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New men's rugby coach Kingsley Jones set to lead Canada against Maori All Blacks

Rugby Canada men's national team head coach Kingsley Jones passes a ball while posing for a photograph after he was introduced as the new coach of the team, in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday October 24, 2017. Jones is set to lead Canada against the Maori All Blacks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
November 02, 2017 - 10:42 AM

VANCOUVER - Kingsley Jones stops a tackling drill on a perfect fall morning to calmly explain what he wants to see from his players.

While the instructions are firm, Canada's new men's rugby head coach sounds very much like a teacher eager to help his pupils succeed.

"I'm an old man," the 48-year-old tells the group. "But I'll show you."

The subtle practice exchange followed by a hands-on demonstration — Jones avoids actually going to ground — is a glimpse of the positive environment the Welshman wants to create around a squad severely lacking confidence following a disastrous 18-month stretch.

"Some teams need to be barked at," Jones explained afterwards. "And some don't. This one doesn't need that."

Ranked an all-time-low 24th in the world, the Canadian 15s team is set to host the Maori All Blacks on Friday night at B.C. Place Stadium. The crowd for Jones' first match in charge since taking the job in Septemberisexpected to approach 29,000 spectators.

"We're going to go into the game with everything to gain and nothing to lose," Jones said. "I'm excited. You only get one chance to make a first impression."

Jones replaced Mark Anscombe, who had a dismal 2-11-1 record in test matches during his 16 months at the helm, after Canada fell to the United States in a two-legged series over the summer to miss out on an automatic 2019 Rugby World Cup berth.

While it's still early, Jones's style has been a breath of fresh air around the Canadian camp.

"I wouldn't say one coach is better than another, (but) I think one coach is better for a certain team than another," said forward Tyler Ardron. "He gets us, and we get him. I think he's the right fit."

"He's hyper-prepared," added scrum half Phil Mack, who will captain the side this month. "He's really simplified what we're doing to make sure we do the things we do well really well, and slowly trying to fix the things we need to improve."

Canada's next opportunity to qualify for the World Cup comes early next year in a two-match series against No. 18 Uruguay, but the priority right now is to get the team that will be without a number of key veterans on Friday back feeling good about itself.

"Way above my expectation, particularly because we've got a lot of young guys," Jones said when asked of his initial impressions of the team. "I want to work with guys who want to help themselves and are coachable.

"I believed that was the case when I got here, but now I'm seeing it."

The game against the Maori All Blacks, who are separate from the powerhouse New Zealand All Blacks, provides a tough introduction for Jones. Players must have their Maori ancestry confirmed in order to represent the side, but a couple members of the current squad have suited up for the full national team.

Jones's short-term focus in preparation for Friday is Canada's defensive setup and kicking strategy against an adversary with plenty of speed that will look to push the tempo.

"If we kick loosely they'll hurt you," said the former Welsh captain, who coached at club level in Britain and also led Russia from 2011 to 2014. "They have individuals that can cause problems."

The Canadians are also prepared for the All Blacks' haka — a traditional tribal dance performed by players on the field before matches meant to both inspire and intimidate

"As fired up as they get, it really fires you up," said Mack. "I've played the Maori All Blacks on a couple of occasions and it's a powerful moment when they do that."

Following the game in Vancouver, which doesn't count towards world rankings, Canada will travel to Europe for test matches with No. 12 Georgia on Nov. 11 in Tbilisi, No. 19 Spain on Nov. 18 in Madrid and No. 9 Fiji on Nov. 25 in France.

Attention will then quickly turn to that all-important two-game series with Uruguay for a World Cup spot that begins Jan. 27 at B.C. Place.

The Canadians are well aware a good showing Friday could go a long way in helping get a country that has never missed the sport's biggest tournament back on track.

"We might just be able to give rugby in Canada a shot of adrenalin and get some more people behind us," said Mack. "We know the general public isn't happy with what they've seen lately.

"We want to do our best to make them proud."

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News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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