Sandro Fiorino is out as head coach of the Canadian women's rugby team, replaced by assistant coach Kevin Rouet.
The move comes less than seven months before Canada, currently ranked fourth in the world, is scheduled to begin play at the Women's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
Fiorino, who Rugby Canada described as a "valued" employee, will leave at the end of the month after 11 years with the organization, including four in charge of the women's 15s team. Rouet spent the last four years as his assistant coach.
"This departure aligns with the conclusion of the season for the Rugby Canada Development Academy in Ontario where he serves as lead, which Rugby Canada has made the difficult decision to discontinue following a reduction in funding," Rugby Canada said in a statement Tuesday.
Jamie Levchuk, Rugby Canada's interim CEO, said the closing of the Ontario academy at the end of the month is related to its Own The Podium funding.
"Sandro did have a dual role here at Rugby Canada and the majority of his role was attached to the academy in Ontario," Levchuk said in an interview. "And that was going to be discontinuing. And then there was also obviously continual evaluation of the team and it was just felt that a change was the best option for the team.
"It was difficult timing but with Kevin having experience with the team, we felt that there was continuity there."
Levchuk said the organization looked at options for Fiorino to stay "but ultimately Sandro decided to go and pursue other endeavours."
"We think really highly of Sandro, both as coach and a person," he added.
Fiorino did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Canadian Press.
Rugby Canada said it will continue to operate both the centralized sevens program and the Maple Leaf Academy program in Langford to help develop women's talent.
Fiorino was named interim women's coach in November 2017 when Francois Ratier left to become head coach of Rugby Canada’s national 15s academy.
Fiorino's job was made permanent in May 2018. He retained his head coaching responsibilities with the Canada Sevens Academy, charged with identifying and nurturing next-generation talent.
Fiorino had also served as assistant coach with the women’s sevens squad, helping then-head coach John Tait and the team win a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. He also served as head coach of the women’s under-20 side.
Rouet's contract takes him through the Rugby World Cup, originally scheduled for last year but delayed until this October due to the pandemic.
“We have the quality to achieve a podium finish at the Rugby World Cup and that will be our primary aim as our preparations continue over the coming months,” Rouet said in a statement.
“Rugby is growing in popularity across Canada, especially among young women and girls,” he added. “This program is a beacon of inspiration to that next generation of players and we know a strong performance in New Zealand will encourage more Canadians to try our great sport.”
Levchuk said Rouet will take a leave of absence from his role as head coach of the Laval University women's team — which he led to the U-Sports title in 2019 and a bronze medal in 2021 — while coaching Canada.
Rouet has also coached Rugby Quebec’s provincial women’s program and served as an assistant coach at Stade Bordelais, a French pro club.
Rugby Canada said Rouet will be assisted by regional coaches for upcoming training camps before finalizing his staff in early April.
The Canadian women are expected to play to six test matches prior to departure for the Rugby World Cup with opponents and venues to be announced later.
With the pandemic playing havoc with the international schedule and money tight, the team has played just four times since November 2019. All four of those matches took place last November with the Canadian women defeating the sixth-ranked U.S. twice — 15-9 and 256-13, both in Glendale, Colo. — before heading to Britain where they lost 51-12 to top-ranked England and defeated No. 11 Wales 24-7.
Canada opens play at the World Cup on Oct. 9 against No. 12 Japan in Whangarei, before facing No. 8 Italy on Oct. 16 and the U.S. on Oct. 23, with both games in Auckland.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2022