Editorials

December 07 2010


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BC High School Politics: The SLS Controversy — Recruiting and Competition


[ed. comments below. A couple of readers pointed out the link for the document containing recruiting rules. It's on the BC School Sports website document "COMPETITIVE RULES & REGULATIONS" under Section B1 starting with the wording "BCSS is strongly opposed to the recruiting of student-athletes".]
posted Dec 7 2010

One of the stories to appear on the BC Rugby horizon recently involves the high school scene. The issue is that there are several schools who are going to boycott SLS (Shawnigan Lake School) for alleged recruiting violations. In other words some schools feel SLS has a stacked lineup and has used recruiting in contravention of the rules of the BC high school competition. The schools allegedly leading the boycott are SMUS (Saint Michaels) and Oak Bay, joining the boycott are Carson Graham and Earl Marriott.

For those new to BC High School rugby here is a quick refresher. There is an AA and AAA bracket for high schools and they are based on school size. Last year the AAA winner was Shawnigan Lake and the AA winner was Rockridge. There was also a Premier exhibition schedule where the top schools from both divisions competed against each other. From what I understand this year they wanted to create an Open Division to go along with the AA and AAA divisions and the exhibition Premier schedule was going to be dropped. There was a requirement that at least six teams entered the Open Division. Shawnigan Lake was one of the entrants along with GP Vanier from Comox and St. Georges from Vancouver. Oak Bay and SMUS declined and this is what seems to have brought the issue into the open with the allegations of recruiting infractions and an uneven playing field. From what I understand this does not affect SLS’s ability to participate in the AAA championship as the North Vancouver Island representative but the other schools will not play SLS in exhibition games as they did in the past in the Premier competition.

Some reader’s asked for my view on the situation and to open the discussion to BCRN readers for their input. So this is my view and I encourage readers to send in letters with a well reasoned argument for publishing.

The Laws are the Laws – The Rules are the Rules Approach

Some no doubt will take the route that this is what the rules say and therefore must be adhered to or suffer the consequences. I went to the BCSSRU website to search their constitution for the wording on recruiting. I couldn’t find anything. I’m not saying the ruling doesn’t exist, it just isn’t readily found. I searched for the word “recruit” in the “Constitution and By-Laws” and “General Rules and Regulations” and didn’t find any matches. So if a reader wants to take the Law is the Law angle perhaps they can quote the document and paragraph that pertains to this situation.

As for the general argument under this heading I’ll say something you often hear in rugby “Laws don’t change but interpretation does”. We’ve seen this in the laws governing the ruck, it’s human interpretation of the law by the arbitrator (ref) that in the end is the relevant factor. Going down this road I can foresee people arguing the wording and intent of the rule and I encourage those that revel in this level of argument to go for it.

I prefer to dwell on the next heading, “The Big Picture”

The Big Picture

The good book tells us the “meek shall inherit the earth”, on the other hand Darwin believed that competition was key to survival. I bring up these two divergent views to highlight that there are two basic ways to look at the big picture. A model that focuses on doing the “right” thing morally where competition is secondary, and another one where competition is paramount and whatever is necessary is the creed. The problem with the moral approach is it’s very subjective and depends on whose eyes you’re looking through; with winning and competition (and survival of the species) it’s easier to measure and define success... it’s basically more objective. I’m going with Darwin on this one.

I’m not going to censure someone who is perhaps playing “right on the edge” in interpreting the law — on the rugby field such a person is usually the player of the game. Richie McCaw is vilified by opponents for living on the edge of the law but he’s been the iRB player of the year twice in a row now. If David Roberston and SLS are living on the edge of recruiting to build a better program I’m not disappointed — I just wish he’d apply the same competitive spirit to his Directorship at Rugby Canada. I’m trying to be consistent in my stance as I feel the same way about the Senior Men’s Premiership and recruiting to build a stronger program is part of the game. If you want to win the 3rds or 1sts with local talent there’s no disgrace and it should be applauded but to win the top prize it requires more. The survival of the species in this case is Canadian rugby, that’s the big picture.

