The World Cup Journey: By Phil Mackenzie
Although today is the official commencement of our Rugby World Cup journey one cannot deny the fact that our campaign began long ago. 45 or so World Cup hopefuls, including myself, assembled at Shawinigan Lake School in Victoria, BC on July 7th.
Phil Mackenzie Photo credit: Paige Stewart
This was the beginning of a long summer in a quest to be one of the 31-man squad members picked to represent Rugby Canada. For myself, my goal was simple, to do my best every single day I stepped on the field in an effort to give myself the best possible chance of being one of those squad members. However, in reality this was always going to be a challenge as the past 12 months had been the most difficult of my rugby career. I had struggled with numerous injuries, which, as you know, are any athletes’ kryptonite, causing myself to question my rugby career and abilities on a daily basis. Fortunately, incredible family and staff members surrounded me at The Sale Sharks, my professional club in the UK, who supported me whole heartedly to get back feeling great again.
The roller coaster year was followed up by a roller coaster summer, which was both physically and mentally challenging. The pressure of a looming World Cup selection was big and every moment was magnified whether in games or on the training pitch. From a personal standpoint I wanted to try and focus on the controllables (I.e. My performance) and try and block out any uncontrollable factors (such as other players performance). This is easier said than done but I did my best. After a two-year absence, I was given my first start for Canada against the 8th ranked team in the world,Manu Samoa. There was no escaping the fact that I had to perform. Again, in international rugby everything is amplified and the fact I was lined up against Alesana Tuiligia heightened the situation even more. I knew this one particular performance would hugely influence my World Cup selection. The game was a huge opportunity as well as a massive challenge for the squad and myself. I think anyone who watched that game could instantly tell the players on the field were playing for World Cup spots. The atmosphere was unreal and as the game progressed our confidence grew and grew, each player feeding off one another. The highlight for myself personally was scoring a try in the 75th minute to put us ahead in the dying minutes of the game. I always aim to not only be solid but also try and provide a boost to the team in any way possible and scoring a try always does that. Unfortunately however, we lost last play of the game and this was devastating. However, we proved to ourselves and any naysayers that on our day we can compete with the best nations in the world. Although we all hate losing I think we benefited greatly from this experience.
After our games wrapped up it was time for the dreaded 31-man World Cup squad announcement. Our fate was sealed. Coaches now had the tough task of selecting Canada’s best players in a fashion that would allow Canada to put its best foot forward throughout the World Cup. I was nervous. I wanted to be selected more than anything but self-doubt was creeping in by the minute. As the morning progressed our final meeting approached and the nervousness was palpable. We are unbelievably close as a squad and the fact that players were being sent home is not only devastating for the individual but also their friends. Everyone has shed blood for the Canadian cause and the fact that it can be over within seconds is terrifying. Finally, the meeting began and the squad was announced. Personally, I was filled with joy but was also filled with a feeling of responsibility to perform. I, nor anyone else on the team, want to go for the sake of only filling a spot. We want to perform. Create something special. Something I think we managed to do last World Cup, the only difference this time is that we want to better that performance.
With the squad announced we headed into our final World Cup warm up matches, playing and beating Glasgow Warriors, Georgia and losing to Fiji Rugby all within 8 days. My body was sore and tired but as athletes we have to be able to dig deep. Overall, it was important to experience the pace and power Fiji had to offer before going into our opening World Cup match. Although we lost I know that game will prove invaluable to us moving forward.
Now it’s onto the main event. There’s been a lot highs and a lot of lows for every individual on the team but that’s the beauty about rugby. Every day is unpredictable. A new journey is starting here in Swansea as we prepare for our opener against IrishRugby. I know myself and every other member of the team is unbelievably excited to play one of the world’s best teams on the world’s biggest sporting stage. That’s what sport is all about!
I’m going to document my journey throughout the World Cup so make sure to stay tuned! I’m sure it will be a wild ride!
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