Damian McGrath sacking: Canada players ‘see through official line’ as they say farewell to beloved coach

By Nazvi Careem

Damian McGrath and his former Canada Sevens players held a farewell BBQ upon his dismissal by the country’s governing body, with the coach posting a group picture that – deliberately or not – sends a subtle message to new man Henry Paul.

The players love McGrath, one of the nice guys of world rugby, and any new coach would need above-average man-management skills to get them onside.

Canada dismisses Damian McGrath amid murmurs of ‘internal power struggle’

The fact that his sacking is largely blamed on an internal power struggle – and not on results as Rugby Canada claims – means Paul has a tough job on his hands. He needs more than “love of the jersey” to get the best out of these players.

The BBQ picture shows the team with McGrath and his wife in a family atmosphere, the melancholy smiles forming a bond between players and coach so strong that it will remain in their hearts throughout the final two tournaments of the HSBC World Sevens Series – with Paul in charge.

The power struggle conspiracy is now officially on the table, McGrath himself alluding to it when replying to a tweet from one of his players, Nate Hirayama – whose emotional message highlights the love and respect the team have for their coach.

“Rarely do we have people come into the rugby community who truly embrace the Canadian culture and make such a positive impact on the game across the country,” Hirayama wrote. “Thank you Damo & Debs for everything you’ve done for our team, and Canadian rugby. We’ve been so lucky to have you both.”

To which McGrath replied: “Thank you my friend it has been our pleasure. Great memories, great people. I’m disappointed with how it’s ended and would like to say far more but most people seem to have seen through the official line.”

Previously, McGrath praised his players when posting the BBQ picture, writing: “A farewell night with the boys! Debs and I had a great BBQ with the whole squad last night. Thanks to Luke McCloskey’s parents for hosting. Very difficult to say goodbye to these wonderful young men. It has been a pleasure! Creating memories, making history and enjoying every minute.”

BC Rugby News said in an earlier report an internal power struggle was the reason behind Rugby Canada’s decision.

“From this desk’s perspective it’s looking more like an internal power struggle where the XVs coach [Kingsley Jones] put his mate into the 7s driver’s seat to align the XVs and 7s programs, something that Damian and the 7s players did not support,” they wrote.

It said a financial dispute saw the sevens players start a strike and begin the process to become unionised. Rugby Canada is fighting the move to unionise and some veterans say the sevens game was diverting money away from 15s.

McGrath, while largely neutral, was said to be sympathetic to the sevens players’ cause. The report highlighted a similar scenario in 2011 when Jones was coach of the Russian national team and Paul was his assistant. Paul eventually went on to coach the Russian sevens squad.

McGrath also received support from Mike Friday, the Englishman who is doing wonders with the USA Sevens – who lead the world series after eight tournaments.

“You can be proud of what you achieved with the Canada 7’s boys…you did a helluva job in some very compromising circumstances,” wrote Friday.

McGrath joined Samoa as head coach in 2015, taking them to victory in the Paris Sevens. In October, 2016, he joined Canada and took them to a stunning victory over the USA in the 2017 Singapore Sevens final for their first triumph on the world series.

Canada are 12th in the ongoing world series.

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