Darwin is also purported to have said “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” There’s been massive change in Canadian society over the last decades and rugby has to adapt in order to survive. It requires building participation numbers at the bottom of the pyramid but also building an effective elite identification and progression pathway. They’re two separate processes but there needs to be some synergy between the two and that’s not happening in Canadian rugby—that is the problem here as well.

If SLS are indeed building a super rugby program that’s outside the reach of local schools then perhaps they should look further afield for competition. I would love to see Shawnigan Lake play the two top US high schools. The Jesuit School in Sacramento and Highland High School in Salt Lake City have won between them 24 of 25 national championships. Maybe Shawnigan Lake and St. Georges could form a league with them in a home and away series format? Adapting to change—well this is the change event and what comes out of it depends on the people involved. I remember Napier School from NZ came through BC last year and crushed their opposition, they got a good game from Jesuit School in California and went back home with admiration for the Americans, their view of BC was nice mountains but the rugby is weak. I don’t like that. I don’t know why SLS didn’t play them but it was a disappointment for BC rugby.

Schools that want to concentrate more on participation than winning are a valuable resource as well and should be able to create a competition structure that suits their needs. I think the proposed new competition with AA, AAA and Open Divisions was a move to create that structure but not enough schools in BC were willing to try the Open Division, maybe it’s time to look further afield to find teams from Alberta and the USA who could make up a 6 team league with a couple of BC schools?

Anyway that’s my view for what it’s worth. If you send an email let me know if it’s off the record or for publishing (editor@bcrugbynews.com).



Rugby Canada Restructuring: Who Benefits, Who Loses, What You Can Do


[ed. I'll post letters on the subject over the weekend, please send to editor@bcrugbynews.com, also indicate whether you want your name used or to remain anonymous.]
posted August 1 2010

Well as most readers have probably heard Rugby Canada axed Morgan Williams and John Tait this week. A controversial move that they chalk up to restructuring. The reaction has been swift. National 7s team players are considering action, past national team players have expressed outrage and readers have asked for guidance on how to vent their anger towards Rugby Canada. Not all emails are negative however, Ryan Smith has come out in support of the administration. I'll post the emails both pro and con in the "Letters to the Editor" this weekend. First we’ll consider Rugby Canada’s position in this, Graham Brown sent me the following note, copied to the board, staff and Player Committee members.

Rugby Canada is in the middle of a significant restructuring process, one that includes transition, termination and the hiring of key positions. The 15s and 7s programs will be formally aligned and a formal residential academy program with full time staff will be created in Victoria. Full time strength and conditioning with rugby expertise will be integrated into this structure and a realignment of our national age grade programs will occur to support more capacity within the player pathway to U20. With the inclusion of rugby 7s in the Olympic Games, the coordinated relationship with Sport Canada, Own the Podium and the IRB is even more important. As such, High Performance expertise on a more administrative level dealing with our partners is required and more capacity within High Performance at the Head Coaching levels is also required. The focus of this restructuring program is the players. Once the full restructuring program within Rugby Canada has been completed, Rugby Canada believe better structures, better systems and better pathways will be in place to support the athletes not only on our current national teams but the future class of players coming through the Provinces and with the club and schools systems.

Once the full restructuring process is complete, Rugby Canada will be issuing a formal statement and release outlining the details of the restructuring process and the steps forward to continued growth and development of the game in Canada.

Regards,

Graham

PS Copied above are the following:

Rugby Canada Board of Directors
Rugby Canada National Players Committee Members
Phil Mach, Captain National 7’s Team
Rugby Canada Staff

Let’s take a moment to analyze what Rugby Canada are saying. I think the most telling sentence is “High Performance expertise on a more administrative level dealing with our partners is required". Basically this translates to "they want someone who is going to focus more on massaging their sources of revenue". I think it basically boils down to that, they're interested in securing more money to keep the bureaucracy alive and well funded and less interested in the players and on field performance. So the next line in bold "The focus of this restructuring program is the players" seems to be totally untrue, in fact they're doing the exact opposite, the focus on this restructuring is strengthening the administration level. They've basically said so themselves.

