Same trophy, new game for Crimson Tide

Crimson Tide a new pathway for national rugby players

Oak Bay’s Shea Wakefield

Assuming his career as an up-and-coming rugby player continues to move forward, Shea Wakefield will have to say goodbye to his career as a lacrosse player.

The Western Lacrosse Association holds its annual entry draft in a few weeks but Wakefield, who could possibly go as a late-round pick, is hoping he’ll be too busy playing rugby to commit.

He hopes to be playing rugby during the WLA season this summer, or next, in the Canadian Rugby Championship.

“In which case, I don’t think a WLA team will be happy with me coming and going,” Wakefield said. “It’s not like I’m a first-rounder, so I’d have to work really hard just to make it (in the WLA).”

Wakefield’s path to provincial rugby starts this Saturday as the Oak Bay athlete be among 66 players wearing a Crimson Tide jersey when the Tide host the Vancouver Wave.

Westhills Stadium, the home of Rugby Canada, will host the triple header, with the senior women starting the day at 11:30 a.m., followed by the under-20 men at 1:15 and the senior men at 3 p.m.

“This is a chance for anyone not already on Rugby Canada’s radar to get noticed and for those guys in and out of the loop, too,” Wakefield said.

He would know. The 21-year-old forward, usually in the second row of the scrum, is in his second year with the Vikes.

Wakefield hasn’t worn the maple leaf but he trains three times a week with the national team’s development roster. And the path ahead of him is clear, starting with a good performance in the Tide’s two upcoming games. The next one is a road game Feb. 2 against the Fraser Valley Venom.

Ideally, playing for the Tide will help players get noticed for the B.C. Bears or Pacific Tyees, whichever provincial team happens to be playing in the CRC this summer.

The Tide will draw from the Island’s premier teams – Castaway Wanderers, James Bay and UVic Vikes – as well as players from first division sides Velox, Cowichan, Nanaimo and Port Alberni.

Standing out amongst the team of all-stars won’t be easy. There will be less structure than that of a Vikes game in the Canadian Direct Insurance Premier League, where Wakefield plays.

“It is a (veritable all-star) team but for now it should compare to a premier game because we’ve been together for a lot less time,” Wakefield said. “With only three practices, it will be a lot less polished.”

Without the chemistry and structure of a club team, defensive breakdowns are to be expected.

In that case, Wakefield sees personal athleticism as the way to get noticed. That might come as good news to the speedy backs, such Vikes “flier” Luke McCloskey, a St. Michaels University School grad, as they’ll be hoping to use Westhills artificial turf to turn defenders inside out.

“If we don’t have the patterns, we’ll be looking for guys to create stuff on their own. Players will have to work with what’s in front of them and not have it as scripted.”

Watching from the sidelines will be Tide manager Hans de Goede, who played for the team from 1972 to 1987, and was captain 25 times.

This time around, card carrying members of the national team are not permitted to play in the

McKechnie Cup. But it was different for de Goede.

“Back then if you played for Canada you were expected to represent at all levels. I played for my club (James Bay), B.C., and the Crimson Tide. If a higher level team was playing, it took precedent.”

According to the B.C. Rugby Union, the McKechnie Cup was last awarded to the Fraser Valley Venom in 2004. The Tide won it in 2003 and before that, the Pacific Pride under-23 team, which took part  for a few years.BCRU also states the McKechnie Cup, named for an Island doctor who became Chancellor of UBC from 1918 to 1944, was first awarded in 1895, which is believed to be the birth year of the Crimson Tide. The women’s Tide play for the Ruth Hellerud-Brown Cup, with national team selectors keen on finding new players. The U20 men will play for The Dunbar Keg with hopes of being selected for Canada’s entry to the Junior World Rugby Trophy.

sports@vicnews.com

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