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Canada look to follow Irish, Italian model with new appointment

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Ashley Western/MB Media/Getty Images)

Rugby in Canada has decided to go down the Italian route to try and generate long-term improvements in their national team following their failure to qualify for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France. The Azzurri under Kieran Crowley have benefitted in recent years from the across-the-board upskilling at youths level of young players under a revamped pathway system headed up by Stephen Aboud, the coach who was involved in transforming the Irish approach in the late 1990s.


It was last summer when the Irishman stepped away from that role after six years, which included coaching the Italy U20s Six Nations team, and he has now resurfaced in Canada looking to bring about similar improvements in their rugby.

A statement read: “Rugby Canada is pleased to announce that Stephen Aboud has been appointed as high-performance director. Aboud has a wealth of experience developing successful player pathways and systems in Ireland and Italy. His work began in the early 1990s, establishing a pathway for Ireland’s then-amateur players.

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“Over what would become a 26-year career with the IRFU, Aboud served in many roles, which included helping create IRFU’s academy programme as well as designing coaching courses and mentoring coaches at all levels. He spent his last seven years with IRFU as head of technical direction, guiding the development of players, teams, and coaches.

“In 2016, Aboud joined the Italy Rugby Federation, where he served as head of technical direction for the development of players and coaches for six years, overseeing the establishment of Italy’s robust U17 to U20 structures and academies.”

Rugby Canada CEO Nathan Bombrys said: “The work that Stephen has done in Ireland and Italy speaks for itself. He is a world-class expert in elite player and coach development, and his expertise will help foster and maintain thriving and successful Canadian players and coaches. We look forward to working with Stephen when he joins the Rugby Canada team.”

Aboud added: “I’m honoured to take up this role with Rugby Canada and would like to thank Nathan and the board for the confidence and support they have shown me. I would especially like to thank my new colleagues for their warm welcome and selfless assistance with my induction over the last few weeks.


“From our initial conversations together, I’m convinced we have the determination and passion to further develop quality systems and pathways to make Canadians proud of their rugby and proud of the players who represent Rugby Canada.”

Aboud, in a RugbyPass interview in February reflecting on his time in Italy, explained his approach to elite player development. “You start with the tiny p of potential, you see the ingredients but then you have to cook and if you do that with good cooks more often then you’re going to get a good meal. It’s no secret, elite player development, but it would not have been possible to have done it that fast without the quality of staff.

“The system had been proven before in Ireland and in Italy we just had to do it with fewer resources, starting from scratch and seeing if we could do it in the minimum amount of time which was five or six years. So yeah, it’s nice to know that it isn’t rocket science.”


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