Age is just a number to evergreen Canada hooker Ray Barkwill who, in winning his 55th cap in last Sunday’s 65-19 win over Kenya at the Rugby World Cup 2019 Repechage, was the oldest player to appear in any of last weekend's test matches.
More importantly to the 38-year-old and his team-mates, is the fact that the victory helped move Canada one step closer to securing the last remaining spot at RWC 2019.
With one round down, the repechage table shows Canada at the top on five points with Germany, their next opponents in Marseille on Saturday, a point further behind following a 26-9 win over top seeds Hong Kong.
Taking encouragement from their unbeaten tour of England and the manner of the try-bonus point win against Kenya, Barkwill said: “We’ve had our plan set out for the last couple of months and how we are going to get there and achieve it.
“Over the last month we’ve strung together a few wins and created momentum and I think the second half against Kenya showed we are growing as a team, and that we have the ability to put an opponent away.
“When we reviewed it, there were plenty of things for us to be happy about but there were also plenty of things for us to work on to make sure we hopefully get the same result against Germany.”
Kenya matched Canada for much of the first half, but the North Americans ran away with it after the break with prolific winger DTH van der Merwe celebrating a maiden international hat-trick late on.
Having been burned a few times in their opening match by Hong Kong winger Salom Yiu Kam Shing, Germany will need to redouble their efforts whenever Van der Merwe gets hold of the ball. If Barkwill has his way, that will be as often as possible.
“The way we look at it is that if I do my role well and do it to the best of my ability, whether it is scrummaging, throwing the ball or clearing a ruck out, and the next guy beside me does his job really well, we give DTH an opportunity to score.
“At times it is a calculated team effort but, at other times, he just does something special out of nowhere. He has that ability and is probably our only world-class player … There is a reason why he has been a stalwart of our team and a reason why he is recognised the way he is internationally and professionally.”
Tough to handle
While Germany’s win over Hong Kong was more of a collective effort, Kurt Haupt’s try-scoring debut performance caught the eye of opposite number Barkwill.
“I copped the highlights and he ran a good line back towards the ruck and caught out a few boys who did not want to be as physical as he was. He wanted to win the collision and did well to finish, that’s what you need from your tight forwards at times.
“From one to eight, Germany are all hard ball-carrying guys.
“They like to put their foot down and go forward and try and get quick ball at the gain-line; they like to have a go at the scrum a lot and maul. They really embrace that as a strong suit of their game.
“Hong Kong were unlucky to not finish off a few tries in the first half but, in the end, Germany’s physicality wore them out and it was too much for them to handle.
“When we saw that Germany beat Hong Kong, I think it got us to refocus even quicker, we were refocusing on Sunday night.
“Our only thoughts are on getting past Germany first, we’ll worry about the game against Hong Kong after that.”
Should Canada make it to Japan next year Barkwill will be a month past his 39th birthday and in line to become the second oldest player in the tournament’s history behind Uruguayan legend Diego Ormaechea.
In the immediate aftermath of Canada’s disappointing RWC 2015 campaign, Barkwill doesn’t mind admitting he thought his time may be up.
“After the 2015 World Cup I didn’t know what rugby was going to hold for me,” said Barkwill, who made his test debut against Samoa at the ripe old age of 32.
“But when the coaches asked me if I still wanted to put my name up for selection, I said, ‘sure’.
“As long as I was still enjoying my rugby, which I was despite our ups and downs, and I felt able physically and mentally where I wanted to be, I wasn’t ready to call it a day.
“The coaches never flagged up my age as something they were worried about. They have backed me and say that as long as I am the best guy to be selected on the team, there will be a place for me and age won’t make any difference.”
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