Curry Hitchborn and Ralph McRae Start New Vancouver Rugby Team: Vancouver Highlanders
The new team, Vancouver Highlanders, will not play in the BC Leagues but will play outside the traditional BC rugby season from May 1st to August 31st. They’ll play in a competition called the RPC, Rugby Players Challenge.
Patrick Johnston of the Province wrote an article introducing the new team, that article can be read here.
Here are some key points on the RPC competition from the Vancouver Highlanders website.
- There will be no schedule of games issued by RPC.
- Provided they are financed, staffed and structured to compete at the highest level of rugby, there is no restriction on whether Teams are amateur, professional, national or regional representative sides. Teams may compete in any league or other competition outside of the Season.
- Challenges will, from time to time, be issued by one Team to another and, if accepted and sanctioned by RPC, matches will be contested under World Rugby Laws of Rugby Union at the time and place agreed to by the two Teams (Games).
- Teams must timely provide RPC with biographies of each player who joins or leaves the Team. Each week of the Season, RPC will determine and post Power Rankings for each player on its website.
- RPC will then determine Power Rankings for each Team (Team Rankings) based initially on the aggregate player Power Rankings, adjusted as the Season progresses for the on-field results in Games.
- A Team not completing the minimum number of Games in a Season will be penalized in the rankings.
The team also has some commitments to players, here are a few:
- To ensure access to top-quality facilities, training, coaching, competition, officiating, and education.
- To encourage and support the player’s professional development and advancement, whether in sport or otherwise, and tailor that support to the player’s specific abilities and needs.
- To provide financial and other assistance for necessities so that the efforts of the player may be dedicated to their personal and professional development and RPC and Team activities.
Innovation is good, something new had to be tried, there’s obviously big gaps right now between the BC club system and the national team. There’s some great talent playing in the BC Premier but it’s not getting recognized by national team selectors. Aaron McLelland is a great example, should have been capped years ago. Gradyn Bowd didn’t become great when he joined the MLR, he always had the talent but didn’t get recognized until he joined MLR. As a side note, he turned down the Spain trip due to work commitments, and that segues into a point about this new team, they’re providing financial assistance so players can focus on rugby. As a university coach Curry must have seen so many players leave in May to pursue summer employment so they could afford to live, now there’s a rugby alternative. I think it’s great and hope it thrives.
I’ve already seen people asking, “who will they play”. My guess is they’ll play teams that were in the Coast to Coast Cup last year, the Atlantic Selects and Toronto Arrows Academy, for a start. It’s unlikely BC will put money into the Coast to Coast Cup hosted in Halifax, they weren’t able to recruit a full team of BC Premier players last year and the cost/benefit analysis probably isn’t favourable. This new RPC Challenge format will probably replace that. Will USA MLR academies be interested, how about the Pacific Pride, would they consider continuing through the summer? The Glendale Raptors who dropped out of MLR and became the American Raptors have a model that’s not too dissimilar. They don’t play in a structured league but pick up “challenge” games throughout the season.
People keep wanting a Vancouver MLR franchise but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards, the investment just isn’t there and some of the top amateur players don’t want to put their life and careers on hold for a wage that in many cases isn’t a living wage. Some of the top rugby talent in Canada is in the amateur ranks and it’s being ignored by selectors, the Vancouver Highlanders may provide that extra piece of the puzzle to give some of these players more development and exposure outside the normal BC season.
There are a couple of questions though, I haven’t seen anything mentioned about live streaming which I think is essential now for any professional or semi-professional competition. Not just sticking a camera on a pole type of live streaming but quality live stream with commentary that the Rugby Network would be willing to pick up. TWU have done it, will the RPC get to that level. They mention in the Province article about the venues “The Highlanders intend to play most of their games at local rugby fields, with a carnival off-field atmosphere — think food trucks, the atmosphere of Vancouver Canadians baseball games — travelling with them.” The Vancouver Canadians belong to MiLB.TV where for $40 a year you can watch all their home games and “6,500+ other MiLB games”. I’m not sure the vision of local rugby fields and quality live stream will match up unless it’s made a priority, Klahanie could put on a quality live stream, Burnaby have proven they can, TWU have done it. I’m hoping the Vancouver Highlanders are factoring in the importance of promotion in the digital age.
I look forward to seeing how this rolls out this summer.