TORONTO — Kingsley Jones remembers taking Russia to Tbilisi to play Georgia in 2012, the first time the Russian rugby team had been there since the invasion of South Ossettia in 2008.
"To go to a ground with 60,000 people (inside), 20,000 people outside. Rockets, flares. I thought Australia-New Zealand was rivalry and England-Wales was rivalry," said the 48-year-old Welsh coach, whose team lost 46-0 that day.
The former Welsh international flanker, who won 10 caps between 1996 and 1998 and captained his country once, finds himself facing another daunting task in his new role as head coach of Canada's men's 15s rugby program.
"I'm all about challenges and different experiences," he told a media conference call Thursday.
Jones succeeds New Zealand's Mark Anscombe, who was fired in August after 24th-ranked Canada lost to the 17th-ranked U.S. in its first crack at qualifying for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Jones, who will be based out of Langford, B.C., will have to hit the ground running.
Leaving a job with the Welsh Rugby Union, he expects to arrive in Canada in late October. The Canadian men will face the New Zealand Maori All Blacks on Nov. 3 before heading to Europe to take on No. 12 Georgia, No. 19 Spain and No. 9 Fiji on tour.
More pressing is a World Cup qualifying series with No. 18 Uruguay in January-February. Should Canada lose, there is one more chance to qualify via a world repechage series.
The Canadian men have never failed to qualify for the World Cup. But they have also never been lower in the world rankings than they are today.
While Canada recently has only made up the numbers at the World Cup, making the tournament is crucial for the sport here, from the funding it warrants from World Rugby to domestic sponsorship and the profile of the game back home.
Jones says his stint as Russia coach from 2011 to 2014 has prepared him for some of the challenges he will face in Canada, from getting players released from their clubs to ensuring the regions are pulling in the same direction.
"It just really opened my eyes to the rugby world even more," he said of his time in Russia. "Just an amazing experience."
Russia, currently ranked 20th in the world, went 0-4-0 at the 2011 World Cup, its first trip to the sport's showcase event.
The goal there, as in Canada, was not to reinvent the wheel but to coach a team to its strengths, according to Jones.
"It's easy to focus on negatives," he said. "Same as Russia, there's lots of challenges but there's lots of positives."
He plans to be hands-on with the domestic players centralized in Langford and has already identified defence, kicking and handling the driving maul as priorities for improvement.
Jones' most recent job, with the Welsh governing body, was identifying and recruiting talent to the pro game in Wales.
At club level, he has coached the Newport Gwent Dragons in Wales and the Sale Sharks and Doncaster in England. He was also an assistant coach with London Welsh.
During Jones' tenure, Sale won the Premiership title and the European Challenge Cup.
A flanker, he played club rugby in Wales for Ebbw Vale and Pontypridd, before moving to England's Gloucester, Worcester and Doncaster.
Canada has enjoyed little success on the field recently.
Anscombe's test record as coach was 2-11-1 but it can be argued that he never got to field his strongest team because of injuries and club commitments.
Jones will be assisted by Francois Ratier, the former Canadian women's coach recently named head coach of the national fifteens academy. A high-performance director will also be chosen in the weeks to come.
Jones captained virtually every team he played for and acquired coaching badges as he played. He credits Mostyn Richards, a former high performance director at the Welsh Rugby Union, for encouraging him down the coaching road.
Jones comes from a rugby family. Sons Rhys and Dorian both played rugby under him at Newport Gwent Dragons.
His father, Phil Kingsley Jones, coached Tonga as well as club sides in New Zealand and managed the late All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu.
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