Also the statement "15s and 7s programs will be formally aligned" should set off alarm bells with Sports Canada and the Own The Podium program. It looks like a thinly veiled attempt to tap into new Olympic 7s revenue, again with the likely outcome of bolstering administration. There's nothing here for players and improvement of on field performance, it looks like a simple cash grab and power consolidation for those controlling the reigns of administration.

Even the promise of a residential academy in Victoria is something that is five years late. Take a look at the story of the Pacific Pride cancellation in 2005, the link is here. If you scroll down you'll see a Press Release from Rugby Canada of May 26 2005 where they state, "The Rugby Canada Board of Directors have announced their decision to put the operations of the Pacific Pride National Rugby Centre on hold for a period of one year". Well 5+ years later they're finally getting around to it, not exactly ones to keep their promise are they, and that's the problem. I'll post some of the emails that people are sending me (editor@bcrugbynews.com) and there is a lot of anger towards Rugby Canada, people saying enough is enough, it's time to do something.

One more note on the supposed player focus on this restructuring, perhaps small but I think significant. If you look at the note above from the CEO on the copied list, he mentions Phil Mach. Now I know Phil moves fast but his name is Phil Mack, when our star 7s player and captain is not known by the CEO it tells you something about the gap that exists in this organization. Don't be fooled, this was not done for the players benefit, it's about generating revenue and stroking the egos of Rugby Canada's main revenue sources the Canadian government and the iRB. The money will not go to the players it will go to sustaining and increasing the administration. It also gives them the opportunity to cull a few independent thinkers from their midst, people who want to win at any cost and will do what's necessary. That is not what Rugby Canada wants, they want people who will march to the beat of mediocrity. They may say different but their actions speak much louder than their words.

There's so much more to say on this but I'll let others say it in their letters.

I'll just say a few words on what can be done. I think it's pointless to talk to Graham Brown or Rick Bourne or the other Directors, that's been tried so many times and you'll just get a blank stare and something akin to "what problem". But if you want to try give it a go, here are their emails:

Rick Bourne rick@langara.com
Graham Brown gbrown@rugbycanada.ca

I think it's time to go up a level and talk to Sport Canada, Own the Podium, and iRB. Some points you may want to consider raising as a member of Rugby Canada:

- to Sport Canada - you've lost confidence in Rugby Canada as a NSO (national sports organization)
- to Sport Canada - is there a process for de-certification of an NSO
- to OTP - merging of 7s and XVs is not a good idea, in XVs Canada are ranked 14th and have been for a couple of years, down from 13th earlier in the decade. In 7s they are ranked 11th. If the proposed 12 team structure for 2016 is followed this could be the difference between making or non making the Olympics.
- to iRB - their money is creating an administrative bureaucracy that will not be sustainable by the Canadian club system. It is doing Canadian rugby no favours. Please review how the money is being spent in Canada.
- to all - you may want to preface the letter with a summary of the recent firings, in particular, Morgan Williams who had a successful season as coach of the Canadian 7s and is an iconic figure in the rugby 7s world.

The contacts for the organizations are as follows:

Sport Canada (Department of Canadian Heritage)
15 Eddy Street, 16th Floor
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0M5
Email: sportcanada@pch.gc.ca
Telephone: 819-997-0055
Toll-free: 1-866-811-0055

OTP (Own the Podium)
Suite 305, 150 Isabella Street
Ottawa, ON K1S 1V7
Tel: (613) 236.2052
Fax: (613) 236.3853
For general inquiries, please contact Main Reception at 403.202.6300 or
email info@ownthepodium.org
For media inquiries please contact Chris Dornan 281.703.4394 or
chrisdornan@ownthepodium2010.com

iRB
Mark Egan
Head of Development and Performance
Mark.Egan@irb.com

If you get any responses please forward them to editor@bcrugbynews.com



U20 Performance; BCRU AGM Motions; BC Bears and Navy; Women's Team vs USA


[ed. it's been over four months since I've written an editorial. Some will be happy, some disappointed by that fact.]
posted June 3 2010

