Canada's squad is stocked with pros and semi-pros but most do not play in the top leagues. Photograph: Huw Evans/Rex Shutterstock
Sat 19 Sept Ireland v Canada, Millennium Stadium, 2.30pm
Sat 26 Sept Italy v Canada, Elland Road, 2.30pm
Thur 1 Oct France v Canada, Stadium MK, 8pm
Tue 6 Oct Canada v Romania, Leicester City Stadium, 4.45pm
Odds to win World Cup
Should he ever decide to quit Clermont Auvergne, for whom he has long played a particularly massif and central role, the lock forward Jamie Cudmore could surely find a job with Canada’s Atlantic Rock provincial team – as the rock.
The 37-year-old, whose equally gigantic brother plays a mutant, Colossus, in the X-Men films – no, really – missed this summer’s Pacific Nations Cup through injury. Kieran Crowley’s team duly lost the lot and an extra game against the dreaded USA. Cudmore then came back, as captain for a game against the Pro12 champions, Glasgow Warriors. He scored a try and Canada won. He led them again in a brutal warm-up against Georgia at Esher. They won again.
Johnston points out that head coach, Crowley, once an All Black full-back, and his brother and assistant coach, Leo, like their flankers roaming wide. Those breakaways, including Jebb Sinclair of London Irish, Richard Thorpe of London Welsh and the sevens pros Nanyak Dala and John Moonlight, are all good players. The idea is to use them to win turnovers from opposition backs.
That didn’t happen much this summer, however, and although Canada tackled as hard as Canada always do, they did not win nearly enough turnover ball. Fiji did win a ton of it, perhaps partly because the Canadian breakaways were elsewhere, and duly ran riot, 47-18. The French and the Irish, if not the more grunt-oriented Italians and Romanians, will have taken note.
Canada’s squad is stocked with pros and semi-pros but other than Cudmore, Sinclair, Phil Mackenzie of Sale, the Scarlets’ DTH van der Merwe and the Ospreys’ Tyler Ardron and Jeff Hassler, the last once a player of American football’s unusual northern cousin, they do not compete in the top leagues. Crowley has chosen to proceed without one highly experienced back, the Australian-born No15 James Pritchard but the problem is most acute in the front row, which is where Italy and Romania will have been paying attention.
The loss to a rib injury of Jason Marshall – a rare creature, a college quarterback turned international tighthead prop – is a blow that the promise of sometime Leicester academy member Djustice Sears-Duru and Marshall’s replacement, Jake Ilnicki, will not sufficiently offset.Key player Jamie Cudmore Age 37 Caps 35 Position Lock Height 6ft 5in Weight 18st 4lb 2 Photograph: Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images
Canada will be targeting one win, against Romania – who have recently beaten them twice in games the Canadians should have won. They also have a maybe, particularly if Sergio Parisse does not play, against Italy – who beat them in Toronto in 2012 in a game they should have won. Canada also play Ireland. In Toronto in 2014, they lost to similar bunch of Celts, Scotland, in a game they should have won and perhaps might have if Sinclair had not been harshly sent off. As a one-point loss to Samoa and two blown chances against the USA Eagles showed this summer, this is still a team of ifs and buts.
If, then, such rugged forwards as mentioned above can gain a foothold in any game but those against France and Ireland, in which Canada may well employ the hallowed minnows’ policy of “pick a 2nd XV and hope”; and if such sevens-nurtured backs as Nathan Hirayama, Phil Mack and Harry Jones can use any ball that results … those two wins could yet come.
That might cap the Crowley era: older brother Kieran has coached Canada for seven years and may not fancy another cycle of scant contact with his players until the four-yearly World Cup struggle.
If Crowley does call it quits, he will do so having overseen the emergence of some promising young talent, against the odds imposed by the domestic dominance of the great god hockey and the absence of money for anything except a sevens squad – which as yet has not secured an Olympic place. Canada may not have made the Under-20 World Championship since 2009 but Johnston picks out Sears-Duru and the young Australian-raised lock Evan Olmstead as youngsters to watch this time.
Canada’s World Cup will be a far shout from the glories of 1991, when Al Charron, Gord Mackinnon, Stormin’ Norm Hadley et al pushed New Zealand in the quarter-finals, and 1995, when Rod Snow and co battled the Boks at Boet Erasmus. A hero of those campaigns and two others, the fly-half Gareth Rees, had something to do with the award to this year’s squad of magnificent blazing-red blazers, however. Thus properly attired, this at least looks like a proper Canadian party.
Cudmore is certainly any World Cup-watcher’s idea of a proper Canadian rugby player. From a rough-and-tumble background in the Pacific north-west, like other players a sometime logger, he became a hugely successful professional, the proud owner of a bar, a nightclub and a vineyard. He will not play at a World Cup again. He nearly didn’t make his fourth, thanks to struggles with concussion. Catch him while you can.
Related: Rugby World Cup looms and difference between best and rest has grown | Paul Rees
Canada’s 31-man World Cup squad
Props Hubert Buydens (Prairie Wolf Pack), Jake Ilnicki (NSW Country Eagles), Djustice Sears-Duru (Ontario Blues), Andrew Tiedemann (Prairie Wolf Pack), Doug Wooldridge (Ontario Blues).
Hookers Ray Barkwill (Ontario Blues), Aaron Carpenter (Cornish Pirates), Benoît Piffero (Castanet).
Locks Brett Beukeboom (Cornish Pirates), Jamie Cudmore (Clermont), Evan Olmstead (Greater Sydney Rams).
Back-rows Tyler Ardron (Ospreys, capt), Nanyak Dala (Prairie Wolf Pack), Kyle Gilmour (Rotherham), John Moonlight (Canada Sevens), Jebb Sinclair (London Irish), Richard Thorpe (London Welsh).
Scrum-halves Phil Mack (Canada Sevens), Jamie Mackenzie (Ontario Blues), Gordon McRorie (Prairie Wolf Pack).
Fly-halves Nathan Hirayama (Canada Sevens), Liam Underwood (Canada Sevens).
Centres Nick Blevins (Prairie Wolf Pack), Connor Braid (unattached), Ciaran Hearn (Canada Sevens), Conor Trainor (Canada Sevens).