From the Editor's Desk - October 2019

October 28 2019


BCRU Presents Regional Rugby Proposal to Clubs: A League Above Premier for Pacific Pride, UVic, UBC Plus 3 Regional Academies

The BCRU presented an interesting proposal to clubs on Sunday, with a morning meeting in Victoria and a afternoon session in Vancouver. The following is preliminary information presented to the clubs in preparation for the meetings.

To deliver top-flight amateur rugby, the working group proposes to create a new regional-Academy competition for the McKechnie Cup. The competition will run throughout the season and include the Pride Academy, UBC 1st XV, UVic 1st XV and three to five regional teams that draw from a regional cluster of clubs.

The Rounsefell Cup would be contested through an amalgamation of the Premier and Division 1 Leagues, with no coupled ‘Reserve’ sides required for the Island-based Clubs and a self-declaration process permitted with Clubs demonstrating adherence to Team Eligibility requirements.

Division 2 would remain largely unchanged for Mainland & Interior based clubs but would be offered with an Island pool. No cross-over would be scheduled to keep time-commitment low for players & mitigate travel costs.

Division 3 would also largely remain unchanged but there’s a desire to re-establish the connection with the Interior-based Clubs’ summer league with the Division 3 reigning Champions contesting the Saratoga Cup each year.

A new 12-a-side league would be offered as a Fall-only and Spring-only league to provide a fun, competitive league for players not wishing to make a nine-monthcommitment or clubs trying to expand with a new team.

It should be noted that this is just the beginning of the conversation and the final proposal may look different if it goes ahead at all. It's not clear whether the approval process would require an AGM vote or just approval of the committee in consultation with the clubs. It's an interesting conversation to start at any rate.

The graphic below, part of the presentation, gives an preliminary overview of how BC Rugby sees their competitions fitting into the bigger picture in the future.

There are several ways to look at this, one that puts a positive spin on it, is to view the competition as an elite U23 Academy layer above the Premier. The Pacific Pride is a national U23 Academy in theory, although there will always be over age players at the beginning. UBC and UVic are basically elite U23 sides, again with age exceptions. The three (or more) Regional Academy sides could focus mostly on U23 but allow all ages. Practically speaking who is going to do the extra travel and extra training required with little or no recompense except dedicated young men who see a shot at an MLR contract or national team spot on the horizon.

These proposed regional academies would augment the club training, so if club training is Tuesday and Thursday, the Regional Academies would train Monday and Wednesday. A regional player would be expected to train with their clubs for the Tuesday and Thursday but travel to the regional training centre for Monday and Wednesday. The regions in theory would have 40 players in their pool, so 23 would play region on game day, the remaining 17 go down to play for their clubs on any specific weekend. If games are Friday and Saturday perhaps with careful player management both could be accomplished.

Who would run the regional teams, again that's up for discussion. In the last few McKechnie Cups the VIRU (Vancouver Island Rugby Union) ran its own team but the Vancouver team was more complex, Curry Hitchborn was the coach (North Star Rugby, UBC), Rick Bourne was the backer (UBCOB Ravens) and the Fraser Valley didn't put in a separate team. It's possible private academies like Northstar Rugby or the recently started Advantage Rugby Centre in Surrey could be the driving force. The situation is fluid as they say.

How will clubs react? Again hard to tell this early in the process but it's likely a mixed reaction depending on the club. Club concerns would revolve around numbers available for match day, not the extra training available on Monday and/or Wednesday. It would require greater numbers going into the clubs to support a regional layer above. Some of this may be augmented by high school players and out of province players seeing a better pathway available in the winter months to the MLR and the national team plus a training regimen approaching professional level with four days training plus paid regional coaching staff and hopefully top training facilities available for regional training days.

It would help if Rugby Canada backed the concept, not only behind closed doors but publicly.

As a "what if" excercise let's go through the numbers for a potential Vancouver Island regional academy run by the VIRU. Each of the Premier clubs (CW, JBAA, Westshore, Nanaimo) would have to put in around 8 "high potential" players, the Div 1 clubs Cowichan and Port Alberni would have to make up the other 8. If the regional traning facility was centrally located, say, for example, Brentwood College with their new state of the art athletic centre, then Cowichan would benefit greatly due to proximity and could put in 6 players and Port Alberni due to the distance, 2 players. Cowichan could be an example of a club that would benefit from this new proposal as they could attract players from across the country to play in an elite regional competition in the winter against the national U23 academy and yet be available for club duty on off weeks.

Then there are the questions about regional staff, a head coach, who is going to pay, will the BCRU put money into paying the head coaches? Will there be sufficient sponsorship money available to pay players at least travel costs to training? Is there enough of a player base, or more importantly a potential player base, to support the club leagues and the regional league?

It's an ambitious project, one that needs to be addressed in order to improve the quality of players entering the Canada/Canada A teams and vying for MLR contracts. One prediction is that there will be passionate debate over this in the coming months.

Pemberton Holmes
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