This Weekend It's About Sevens: But A Quick Word About XVs - Centralized Program Takes a Hit
Vancouver is alight with 7s energy this week. Great showcase for the event at BC Place, USA won their tournament, can Canada win theirs this weekend. One can dream. Canada did win a World Series tournament last year at Singapore, a first for the men in red. McGrath's men are doing OK on the circuit, middle of the pack, well lower middle of the pack in 11th with the 15th place team getting relegated. How do you say bye in Russian? Russia at 9 points are looking close to a sure thing. Olympic qualification will be on everyone's mind soon, top 4 teams in next year's series get automatic qualification. This is where we hope USA are very good or very bad. If they finish top 4 next season, we should qualify very easily in the regionals. If they don't then hopefully they'll be very off form as it will be Canada v USA in the Olympic qualification regionals. But let's talk XVs for now.
The centralized program took a hit this week with Francois Ratier resigning, stepping down, whatever euphemism you want to use. He's back in Quebec now considering his future. That doesn't sit well with me. He should have been given the head coach position as soon as Crowley left, a proven performer with the men's and women's national teams. Instead he was offered half a job as centralized coach, a job that never really materialized, a program that never really materialized. It really annoys me to see quality rugby people treated like that.
So where from here, the team is looking mediocre coming out of the ARC and going into an 8 month stretch before they play in the repechage and have to face Romania, the most likely outcome, and two other teams for the last World Cup spot. So what's the plan, that's a rhetorical question, I'm not sure if anyone has the answer, especially Rugby Canada. Once the lustre of this 7s weekend wears off, it's a question that needs to be asked a lot, and hopefully some answers will be forthcoming.
Let's start with the centralized program, some say it will evolve, some say it will dissolve. It brings up the MLR as well, it could be argued that the coming of the MLR impacted the centralized program. The Seattle Seawolves team have added a number of Canadian development players, it's good they're being developed in a professional environment (we assume) but has it made the centralized program redundant. If Vancouver and Toronto get franchises in 2019, will it be a fait accompli?
Let's talk MLR a bit, actually USMLR if you look at the branding. I'm starting to question how committed they are in expanding into Canada. There are plenty of eager USA metropolitan areas, the MLR folks basically drooled when New York came on board and it's the top story on their official website. Also a lot of verbiage on how they're going to make American rugby great, not much on Canada. If you look at their About Us page there are 10 references to America, 0 references to Canada or North America. Just saying maybe we should be looking at a Plan B, just in case. Is a Canadian league worth (re)considering? The Ontario Arrows tied the Houston Sabercats, the UBCOB Ravens defeated the Houston Sabercats. We have good teams north of the border.
When the Vancouver Island team were ready to take on the Seattle Seawolves, there was a buzz in the Island rugby community, 32 elite players showed up to make the team, Westhills Stadium was booked and my gut says there would have been a crowd of about 2,000 there based on community reaction. I still feel one of the reasons Seattle pulled the plug is that without their foreign players and national team players available they would have lost the match and when they realized that they acted quickly without consultation to cancel. So be it but it made people view the USMLR with a bit more skepticism, at least from a Canadian vantage point.
Still it is a shiny object and we can't stop looking, we're eager to see how year one goes and the Ontario Arrows are getting fully stuck in with exhibition matches. The top BC Premier sides, which are at the same level, a point proven by the Ravens, are still looking for opportunities to get involved, at least at the exhibition match level.
There was the story this week of a Canadian Club championship starting this year, that was good news. So where to from here? The crystal ball is a little hazy to tell the truth. Let's see what unfolds in the MLR this season but let's also consider options, just in case.
For me it's still, "Bring Back the Pride" in more ways than one. I see a T-Shirt in the making.