For years, Canada was very much viewed as a minnow among the big fish of world rugby. That changed in 1991, as the best-ever performance of the Canadian men’s national team at the Rugby World Cup elevated Canada into rugby’s elite for the first time.

Of the 26 players on Canada’s World Cup roster, 23 were born in BC or played their club rugby here. Coach Ian Birtwell said his squad possessed ‘indomitable spirit,’ while observers noted a stronger bond among the Canadians than any other team in the World Cup. An emotional visit to the Canadian National Vimy Ridge Memorial in northern France between matches left each player ready to sacrifice everything on the field for their country.

Canada opened the tournament’s group stage with a dominant 13-3 win over Fiji, followed by a hard-nosed 19-11 triumph over Romania. A narrow 19-13 loss to host nation France, who resorted to less than gentlemanly tactics, proved the Canadians were for real.

Finishing second in their pool, Canada advanced to the quarterfinals against the defending World Cup champion New Zealand All-Blacks. Heavy underdogs, the Canadians fell behind early, but refused to wilt and outscored the Kiwis in the second half. The 29-13 result for New Zealand flattered the victors and after the match over 30,000 spectators paid tribute to the gutsy Canadians with a rousing standing ovation as they circled the field.

Based on their performance, Canada’s world rugby ranking rose to an all-time best 8th overall, one of the highest ever for a Canadian team sport other than hockey.

Team Members:
Mike Bassett (team doctor), Ian Birtwell (coach), Bruce Breen, Al Charron, Gary Dukelow, Glenn Ennis, Eddie Evans, John Graf, Steve Gray, Norm Hadley, Rod Holloway (forwards coach), Dan Jackart, Jeff Knauer, John Lecky, Dave Lougheed, Mike Luke (manager), Gord MacKinnon, Peter McMullan (communications), Pat Palmer, Roy Radu, Gareth Rees, John Robertsen, David Speirs, Christian Stewart, Scott Stewart, Karl Svoboda, Paul Szabo, Bill Treloar (physiotherapist), Chris Tynan, Ron Van den Brink, Tom Woods, Mark Wyatt (captain).

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.