Former Canada rugby captain looks to rebuild bridges, return to national scene

·5 min read

Former Canada rugby captain Jamie Cudmore believes he has a lot more to give the game. Now he hopes others agree.

The 44-year-old Cudmore lost his job as head of Rugby Canada's national development academy (better known as the Pacific Pride) and assistant coach with the Canadian men's 15s team in July 2021 after several social media posts critical of the Canadian women's sevens team's disappointing performance at the Tokyo Olympics.

Cudmore, a native of Squamish, B.C., has been coaching in Newfoundland since on a contract that expires at the end of November. He's not sure what comes next but is grateful to those who helped him getting him back coaching.

"If I can stay here and continue to build here with the great people that have opened their arms to having us here and help build rugby on the East Coast, I'll happily do that," Cudmore said in an interview. "But to be honest I do have a bit of an itch to get into professional rugby. That's been my life for the last 20, 22 years.

"If I can help at the grassroots level and at the professional level, well that's the perfect scenario for me," he added.

Down the road, his objective hasn't changed. He wants to coach the men's national team.

"My original goal in coming back to Canada was to lead the national team," said Cudmore, who became an iconic figure during his playing days in France. "I believe with my experience in France, coaching in the Top 14 (France's top league), being a general manager in the second division (Rugby Pro D2 with Provence Rugby), my history with Rugby Canada over 20 years now, playing and captaining our side.

"I think I have the understanding of our landscape and of our players, and the global game as well, to make a good go for it. But I had no idea what type of complicated situation I was moving into in 2019 (with Rugby Canada) until I got into the building."

An independent review into Rugby Canada's high-performance programs, released in March, painted a damning picture of a dysfunctional organization at odds with its athletes, staff and supporters.

Rugby Canada chair Sally Dennis and recently hired CEO Nathan Bombrys are tasked with restoring the governing body.

The Canadian men, coached by Kingsley Jones, are rebuilding after failing to qualify for the 2023 World Cup. Cudmore says he has a good relationship with Jones and has shared his goals and views with the former Wales captain, who took over the Canadian men's program in 2017.

Cudmore's Rugby Canada career ended quickly after his critical social media posts in 2021. "A heavy price," he said.

He put this hand up and quickly apologized but was relieved of his duties soon after. Rugby Canada called the posts "unacceptable and in breach of organization policy.''

"It was an emotional event for a good friend and I let that get the better of me,'' Cudmore said on Twitter at the time. "I've always played/coached with my heart on my sleeve for this great country. I'm sorry if I've offended anyone.''

The good friend is John Tait, who stepped down as the women's sevens coach after a bullying and harassment complaint from current and former players prior to the Olympics.

A separate independent review subsequently concluded that while the conduct described in the women's sevens players' complaint reflected the experiences of the athletes, it did not fall within Rugby Canada's policy's definition of harassment or bullying.

Tait, while maintaining he had done nothing wrong, subsequently resigned. The former Canadian international is now B.C. Rugby's technical director.

After working with players and coaches in Newfoundland and other provinces, Cudmore is looking to rebuild bridges.

Cudmore has also worked on himself, including a collaboration with Sport Law, a private group "committed to serving sport organizations in their desire to fulfil their mission and live their values.''

"I've done the work that I promised to have done after this whole incident," he said.

Cudmore, one of Canada's most storied rugby exports as a player, resurfaced as Newfoundland provincial coach thanks to a groundbreaking arrangement between the Newfoundland and Labrador Rugby Union and a group of rugby supporters called Canadian GRIT (Grassroots Resources and Ideas Team).

The Newfoundland body paid a portion of Cudmore's salary and expenses while GRIT made up the rest. As part of the deal, Cudmore has worked with other provincial unions.

Cudmore has faced other challenges off the field recently. His wife, who is from Newfoundland, has been dealing with ill-health of late.

"It definitely hasn't been easy over the last couple of years, with my wife's health issues," he said. "And then with this whole kind of kerfuffle with my previous employer and everything, it's been probably been one of the hardest years of my life, to be honest."

Cudmore played 46 tests for Canada between 2002 and 2016 and would have played more had it not been for club duties in France, where he won a Top 14 title with ASM Clermont Auvergne. The hard-nosed lock forward also played for FC Grenoble, and Oyonnax in France and Llanelli, Llandovery and the Scarlets in Wales.

He represented Canada at four World Cups (2003, '07, '11, and '15).

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2022

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press