U20 Performance

Well a week has gone by since the JWRT ended in Russia. This is the second tier competition for U20 supremacy, the Tier I championship takes place in June in Argentina and starts this weekend actually. It features the top 12 teams in the world, Canada isn’t in that group. We were in the group that was battling it out for positions 13 to 20 with the top team being promoted back into the top tier. There were hopes going into the tournament that we could win the tournament and make the jump back to where Canada belongs. After all teams like Tonga and Fiji we have beaten at this level and at the Senior Men’s level in the past. Our Senior Men are ranked 14th, ahead of Tonga, Russia, and Uruguay. So the thinking is this result will give us an idea of where we’re heading in our men’s program, up the ladder or down it. Well we came in 6th at the tournament placing us 18th overall in the U20 world. We were beaten by Russia and Uruguay and the Tongans are in the top tier, I’d say that definitely indicates we’re heading down the ladder. So what is the reaction in Canada to this? I haven’t heard a peep from Rugby Canada talking about the disappointing result and steps to turn around the program but that’s not surprising, they manage the status quo they don't criticize it. So if the people in charge don’t think there is a problem, you can be sure they're not looking for a solution. It’s disheartening really. The only hope for change I would think would be past national team players letting their opinions be heard, also grassroots supporters and clubs. You’ll have to light a fire under the people with the power to make change, that would be the Directors of Rugby Canada. Volunteers, good intentioned people, but not much stomach for change. If you feel strongly that change is needed I suggest you contact one of the following to let your voice be heard. You can also express your views in a letter to the editor@bcrugbynews.com

Rick Bourne – Chairman – Email: rbourne@rugbycanada.ca
David Robertson - Director - Email: drobertson@rugbycanada.ca
Mark Slay - Director - Email: mslay@rugbycanada.ca

BCRU AGM Motions

So with the BCRU AGM coming up there is a lot of activity as motions get proposed and circulated, the results will determine the look of the BC leagues for next year. Apparently the proposed relegation of the bottom three teams from the Premier is now dead in the water if my sources are correct. There are three options being looked at for next year:

1) 3 pools of 4 in a 3 week round robin. The top 7 of this group plus the BC finalists from last year move onto a top tier of 9.
2) 2 groups of 7, this would round robin into a top group of 6.
3) 3 groups of 5, moving into a top 9.

All of these seem to involve competition between a larger group of teams to start and then into a more elite group. They would all take place in the spring and the fall would continue to be sub-union competition. There would be no promotion/relegation as each club would have the option of participating the next year. If any reader cares to share more details on these options feel free to email editor@bcrugbynews.com

Another motion I've heard about is the limitation on carded players and imports. This was put forward by the Capilano I believe. There already is a limit on import players but this motion wants the total import/carded count to be four. Also the definition of carded to be extended to anyone who has been directly or indirectly carded in the last 24 months. I'm not sure if I have the wording of that correct and perhaps someone from the Caps can clarify. I know the Caps are really unhappy about the carded players being available to Island teams and I suppose that's at the root of the motion. I can't see the 24 month rule being carried as that would be an administrative nightmare and I have visions of the BCRU being inundated with complaints as teams have paperwork battles before hitting the field. Just what we need more paperwork and more reasons for clubs to point fingers. I was hoping there would be a carded team in the Premier league which would have solved the problem of Island teams getting them but that doesn't appear to be happening. 2011 is a world cup year so there will be a drain on club teams as their best players are called to national duty. A system of more equitable distribution of carded players would be good but I don't think it's wise to lump them in with imports as it's important to raise the playing level of the BC Premier league. We'll see what happens.

BC Bears and the Navy

One reader commented: "So the Canadian Navy turns 100 years old and to celebrate they invite navy's from around the world. The Pacific Fleet's home base is in Esquimalt so in all their grand wisdom the B. C. rep. team is playing The Royal New Zealand Navy in Vancouver so none of the Canadian sailor's will be able to take in the match now that is respect to all our hard working lads."

