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Elite rugby players at home in Langford
For a group of young men and women living on the West Shore, breakfast is a scrum at Goudy field, and lunch is a workout in the Eagle Ridge gym.
Canada’s top rugby athletes have settled into their routine of training on the turf fields at City Centre Park, now the epicentre for high-performance rugby in Canada.
Players in the male U20 program say in the past, Canada’s international team would be mashed together with guys from either end of the country — a practice that didn’t make for a cohesive team. With one place to live, work and train, the nation is upping its international rugby profile.
“There is no other place that just focuses on training, conditioning and rugby skills,” said Jacob Rumball, 19. “Training five or six times per week, we are going to have better rugby skills, better endurance. There is no other facility like this in Canada.”
Luc Pearson, a 19-year-old from Ontario who played for the national U17 squad, said in the past he’d meet teammates selected from the West perhaps once before heading overseas. “We didn’t play as a team,” he said. “Now having B.C. guys and us together will make a huge difference. I can’t wait to see the results.”
The Rugby Canada administration and training office fired up the neon signs and officially opened in January, next to Bear Mountain Stadium.
Two turf fields at City Centre Park have been approved by the International Rugby Board, a rare asset in Canada.
Langford built the facility for Rugby Canada, which also includes a medical centre and gym in Eagle Ridge arena, for about $1.1 million, taken from a parks improvement reserve account.
Langford clerk administrator Jim Bowden said Rugby Canada is repaying the City for the administration building and training facility through a long-term lease agreement.
About 12 Rugby Canada administrators and high-performance coaches will staff the office full time. Male and female players will rotate through year-round for intensive training before travelling overseas for games.
For the 45 or so high-performance athletes, a typical day involves skills training and weight training in the morning, and homework and online university courses in the afternoon.
“The fact that players are here working together is exciting. Canada is definitely taking a step forward for success on the international stage,” remarked player Stephen Seccareccia, 19. “This is a great experience. I’ve got to thank Langford for providing this centre of excellence.”
Rugby Canada chair Rick Bourne expects Langford to play host to a number of international U20 test matches against Russia, Georgia and the U.S. this year.
“Langford is such a welcoming community,” Bourne said. “It’s built a field, a stadium, a medical centre and a gym. We are so fortunate Langford has a vision for the future, to look after young Canadian athletes.”
Rugby Canada has recruited outside talent to run the centre, including Mike Chu, who work for nine years with New Zealand’s national rugby program.
Chu, now the general manager of rugby operations in Langford, said Rugby Canada’s vision of creating a dedicated, long-term system to develop elite rugby athletes drew him and his family to Canada.
“The leadership is developing the culture and systems for success,” he said. “They want to create not a centre of excellence, but a sustained centre of excellence.”
Citing Canada’s rugby women sevens recent victory in Dubai and the men’s sevens gold medal at the Pan Am Games in Mexico, Chu said Canada certainly isn’t starting from scratch as a rugby nation.
“Canada is an emerging nation, but is going up in a very short time,” Chu said. (Rugby Canada) really wants to achieve. They want to get gold in the Olympics.”