rugby canada

by Bryan Kelly

March 20, 2014 (ISN) – A ‘question and answer’ sesson between Bryan Kelly and Rugby Canada’s Mike Chu.

Hi Mike, thanks for joining me for the first Q & A session of 2014. We’ve had some great results so far this year with our sevens teams in Las Vegas, Wellington, Atlanta and Sao Paolo – is this a preview of things to come?

I certainly hope so!  Both teams have performed well this year, however we recognize that we are only mid-way through the World Series and there is a lot more to come.  What was pleasing from both the men and the women is that they had good results in back to back tournaments.  That is something that we are striving for – consistency of performance.  Our women were bitterly disappointed to lose to NZ, but the upside is that we know if we perform to our potential, we can beat any team.  The same goes for the men – we are no longer under-dogs and are embracing the raised expectations we now have.

Our Annual General Meeting is coming up in April. Tell me a bit more about the annual event and if there will be any guest speakers? 

This is an important event at which all the provincial unions are present and we have a lot of areas of discussion for example insurance, registration, dues etc, as well as some guest speakers.  This year we have invited Enda Connelly from the IRB who is the Team Services Manager, as well as Erin Kennedy from USA Rugby, and Tom Jones and Peter Horne from the IRB also.  We are also working on a Community Rugby Strategic plan and will be presenting a first draft to the provinces in April.  We had a working group representing the provinces, and led by Steve Norris and Dustin Hopkins working on this for the past few weeks.

The 2nd Annual awards dinner is happening in Victoria on April 11. How important is this event to celebrate the best of Canadian rugby & bring together the rugby community during our AGM?

This event was hugely successful last year and we are looking to make this event even bigger and brighter.  Kudos to Keith Gillam who was the driving force behind making this happen. There are some terrific players, coaches, provincial unions, volunteers and officials who will be rightfully acknowledged on the night – so if you haven’t already, get a ticket and come and support our Awards nights!

You were recently in the UK attending some important meetings. How did that go and is there any news you can share?

Yes, I attended a number of meetings with Tier 1 and Tier 2 countries to try and establish our longer-term fixtures list.  The bottom line is that we want more, and better quality fixtures for our teams.  Unfortunately we are bound by IRB Regulation 9, which only provides limited weekends each year in which we can access our players for fixtures.  For example, although we could play during the northern hemisphere window in March, this would make our Canadian players less attractive to European Clubs as they often fill the gaps left by international players called up for 6-Nations duty.  Also, the Tier 1 countries all have their fixtures locked in until 2018, but we don’t unfortunately.  So there are a lot of constraints that we have to work within, but there was also a lot of goodwill from those whom I met, including the IRB, to try and assist us.  I think people recognize we play a positive brand of rugby and are competitive with most teams in the world.  I also met with the IRB’s Women’s Rugby Manager Sue Carty to discuss the future of women’s 15s.  There is concern that some countries will drop their 15s programs due to 7s being an Olympic Sport, and the funding pressures that come with that. We are both strong advocates for women’s 15s, as we recognize that in a country like Canada, most of our 7s players originally come from the 15s game, and having strong programs in both forms of the game is mutually beneficial.  Sue, with input from Canada, has developed a women’s 15s strategy that will be presented to the IRB Board this year.

There’s some big events coming up for both the Men’s and Women’s Fifteens teams, let’s start with discussing the Women’s plan. The CAN-AM Series at Shawnigan Lake School and Westhills Stadium will be the first women’s Internationals in Langford since opening the Canadian Rugby Centre of Excellence. How exciting is it for you to have this event at the home of Canadian Rugby?

It’s been three years since our women played a home test match, so this is a terrific series to bring to Langford and Shawnigan Lake School – two of our major supporters.  With both teams looking to build towards the WRWC, this is an important event to finalise selections and test game plans.  I am really looking forward to this series, and to see how our players have improved since our France and England tour last year.  I know they have been working very hard on their fitness and skill development, so this will be a good marker of where we are at.

Following the CAN-AM Series, Canada will face Australia and New Zealand (x2) on tour to New Zealand. Being a kiwi yourself, what can you tell us about the level of competition our team will face and the importance of these fixtures leading up to the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Paris?

This is Canada Women’s first tour to NZ since 1999 – and I remember watching the Black Ferns play Canada on that tour in Palmerston North, my hometown.  It was a win for the Black Ferns back then – but I will definitely be cheering on Canada this time! Australia and the Black Ferns will be tough opposition, as this will be everyone’s last hit-out before the WRWC in August.  Australia have not played any 15s in this World Cup cycle, but they always have good athletes and will put a strong team on the pitch, whilst NZ are always tough at home.  NZ also play Samoa, one of the teams in our pool at the WRWC, so it is a good chance to scope them.  Also, this is an amazing opportunity for our players and staff to be immersed in a rugby culture.  While they are in NZ, there will also be a test series between the All Blacks and England, as well as the Junior World Championship involving the top 12 Under 20 Men’s teams from around the world, so there will be plenty of rugby for them to watch.  It is also a chance to experience some NZ culture, as the team will be based in Bay of Plenty, and I know that Meg Howat is already working with contacts in NZ to undertake some experiential activities.  I know our players are excited for this tour, and I am sure we will perform very strongly.

Canada’s Men’s Team will face Japan, Scotland and USA this June. I know there’s been a lot of discussion surrounding planning internationals leading into the World Cup next year – any chance of a sneak peak into the games that lie ahead?

A key goal is to provide a strong build-up to the RWC, but unfortunately there are too many balls in the air to give you any specifics.  First things first though, we need to perform well in June.

It’s going to be a busy summer for Rugby Canada, with events like the National Women’s League, National Festival, Canadian Rugby Championship U19, Women’s Rugby World Cup etc. all taking place. What are your thoughts on the summer that lies ahead?

I thought last year was busy – but this year hasn’t slowed down at all.  I think the Women’s Rugby World Cup in France is going to be a huge highlight of the year.  Speaking with the players, they are really excited about it, and are looking to build on the successes of 2013 at the RWC7s and Nations Cup.  We undertook a massive competition review last year, and have scheduled our main competitions now for the next 4 years.  We have also made some significant changes within various competitions to more closely align them with principles of Long Term Rugby Development (LTRD).  Internally also, we have a number of objectives, for example we are working hard on our Community Rugby Strategy as well as planning for the RWC2015, Pan American Games, Rio 2016, as well as developing our talent ID networks and age grade teams. There are a lot of key events coming up so we need to prioritize our resource allocation to ensure we meet our objectives. 

Mike Chu