James Pritchard had hoped to be kicking in his fourth Rugby World Cup for Canada on Saturday in its tournament opener against Ireland in Cardiff.
Instead Canada’s all-time scoring leader, deemed surplus to requirements, will be cheering his teammates on.
He is not alone. Winger Taylor Paris (knee) and props Jason Marshall (rib) and Tom Dolezel were denied by injury.
The 36-year-old Pritchard was not picked for this tournament — the victim of a deep roster. With scrum half Gord McRorie able to handle place-kicking duties, coach Kieran Crowley opted for younger, more versatile options at fullback in Harry Jones and Matt Evans.
Pritchard said he had been “hanging on by my finger-tips” in the squad for some time.
“We’ve got some great younger players coming through,” the Aussie-born player said graciously. “Kieran had a very tough decision to make, in the end. Unfortunately for me I sort of fell on the wrong side of the sword.”
Crowley spoke to Pritchard at the beginning of Canada’s camp for the Pacific Nations Cup.
“From there, I sort of knew that it would probably take something special or an injury or something like that probably to get me on that plane to the U.K. So in the leadup to it, I probably had a month to digest what was coming.”
Pritchard, a father of two who plays his club rugby for Bedford Blues in England, retired from international play soon after the roster decision was made.
He leaves with 61 caps and 607 points from 18 tries, 104 conversions and 103 penalties.
Pritchard’s road to the Canadian team was a complicated one. He called up then-Canadian coach David Clark, a fellow Australian, prior to the 2003 World Cup, to see if he could be of service — given his Saskatchewan-born grandfather, whose father came to Canada from the United Kingdom to work on a farm just outside Regina.
He was having a beer with a friend who knew Clark when he raised the idea of reaching out to Canada. The rest is history.
“It was just a pure gamble … I wouldn’t have been surprised if nothing had ever come from it. Luckily for me something did and David saw some potential there and got me involved.”
He relishes the adventure that followed.
“Honestly, 15, 20 years ago, no one in the world would have thought I’d be where I am today. The opportunities that the Canadian Rugby Union and Canada rugby have given me, I can’t thank them enough. They’ve offered me a chance to play against some of the best teams, some of the best players in the world. And to have a career so long and fruitful.”
It was a bargain that worked both ways.
A world-class kicker, Pritchard — a personal trainer as well as professional rugby player — always came in shape.
His late grandfather Reg, whom he calls “probably the biggest influence” in his life, got to see him play for Canada. Reg coached a young Pritchard in a variety of teams.
“I pretty much owe not just my Canadian heritage to him but my love of sports and my drive and passion for it.”
Pritchard has one more season on his club contract with Bedford. He hopes to get into coaching after that.
“We’ve got some great some players coming through in the Bedford squad, more so in my position. So it’d be good to lend a hand and just sort of try and pass on things that I picked up and learned.”
Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press