The 35-year-old from Bordeaux has been Canada’s new head coach since the beginning of March this year, replacing Sandro Fiorino, for whom Rouet was assistant coach for the last three years.
With this appointment, Rouet follows in the footsteps of François Ratier – who has since become the general and technical director of Rugby Québec – who led the Canadians to fifth place in Rugby World Cup 2017 in Ireland.
“In fact, I migrated to Canada 13 years ago and François and I met here in Quebec City,” says Kévin Rouet, who was introduced to the oval ball by his father, a rugby fan.
A WINNING LIFE CHOICE
That Rouet became a professional rugby coach was by choice. He had studied engineering after arriving in Canada as an exchange student and then started a career at a steel bridge design company. A bridge is certainly a good metaphor for his life between France and Canada.
“Rugby has always been my passion and six years ago I decided to leave my job as an engineer. I must admit that it was not easy to get started at first,” shares Rouet.
Nevertheless, he signed with the Garneau Élans and the Carabins of the University of Montreal, and then later with the Rouge et Or of Laval University, where he’d already coached a number of internationals.
Of course, that was until the day he was offered to take on coaching the national team, now ranked third in the World Rugby Women’s Ranking powered by Capgemini. Rouet didn’t hesitate for a minute. “In this case, you say: yes, yes, yes,” he tells us.
The task ahead is huge in a country that hasn’t played high-level rugby for two years due to the pandemic.
“It was hard to get us together, we lost a lot of time,” Rouet regrets.
But to overcome these difficulties, the Union allowed a number of players to cross the Atlantic to play, train, develop and acquire other skills in the French and English championships. This experience is now proving invaluable.
“So, the gap in play has had its positives and negatives,” smiles the new head coach, with rugby now resumed in Canada. “During all this time, even the players who stayed in Canada were very resilient, they worked very hard, even from a distance. There was no need to supervise them. That’s also the strength of this team. There is a lot of confidence and we can only go from strength to strength now.”
A ROUND TO REGROUP IN NEW ZEALAND
The team’s next big competition will come quickly with the Pacific Four Series, playing from 6-18 June in New Zealand. A well-placed event in the international calendar, the series comes nearly four months before the start of Rugby World Cup 2021, which will be played from 8 October to 12 November 2022 in New Zealand.
“In fact, the timing is not ideal,” says Rouet. Some of Canada’s key players are tied up with commitments in England and France into the beginning of June, which means they’ll miss the opening Pacific Four match against the USA on 6 June in Tauranga.
The players are however expected to be released for the next two matches, against the Black Ferns on 12 June in Waitakere and then against the Wallaroos in Whangarei on 18 June.
“Despite this challenge, it’s a great opportunity,” added Rouet, who will arrive with his squad in New Zealand on 25 May. “We are going in the right direction, we are adapting, we have a good style of play. We want to prove that Canada is still a great rugby nation.”
WATCHING THE SEVENS IN TOULOUSE
Once the Pacific Four Series concludes, Rouet’s team will spend several weeks preparing for Rugby World Cup 2021 with three tests scheduled in the three following months: against Italy in July, then against Wales in August in Canada and against Fiji in September.
“This will allow us to validate the first game plans. We just want to match and see. This preparation is, in a way, the beginning of the end of the road,” says Rouet.
On the weekend of 21-22 May, Rouet wasn’t far from the Ernest-Wallon Stadium in Toulouse which played host to the HSBC Toulouse Sevens. He was there as a neighbour, as he was finishing a stint with Bordeaux before flying to New Zealand.
“I wasn’t there in recruitment mode,” he says. “We have a good relationship with the sevens coach; we work together and I know the players very well. We have the will to make the sevens and the XV work together, to rebuild a programme, a culture. We are in a good place.”