The Final Word for 2016: What is Working, What Needs Fixing and What to Look Forward to in 2017
[ed. comments below]
posted Dec 31 2016
Being the last day of the year it seemed fitting to pen some thoughts on the year we're leaving and the year in front of us.
Starting with the most recent news, the U19 team in California, I'm excited that there's more age-grade tours coming up in 2017 for U18 and U19 players. It's also time to reflect on the cost of raising an elite player, parents are carrying the brunt of this cost. The U19 players in California probably had to put out about $3K including the California trip and the 2 selection camps. So some respect and appreciation to the parents for all they do in preparing the next generation of players. This appreciation comes in many ways, for Rugby Canada it means try your hardest to get a live stream, to have social media updates, and yes, put out a starting lineup. It also raises the issue of the pay to play model and how many players can't afford the trip and what options are available to them. There's no easy answer to that but a strong club and community support network is essential to assist these players.
Speaking of pay to play model, kudos to the women for shining at the international level. The 7s team is well funded by the Own the Podium program and they produced a bronze medal at the Olympics, well done. More impressively perhaps, the XVs program rose to 2nd in the world by June after starting the year ranked 5th. They were overtaken by England in December but 3rd in the world when you've had to pay to play is very impressive. Also kudos to the Monty Heald Fund and the Canadian Rugby Foundation for helping to reduce and hopefully eliminate the pay to play model for the women's XVs program.
The Canada Sevens event at BC Place was a huge success and the organizers and the rugby community deserve recognition for making this work. Everyone is looking forward to year two in 2017. Also not to forget how well the BC rugby community supports the Langford events as well, in particular the women's Canada Sevens and the Americas Rugby Championship. There's always a good crowd even though not on the same scale as the Vancouver event. So to all the youth coaches who organize team trips to these events, to all the clubs that work their schedules around the events, to all the fans who fill the stadiums, well done and keep up the good work. Recognition should also go to the high school girls and their association for holding their provincial championships at the same time in nearby venues to support the Canada Sevens women's tournament.
On the men's side there weren't the same highs, the 7s team didn't qualify for the Olympics, there's been upheaval in the coaching situation and discontent among the players. The situation peaked when the players went on strike. Let's hope 2017 sees better results and stability. The men's XVs team came into the year ranked 19th, they exit the year in 18th, trading places with Russia a team they defeated in June. Unlike the women's team they are funded by World Rugby and don't have to struggle with a pay to play model.
Reflecting on age-grade rugby, BC can be proud of its result at the National Championships again winning most of the Gold. Kudos to all the clubs with vibrant age-grade programs, the coaches, parents, executive who keep BC on top in this area.
The U20 team didn't make the JWRT tournament, a disappointment and perhaps was the impetus for the increased age-grade tours in 2017. They lost to a 50+ metre penalty kick at the whistle, a tough one.
PRO Rugby appeared on the landscape in 2016, it devolved into a bit of a mess by the end of the year but kudos to Doug Schoninger for picking up the ball and making the initial hard yards. He put out millions of dollars with over 200 players on the payroll, he won't recoup a lot of that money and according to reports there are debts still owing. Still he moved the ball forward when no one else would, hopefully in true rugby fashion others will pick up the ball from where he placed it, ruck over and gain some more hard yards to further the idea of PRO rugby in North America.
The CRC continues to be a bit of a lame duck, supported by Rugby Canada, and half heartedly by others. BC hopefully will see the light and provide some leadership in finding alternatives.
We should also mention Rugby League in this article, they've put their hands up and are getting more attention in Canada. The introduction of the Toronto Wolfpack had a lot to do with that, Canada's first professional rugby team. We'll see how this works out in 2017 but they've introduced another pathway for aspiring rugby players. Also they've got a women's team entered in the 2017 World Cup in November and they'll be hosting the men's World Cup in 2025. Not a bad year for them.
So what's on the wish list for 2017?
Probably first on the list is that Rugby Canada starts recognizing domestic coaching talent and hiring from that talent pool. That would likely provide some stability to the men's programs that the women's programs already have. It may take another cycle of frustration before that happens however.
The women's XVs team are in a World Cup year so hopefully they'll be able to achieve the heights of 2014 when they came second.
The men's XVs team host Georgia and Romania this summer, and a third team, perhaps Samoa. A win over Romania would be sweet after losing so many close ones in Romania. A win over Georgia would even be sweeter.
The Americas Rugby Championship is February, a chance to see the top domestic players in action. In 2016 Canada came 3rd behind Argentina and USA but ahead of Uruguay, Chile, Brazil. 2017 wish is to move up to 2nd place by defeating Argentina and/or USA, both games at home.
The men's 7s team are rebuilding, a lot of veterans retired for 7s play. They currently sit in 13th spot. 2017 wish is to see them move to at least 10th and get into the Cup round in a couple of tournaments.
The women's 7s team are currently in 6th place, a fall from 3rd, so the wish is back to 3rd place, perhaps even beating out Australia or New Zealand for 2nd.
Overall for 2017, I would like to see the BCRU take a greater role in influencing change at the national level. I would like to see a shakeup at Rugby Canada with some belt-tightening and reorganizing to be more responsive to the Canadian rugby community. I would like to see more private rugby academy enterprises like Upright Rugby and MacDowell Rugby influencing growth. I would like to see other entrepreneurs come in to move the PRO Rugby idea forward in North America.
That's about it from the Editor's Desk in 2016.
May you have a prosperous 2017, may you stay on your feet in the ruck, may all your passes go to hand.