I'm not sure of the schedule of the NZ Navy team, they are playing on the 18th at Klahanie, someone heard about a game on the island on the 12th but that's not verified. Of course, Esquimalt and the Navy are having their Buccaneer Days on the 12th with the 7s competition taking the main stage. It would be great if the NZ Navy could have put a 7s team into that competition.

Canada Women vs USA

Talk about a well kept secret. Virtually nothing on the two games being held on the Island between Canada and USA. That's right Canada and USA are playing two matches in the build up to the world cup. One being on the 14th at Shawnigan Lake and the other at Bear Mountain on the 18th. I searched the Rugby Canada site for press releases, nothing, even the link to the Senior Women National team, nothing. Maybe women don't like publicity, maybe rugby women are all shy and retiring... yeah right. Seriously someone has to step on this one, just send me an email, "Hey Mark, can you help us out with publicity, here are the details", takes 30 seconds. I wish I was being paid to do Rugby Canada's publicity, couldn't do worse.



New Interpretation at the Breakdown?


[ed. comments below]
posted Jan 26 2010

Here’s an article worth discussing, another “interpretation” of the laws? First you should read this article from the NZ Herald "The rule tweak that could change rugby"

Basically the crux of the matter is this: "The 2010 rugby season, which kicked off at the weekend with Super 14 trial matches, has unveiled yet another vital rule change, this one involving the tackle area. As it turns out, what we will get is a new interpretation of the old rule, the old interpretation having been - according to a leading referee - incorrect anyway. Under the new Sanzar dictate, the player in possession will be given a much-needed advantage, because the tackler must now get his filthy hands off the ball and the ball carrier before jumping to his feet to dispute possession.".

There's been a lot of criticism on the policing of the breakdown, it has become a mess which has led teams to just kick the ball when they have possession in their own half, god forbid you should have possession because invariably the referee will ping you for holding on and your opponent gets a crack at 3 points. This has led to the aerial ping pong which does nothing to promote rugby amongst the masses. The attacking team needs some advantage to encourage running rugby. The southern hemisphere have decided to re-evaluate the interpretation of the breakdown rule which will give the ball carrier a fraction of a second more to put the ball back unimpeded, good on them, I hope it works out. The big question is how will the northern hemisphere react to this interpretation and will it lead to confusion in 2011. A question closer to home is how will the breakdown be interpreted this season in the BC Premier. Some referees are stickler for details and like to show off their "understanding" of the laws, these referees are usually the ones that get promoted and they will interpret the law within a whisker according to the latest dictates. Then there are the good old referees who interpret the law based on a mix of common sense and edicts from above, they're more consistent, less likely to be promoted because they are older (and wiser) but give fans a much better result. It's a strange world.

So what do you think, will this Sanzar ruling have any effect on how the breakdown is policed this season in the BC Premier, is it a good move, or perhaps inconsequential? Your thoughts to editor@bcrugbynews.com



Reflecting on the Russia v Canada Game: RC Financials $1.4 Million Admin Costs vs $134 Thousand Development


[ed. comments below]
posted November 29 2009

Canada defeated Russia yesterday by a score of 22-6, it wasn’t the best spectacle of rugby between 14th placed Canada and 16th placed Russia but Canada did enough to win. The encouraging sign is they didn’t fall apart in the last quarter as they’ve sometimes done against better teams, this time they left that honour to the Russians. The game was tied 6-6 in the first half but the Canadians pulled away in the second half using constant pressure as mistakes started creeping into the Russian game. The match report can be read at the Globe and Mail site.

Fans will be comparing the Canadian performance to the BC Bears performance on Tuesday where the Bears were victors 38-16 over the Russian team. BC played a much more attractive style of rugby and seemed to have a more positive attitude to the game compared to the Canadian team. I'm not sure of the reasons whether it emanates from the coaching staff or perhaps they're feeling more pressure as national representatives. The Russian team had four new players on the weekend, I believe, who didn't show up on Tuesday's roster and the weather was a factor (for both teams however) but overall there wasn't any real talent difference between the Canadian and BC teams that were on display this week. The conclusion then is that there are a number of players in the BC Premier who could make the transition to National team level even though they don't train full time or play Division 1 in Europe. I wonder if selectors and coaches are choosing the best players for the national team, this week's results might cause a few people to wonder.

