Canada's national team heads into next month's Rugby World Cup with plenty of optimism and the realization that they can't afford to let their guard down in their opener against Wales.
Canadian hooker Aaron Carpenter said the Canucks must beat No. 8 Wales on Sept. 9 if they are to reach their goal of advancing past the opening round.
"That's the big game," Carpenter told the Brantford Expositor newspaper. "That is the team we need to take down."
World No. 13 Canada competes in Pool B along with No. 2 Australia, No. 8 Wales, No. 12 Fiji and No. 18 Japan. The top two in the group will advance to the quarter-finals.
Carpenter feels Canada should be able to beat Fiji and Japan. Australia are one of the favorites so that leaves Wales as the team to beat.
"Really, we're trying to advance to the quarter-finals. If we can get past our pool, it will be seen as a good success. If we go 2-2, it will be seen as stagnant. If we go 1-3, that won't be good."
Scrum-half Morgan Williams will pilot the team as captain while veteran Mike James will lead the forwards in France.
The 34-year-old James plans on retiring after competing in what will mark his fourth and final World Cup.
Williams is 31 years old and has been capped 51 times, including a memorable World Cup performance against France in 1999 where he scored a pair of tries. He also represented Canada at the 2003 World Cup.
The Canucks will have to make up for the loss of veterans Rod Snow and Josh Jackson who weren't included in the final squad named by head coach Ric Suggitt.
Other players to watch are props Dan and his brother Mike Pletch. When the pair started for Canada against Scotland in last year's Churchill Cup they became the first twins to ever start internationally in the front row.
Dan, who plans to go into teaching when his career is finished, has sacrificed his college plans so he could train for the World Cup.
"We're excited," Mike Pletch told the London Free Press. "All the domestic players in Canada basically took a year off from school or a year off from work to make this team. That's what makes this satisfying."
"I had to really think about taking the year off. This was my graduating year but the World Cup is only every four years and if you're lucky, you'll get two chances and anything can happen. It's tough to turn that opportunity down," he said.
Playing for Canada would be the ultimate achievement for utility back Derek Daypuck, who remembers getting up before the break of dawn to practice.
"This is the pinnacle of everything you play for, everything you work for up to this point," London, Ontario native Daypuck said. "Looking back, making this team would make all the 6am sessions under the headlights of your cars worthwhile. When you put it all together, this would be the apex of everything."
Canada have competed at every World Cup since the tournament was first held in 1987, posting their best result in 1991 where they reached the quarter-finals.