Cash hits Canada in the team-sheet

Tourists lose key player because they cannot afford the insurance

Tim Glover Investigates
Sunday 10 November 2002 01:00
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Unlike the Mounties, Rugby Canada do not always get their man. The Canadians, who assemble in Cardiff tomorrow before meeting Wales at the Millennium Stadium next Saturday, have flown the majority of their modest squad halfway round the world but are unable to pick a player who is based in the Welsh capital.

Dan Baugh, the Cardiff flanker who is a hugely influential figure in the Canada back-row, has opted out because of a lack of proper insurance cover. The cash-strapped governing body have medical cover for their players but no policy for loss of wages.

It doesn't affect those who are based in Canada – they are amateurs who do not get paid for representing their country – but it frightens the life out of the handful of professionals who play in Wales, France or England. Baugh's career has been blighted by knee injuries which required surgery, and although he has made a full recovery, another setback while wearing the red of Canada would leave his bank balance the same colour.

It's too big a risk,'' Baugh said. "I can't take out personal insurance until 18 months after my last operation. At least I should be all right for the World Cup.'' Baugh will be at the Millennium Stadium, but as a spectator.

The scrum-half Morgan Williams, who plays for Saracens, is in a similar position. To take out a personal policy covering loss of wages in the event of injury would cost between £1,500-£2,000 for the two-week micro-tour, a prohibitive sum. However, despite the risk, Williams will play against Wales, winning his 23rd cap, and, all being well, against France the following week. "When your country calls it's very difficult not to respond,'' he said. "Canada have little or no financial backing, everything's done on a shoestring and we accept that we're not going to be paid. I'm happy playing and I'll always answer the call, but when it comes to the point where it costs you money to appear in a professional game then it's time something was done.''

The problem was highlighted when Thomas Castaignède, a club-mate of Williams at Saracens, severely damaged an Achilles tendon during a pre-match warm-up for France. He needed several operations and was out of action for more than a year. It became a cause célèbre: Saracens and the French Federation were in dispute over who was responsible for footing the bill and paying Castaignède's salary while he was in rehabilitation. Castaignède has now taken out personal insurance.

If anything, Canada's amateurs are making a bigger sacrifice. "Last season we played eight Tests and the guys who have day jobs used up all their vacations,'' Williams explained. "It means that a lot of them are now taking unpaid time off.''

Canada have got together a bare minimum of 22 players for the two Tests but there is a doubt over their captain, Al Charron. The lock, who has played most of his rugby in France, led Canada to a resounding 26-23 victory over Scotland in Vancouver in June as well as steering them to top place in their qualifying group for the World Cup in Australia next year. They join Wales, New Zealand, Italy and the winners of the repêchage between Tonga, Korea and Papua New Guinea instead of the pool containing England, South Africa and Samoa, and that suits them fine.

Despite their problems Canada, who have beaten Wales in Cardiff before, think they have a chance of doing so again. Williams, whose mother was born in Bradford and whose great-grandfather was Welsh, joined Saracens this season from Stade Français and has refused to play second fiddle to Kyran Bracken. "Being Canadian you get a lot of stick. They look at you kind of funny,'' he said.

Have passport will travel, he has also played for Bordeaux and, briefly, for Cardiff when the club turned their back on Wales and lined up with the English for a season. His mother has a British passport and Williams cannot understand why he is regarded as an overseas player.

"If I played in Wales, Scotland or Ireland I would not be registered as a foreigner. It's only in England and nobody knows why. I can't get an answer from anybody. I have the bloodlines but not the paperwork. If you don't have a British passport it makes life difficult.''

Williams, who is 26 and was born in Kingston, Ontario, was the Stade Français scrum-half, albeit with a shock of dyed blond hair, when Leicester pipped them in the final of the Heineken Cup in Paris two seasons ago. Pat Howard, the Wallaby in the Leicester centre that day, has been recruited by David Clark, Canada's Australian coach, to work with the backs.

There have been several other developments that may improve the lot of the Canucks. Gareth Rees, the Wasp who played in four World Cups for Canada (Charron has a chance of equalling that record), has been appointed chief executive of Rugby Canada, and then there is England's "strategic alliance'' with the Canadians and the Americans. The initiative from the RFU, a sort of Marshall Aid plan in reverse, will lead to an annual summer tournament between the three countries for five years, starting in Canada next June. Although it has yet to be ratified by the International Board, Rees sees it as a breakthrough for rugby in North America. "It would be a huge help for us and the United States,'' he said. "The IRB want countries to help themselves and this would be a perfect fit.''

The triangular tournament will be played for the Churchill Cup, and whoever wins it will not only receive a cigar but presumably will be required to raise two fingers.

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