For a second straight year, rugby fans can see some of Canada’s top talents in action at the Americas Rugby Championship starting tomorrow (Oct. 11) at Westhills Stadium.
Team Canada, an assemblage of the country’s top domestic players – those not playing professionally overseas – takes on Uruguay in 15s play at 4:30 p.m., following a 2:30 p.m. match between the U.S.A. and Argentina.
“The ARC is a talent identifying tournament,” says Bryan Kelly, Rugby Canada national teams spokesperson. “Guys from this team will be selected to play on tour with the senior team (leading up to) the World Cup next year in the U.K.”
Some of the players wearing the red and white in ARC matches Oct. 11, 15 and 19 at Westhills will be familiar to local rugby watchers. More than a dozen play regularly in the CDI Direct Insurance B.C. Premier League, the hotbed of rugby in this province. The league has three teams: James Bay, Castaway-Wanderers and the University of Victoria, contesting matches locally.
Scrum half Jamie Mackenzie, who plays for the UVic Vikes and is playing in his third ARC – and second in Langford – says having local fans cheer on the national team is a major boost for the players.
“Personally, I’m just excited to be playing at a higher level than we usually get to play together as a group. But another really exciting part is playing in front of the crowd at Langford,” he says. “The support was amazing last year. It gives all the boys that extra little boost at the end of the game when we’re tired.”
Speaking of getting tired, the teams will play three matches in eight days, a rather punishing schedule considering B.C. Premier League teams play once a week.
“It’s quite tough on the body, but we’ve got a great training staff who work with us,” Mackenzie says of his past experiences. “After the game it’s all about recovery, getting the right food in and managing your body. It’s definitely a bit of a grind, but it’s so exciting and so fun you’re not really thinking about those kinds of things at the time.”
From a competitive standpoint, Team Canada will be disappointed if they don’t come away with three wins, he says, adding that perennial ARC champ Argentina is expected to give them their toughest game.
Head coach Kieran Crowley and his staff will be watching their players closely during the tournament. Their performance can help them secure a selection to Team Canada for the month-long European tour which heads out three days after the last ARC game. The tour will see Canada play national sides in Wales, England, France and Romania.
“The ARC is a pretty big stepping stone toward the level where you’re playing full international matches,” Mackenzie says. “It’s pretty big for guys who maybe haven’t (been capped) before.”
Last year’s matches at West- hills attracted large crowds and this year is expected to be much the same. Tickets are still available online at events.rugbycanada.ca or in person at City Centre Park in Langford, Spank it Sports in Saanich or at Tourism Victoria’s information centre on the Inner Harbour.