe, named Canadian coach in March, spent three years as head coach of the Auckland ITM Cup side in New Zealand before taking charge of Ulster ahead of the 2012-13 RaboDirect Pro 12 (now Guinness Pro 12). He led New Zealand to victory at the IRB Junior World Championships in 2011 after winning the title as an assistant coach in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

He is here in Canada with his wife. His two daughters are back in New Zealand while son Gareth Anscombe plays professionally for Cardiff in Wales.

"Very green. Great-looking countryside," Anscombe said of Vancouver Island.

"The weather's been great and the people have been very friendly and accommodating," he added. "It's only been two weeks but it's been really good."


Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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