When Burnaby Lake Rugby Club's Pat Riordan leads Canada's national team onto the pitch against Tonga in its opening game of the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand next month, there will be much riding on the outcome.
For Riordan, a front-row forward, it will represent his 40th career capped appearance on the Canadian XV. It will also be his fourth year as captain of the national squad, following Canada's disappointing finish at the 2007 World Cup, where they returned home for the first time without winning a single match.
This year, Canada's chances of making it to the quarter-finals, a feat the Canucks have only achieved once before at the World Cup in 1991, will be equally as daunting.
Canada is in Pool A with reigning World Cup champion and No. 1-ranked New Zealand. Also in the pool are No. 4 France, along with Japan and Tonga, ranked 13th and 15th, respectively.
The No. 14 Maple Leafs recently moved up two spots in the international rankings after a pair of wins over the United States. Canada must finish third or better in its pool to qualify for the quarter-finals.
"That would be a huge step forward for us," said Riordan at a send-off at the Burnaby Lake clubhouse on Tuesday night. "Everyone wants to keep playing and making the quarter-finals is a goal for us."
Riordan can remember a few of the great stories that have emerged out of the World Cup. The most notable was South Africa's 1995 win as hosts in its first opportunity to compete since apartheid was lifted.
The outcome, celebrated in a recent film, Invictus, was "a pretty amazing story," said Riordan. "You didn't have to be a rugby fan to like that story."
Another storyline that caught Riordan's attention was Australia's second World Cup title in 1999, in which he described the Aussie's win as having all the stars align.
Now, it's Riordan's opportunity to add an all-Canadian footnote to the ongoing saga.
"I think getting to the quarter-finals would be pretty nice for us," Riordan said. "We passed Tonga in the rankings and that adds to the pool if we make it out of a real tough pool."
But Riordan added that for Canada to accomplish the feat, it would take a "special effort by the boys."
And that effort can only be accomplished with an 80-minute effort from everyone, he said.
"I think anyone who has bones in their body wants to be on the field no matter how gassed you feel," Riordan said. "You know how much worse it feels to be on the sideline."
Canada flew Down Under on Friday for two weeks of preparation, including two friendly matches against Australia A and provincial champion Queensland.
The World Cup kicks off on Sept. 9 and runs until Oc. 23. Canada opens against Tonga on Sept. 14.