High Performance Rugby – August 2021

Introducing BC’s New “High-Performance” Competition and An Interview with Curry Hitchborn

We did a follow up interview with Curry Hitchborn on what was happening with “high-performance” rugby in BC, that interview is below. First some editorial observations, the BCRU, like Rugby Canada, is in some disarray right now. Aaron Takel who was the high-performance lead on the men’s side has left the BCRU to pursue a teaching career at Collingwood HS, we wish him all the best.

The BCRU isn’t providing leadership or providing a vision of what rugby should look like in the province, especially for players aspiring to play at a higher level, or wanting to play in the MLR. Into this void entered Curry and a number of other committed individuals. The league they created isn’t called the McKechnie Cup because the BCRU owns that and they’re not involved in this league. Some pundits have referred to the new league as the Not McKechnie Cup, with tongue in cheek, but I suspect once a major sponsor steps up the naming issue will be resolved. The level of play promises to be strong, it’s slotted into a time frame to become a MLR-preseason and attract players from across North America who are looking to get scouted by MLR.

The teams involved are the Pacific Pride, the traditional name for the Canadian National Development Academy. There are three University programs UVic, UBC and TWU. There are three regional teams, Vancouver (Wave), Vancouver East and Vancouver Island (Tide). The preliminary schedule is posted below.

BCRN: Hi Curry, we did an interview back in May on High Performance rugby in BC. Here is the link if readers need a refresher. During that interview we talked about the McKechnie Cup, it’s history and its role in high performance rugby in BC. Now we’re in August, can you give an update on what’s happening with the McKechnie Cup?

Curry: We have a competition, we’re not settled on a name yet but it’s not the McKechnie Cup.

BCRN: This high performance competition that will take place this fall, which teams will be entering?

Curry: The term “high performance” is a tough one for me. The aim of the league is to provide better competition in the Fall than what is currently being offered. When we started, it was tough to figure who was where and as it’s come along we have settled on a 7 team schedule for the “Pilot Season”. These teams make up the some of the current Universities, Regional teams and the Canadian Development Team (The Pride).

BCRN: Has a schedule been finalized?

Curry: It’s actually been finalized today. We have had a very easy time of figuring it out as we all want the same thing. Having Aaron Takel and Mark Lewis engaged in discussions helps us keep things transparent and moving forward from the BCRU end and Chris Assmus has joined in as well to get his ref’s games. We tried to link it with the BCRU 6 week end of Fall season but that schedule has yet to come out. I don’t anticipate it being forthcoming any time soon either.

BCRN: Are there any plans to live stream any of these matches, or have them available for later viewing?

Curry: I believe every game will be streamed. This is a key piece to managing future expectations as well as honoring some current and future sponsorship initiatives. There has been 5 offers to fund this to date and we’re all blown away by the amount of professional feedback we’re receiving.

BCRN: You would think MLR teams might be interested in tracking some of the players involved, have they been contacted and have they shown any interest in the competition?

Curry: I do, yes. The timing of this league is to take that into account. I have spoken to numerous MLR teams around this and so far the response has been fantastic. One of the key pieces is all players involved in this league MUST be registered at a club. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how this could improve rugby locally. The best example I can give would that this could operate as the “MITRE 10” to MLR’s “Super Rugby”. One day we hope to have people in a position where they can make minimum wage, get an MLR APC (part-time) contract but stay home and not get taken advantage of like so many young guys headed south and east. Play a bit of rugby, sleep in your own bed and see where it takes you. The MLR clubs are more keen on it than some domestic club administrators and you can see why. With these trainings being held on MON/WEDS and club trainings held on TUES/THURS, the athletes get a chance to train four days a week with different people and new coaches. Add in a few semi-pro guys from other leagues around the World or guys in the MLR looking to stay sharp and you can begin to see what this league will look like in the future.

BCRN: How have the local clubs reacted to this high performance competition?

Curry: Some clubs have seen the benefit and then some other club execs are still using words like “stealing players” or “what about the club competition”. It’s simple – get rid of Premier rugby in the Fall because it’s currently a waste of time. No one wants to play it. Under this league you run the Miller Cup on the Mainland and Times Colonist/Barnard on the Island. End mid November not into December. The idea isn’t to “kill” club rugby. It’s to try something new and when the BCRU doesn’t even have a Fall schedule out – I am happy at least some people are doing something. Club Rugby is a Legacy Institution that has to be relevant but change is hard and club rugby in BC simply isn’t what it used to be. It’s time to try new things that better reflect the people choosing to pay money to play our sport. Some clubs see it, some clubs are worried about club games that have yet to be scheduled in a 6 week 2021 Fall season. I know where I would spend my money as a player and continue to do so in the future. Because playing for your region costs nothing. And this competition isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

This pilot year is designed to streamline everything moving forward and ensure that we avoid a lot of the mistakes made in local club competition. Chiefly amongst that would be not relying on the BCRU or RC – at all. Happy to work with them but we are not inclined in the slightest to hand this over to either group. Especially now with all the issues both parties face. I am reminded of the words Phil Mack said the other day in a meeting on this – “We should have been doing this 10 years ago” and I agree. Time to look forward.

BCRN: If a player is interested in getting a tryout, do you have a list of contacts for the various teams?

Curry: Right now it’s Paddy Watson on the mainland for the two teams. He can be found at paddytwatson@gmail.com and is currently serving as the manager. For the island, it’s Sean White and you can reach him at Seanwhiterugby@gmail.com

Posted in Features.