Canada's old-timer Charron to miss might of All Blacks

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The Independent Online

It was one of the sadder sights of this or any other World Cup. Al Charron, the captain of Canada and one of the great figures in the game, looked like a man who should not dwell on one of the bridges that crosses the Yarra.

"International rugby is getting faster and faster and I'm getting slower and slower,'' he said.

What made it all the more depressing was that Canada had just conceded five tries to Wales in a 41-10 defeat and Charron, playing in his fourth World Cup and, at 37, the oldest player in the tournament, was replaced in the second half. "I was under duress,'' said Charron, who was returning from a bad knee injury. "Other countries take two steps forward, we take one. We're playing catch-up.''

Canada will be chasing shadows today when they return to the Telstra Dome to face the All Blacks, a task for which they are quite unsuited: the unspeakable in pursuit of the uncatchable. "We have no chance,'' David Clark, the Canada coach, admitted.

Charron will not play a part as Canada make wholesale changes. "We don't have a first and second team,'' Clark said. "We have 30 players capable of representing our country.''

New Zealand, who beat Canada 29-13 in the 1991 World Cup quarter-finals - the Cannucks' finest hour-and-a-half - are without their two frontline centres, Tana Umaga and Aaron Mauger, who are replaced by Ma'a Nonu and Daniel Carter.

Umaga, who suffered a ruptured cruciate ligament against Italy, has recovered sufficiently to resume cycling and weight-training. "Every morning I look at myself in the mirror and the swelling on the knee seems to have gone down,'' he said.

A final decision on Umaga, the All Blacks' vice-captain, is expected on Tuesday. "I don't want to hinder the team. If it's not right, I'll send myself home.''

If that is the case, Umaga thinks that Nonu, his 21-year-old running mate at Wellington, is ready to take centre stage. "This kid's got it,'' Umaga said. "He's fizzing. I wish I had his attitude when I was 21.''

Against the Canadians, Carter takes over the goal-kicking duties from Carlos Spencer and is described by the coach, John Mitchell, as "an up-and-coming Jonny Wilkinson".

"There are lots of similarities, apart from the fact they are both left-footed. Dan's work ethic and attitude are fantastic,'' Mitchell said.

Carter was New Zealand's top scorer in last year's Under-21 World Cup, scoring 25 points against England. On his Test debut against Wales last June, he scored 20 points.

The All Blacks are looking to improve on their performance against Italy, whom they beat 70-7, but are aware that nobody in Pool D is prepared to put up their strongest team against them. Wales, Italy, Tonga and Canada are fighting it out among themselves for second place and a quarter-final berth.

''You could have three teams with two wins each and then bonus points could be vital,'' Clark said. "The gap between the big boys and the rest is getting wider. The international board is wrestling with the problem, but it hasn't come up with the answer yet.''

Clark was also critical of the World Cup draw. "Teams that are not expected to feature in the knock-out stages have been given little rest between matches,'' he said.

Canada's allowance for the tournament is £150,000. "That's 0.5 per cent of the budget for England and New Zealand,'' Clark pointed out.

The All Blacks, meanwhile, were playing the diplomatic game. "I expect Canada to give us a physical contest,'' Mitchell said. "This is their World Cup final. They have a very good kicking game.''

No they don't.