End of Summer Review: How is Rugby Looking in BC and Canada
It’s time for a quick reflection on where we are, rugby-wise, in BC and Canada as the summer of 2022 comes to a close.
In BC we seem to be doing OK, we won all the national youth championships this summer, the U19 Canadian Rugby Championship, the Canada Summer Games 7s, the U16 and U18 Western Championships, at the senior level we won the Coast to Coast Cup. We have the top two ranked men’s university programs in Canada, UBC and UVic, based on the National University Championships and UBC is hosting in 2022. We have the top two ranked universities in the CanadaWest women’s 7s, and two players from those programs just made the national 7s team and went on to make the World Rugby dream team in their respective debuts. The top Canadian MLR draft pick was Cali Martinez from BC. We have John Tait, the only Canadian coach to have led a team to an Olympic rugby medal, in a position of leadership at BCRU. The BC Premier looks to become even more elite this season with the removal of the import restrictions. So, yes, the outlook is bright for rugby in BC, from this editor’s perspective anyway.
As for Canada, it’s not looking so bright. The women’s XVs being the lone exception, as they carry the hopes of the nation for a top 3 finish at the World Cup this year. The men’s XVs is in disarray, they didn’t make the World Cup for the first time in history. They were pummelled by Spain in their last match. There was hope that a new CEO would bring a new energy, that he would clean house and send the men’s program on a new path towards the 2027 World Cup with a leadership team everyone could get behind. Unfortunately it seems the new CEO, Nathan Bombrys, has handed Kingsley Jones back the reigns of leadership for the men’s XVs program. Jones had faded into the background during the interim CEO’s tenure but the recent interview of Jones and Bombrys during the Canada U20 live stream sends another message. The realization that Jones and Bombrys spent six years together at Sale Sharks brings forth the possible scenario that the new CEO is getting his intel on Canadian rugby from Kingsley Jones. I’m not saying we’re doomed but it may take a cycle or two more than expected for things to get better, we may not have hit the bottom yet.
The U20 program was on a real high before COVID hit, Parfrey and company were doing a great job fundraising, they had camps that lasted longer, they toured to Portugal and won. They dispatched USA on a regular basis in the North American qualifiers. This year they didn’t even have a joint camp, just East and West selection camps. They came 3rd in a tournament they hosted, behind Uruguay and Zimbabwe. The U18s toured to Europe and lost to the Netherlands and USA. The U18s had been on par with the USA in their annual winter series in California. The whole national men’s XVs program from U18, U20 and senior seems to be in a funk, and that ties back to leadership at the top or lack of it. Exasperating the situation is the narrow focus by the national men’s XVs program on the Toronto Arrows and supporting their efforts in the MLR. If you listened to the U20 live stream commentary you would have thought the national men’s XVs program was synonymous with the Arrows and the Arrows Academy. It’s little wonder the European pros are not lining up to play for Canada or that we’re losing top players who don’t want to play in the MLR. There’s not a lot of optimism out there at the national level. The fiasco around the women’s 7s certainly didn’t help and both the men’s and women’s 7s are in a rebuilding phase, the men trying to distance themselves from the relegation zone in the rankings and the women trying to get back to a top 3 team.
If you focus on rugby in BC, supporting your local club and your local leagues, it’s a lot easier to be optimistic.