One of the dismaying aspects of watching the game was the quality of the webcast. The audio was terrible and unintelligible. We spend $1.4 million dollars a year in administration costs (1 million salaries, 400K operations, 66K meetings), you would think with that kind of outlay we would get a better quality product for the flagship of Canadian rugby, the national men's team.

Actually once I started looking at the Financial Report figures (July 2009) it put a damper on the rest of the day. Lots of little questions, for example:

- We spend 1.4 million in administration costs but only $134K under the heading of development, and that includes refereeing, coaching, domestic, women, indigenous, safety & risk management, international agreements, and long term. Is it just me or does anyone else say, "cut operation costs by half and put $3/4 million dollars into development". [Academies listed as separate income and expense items for $136K]
- We receive $15K for indigenous development but none of it has been spent as of July 2009, who is giving this money and where is it being spent?
- We spent $160K to receive $165K in donations, a net plus donations of $5K, WTF, is someone using this as a slush fund to have fun while travelling to Hong Kong, London, etc. putting on dinner events. I'd like an explanation on this one.
- It costs about 1.4 million for insurance (1.2M) and registration (24K) and paying claims (120K) (remember when RC forgot to renew insurance and someone was seriously injured, we're still paying for that one). We bring in 1.8 million on the same ticket with 1.2 million to insurance but a whopping $400K for registration. Where does that registration money go? Well part of it was used to top up the CEO salary, that was one of the levies that the directors in their wisdom decided would be good for rugby in Canada. I'm not sure where the rest of the money goes, RC xmas party, travel fund, more meetings at luxurious resorts? Who knows, wait the CFO would know, that's another position we've paid for but are we getting any value for it? We get a general idea of where the money is being spent but no details and certainly no guidance on where it should be spent.

Only the directors would have the power to re-organize Rugby Canada and demand some fiscal responsibility, and from their track record, we're basically doomed. The only way forward, I see, is to elect some movers and shakers to the board, but Rugby in Canada has a dismal record with that. The Agents of Change thought they would bring in some talent to turn things around less than a decade ago, they made it about 10 times worse, they were all-stars at building a $1.4 million dollar bureaucracy, but that's about it. Well I suppose we could add making us subservient to iRB money and cancelling the Pacific Pride development program to their ledger as well. History will not reflect well on the role the Agents of Change played in rugby's growth in Canada. There is a good article on the history of rugby in Canada on the Mississauga Rugby website.

So have any ideas on how to improve the rugby scene in Canada? Drop me a line editor@bcrugbynews.com (please indicate if the letter is for publishing or off the record).



Sending Players to North Wales for Development: Solution or Another Slight to Domestic Rugby


[ed. comments below]
posted August 29 2009

Have you seen the latest article on the Rugby Canada site about sending Canadian players "into the North Wales Rugby Academy to bolster the level of players available to that region and at the same time increase the skill level of the imported players.” Sounds wonderful at first glance and of course there are the usual quotes from the usual suspects, “it's wonderful, it’s amazing, it slices, dices and if you order now we’ll throw in a second at no extra cost”. Let’s look at this more closely.

The first question to ask from a BC Rugby News perspective is how will this impact on the local clubs, a question that never seems to cross the minds of the rugby mandarins living off iRB riches. Already there is a drain on the best club talent due to national team and provincial team commitments. The latest iRB funded Americas Rugby Championship will run concurrently with the BC club fall season and unlike the mindset in the professional countries those players will be off limits to clubs during that time. So in New Zealand you’ll see Dan Carter and Richie McCaw playing for the All Blacks one weekend, Canterbury the next weekend and then the All Blacks again, you won’t see the same largesse from the representative sides in this country. And why is that, because the clubs have no leverage here, they’re not paying players and have no contractual say in the matter. The

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