May 3, 2014, Victoria (ISN) – An interview between Rugby Canada’s Mike Chu and Coordinator, National Program Communicator Bryan Kelly.
Hi Mike, thanks for joining me again. Rugby Canada recently held their Annual General Meeting at Bear Mountain in Langford. How was this year’s edition and what were some of the highlights?
Hi Bryan, it was a very productive AGM with some excellent speakers, including Gerald Davies, the well known Wales and Lions player, Enda Connelly and Tom Jones from the IRB, and Alberto Ruiz the CEO of Mexico Rugby. We are starting to develop a Community Rugby Strategy and had Erin Kennedy who helped develop and roll-out the very successful USA Rookie Rugby program present also.
The Rugby Canada Board of Directors and delegates from each of the Provincial Unions were all in attendance at Bear Mountain over the weekend. Were any major decisions made?
The major decisions were around insurance, registration, and finances, but there was also a very good session on the future strategies that Rugby Canada should be pursuing as we look to develop a new Strategic Plan for 2016-2020. I was very encouraged by the willingness of the provinces to provide us with feedback on how we are tracking, both positive and critical in a session run by Steve Norris. The provinces also agreed to invest a significant amount of money into Women’s 15s, Community Rugby and the new High Performance Facility and this was well received.
Canada’s Women’s Fifteens Team just opened their 2014 campaign with back-to-back victories over the USA at Shawnigan Lake School and at Westhills Stadium in Langford. How important were those two victories two open their World Cup year?
This is the start of a very good build-up towards the WRWC in France, and I thought the game at Shawnigan Lake School had some of the most skillful running rugby I have seen for a long time. I think Francois has really encouraged the players to express themselves and make positive decisions and this was reflected in some very well taken tries. The second match was very different, but the positive is that the team didn’t panic when behind on the scoreboard, and managed to close out a very difficult game against a much-improved USA team. I must add also that the support from Shawnigan Lake School and their staff was amazing, and really helped us to put on these fixtures.
How do you think we will do at the WRWC? Who are the other teams to watch?
I think the team is tracking well, there is a sound build-up in place for them. We are a bit light in a couple of positions, mainly due to injuries, but overall we have a strong, confident squad heading to New Zealand for their final preparation tour. I think the French have been big improvers, and they won the 6-nations recently, Ireland and Spain have also had good results in 6-nations and European competitions of late. England and the Black Ferns are perennial favorites, and we have England in our pool, so that will be a good challenge. We get the chance to play the Black Ferns and Australia soon, so that will provide us a good yardstick of where we are at, and the areas we will need to work on for the WRWC.
Canada’s Under-20 Men’s Team didn’t get the results that they were after in Hong Kong, narrowly avoiding relegation by finishing 7th. What are your thoughts on their tournament and what’s going to be done for next year’s IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy?
Very disappointing results obviously, particularly for the team as they trained hard for this event. We will undertake a comprehensive review, as we do with all our teams, and look towards what changes will be required. I haven’t had a chance to fully debrief with the coaches, or even watch the games as they were not streamed. I have been asked several times why Canada does not look to host this tournament. We actually submitted a host bid to the IRB last year, with the idea of hosting a pool in Langford and a pool in Vancouver. The IRB viewed our bid very favorably, unfortunately the cost of hosting such an event to the level required is significant, and had the potential to cost several hundred thousand, even with IRB subsidies. After a lot of internal discussion, and after we spoke with several other previous hosts, we made a decision to withdraw our bid.
It was announced last year that the Canadian Rugby Centre of Excellence would be getting a new High Performance facility across the street. How’s planning and fundraising going to get the project underway?
There is significant work going on right now with the support of many stakeholders. I am looking forward to more announcements in the near future, but in the meantime we are working through the process of finalizing specifications.
The next four months are going to be busy for Rugby Canada. Let’s start with Sevens: Canada’s Men’s and Women’s teams have both had fantastic years on their respective circuits, sitting 7th and 3rd respectively. You must be thrilled with the way both teams are playing heading into their final events in Glasgow, London and Amsterdam over the next few weekends?
Yes, definitely. Both our teams have been very consistent this year, and will want to finish on a high. Also, both teams have named some players who don’t have huge experience on the circuit yet, and who will benefit from some game time in the next few weeks.
Canada’s Men’s Team is in a difficult pool for the Commonwealth Games in Scotland, but overall we must be excited to showcase Rugby at the CWG?
Yes it’s difficult, but I imagine our guys are looking forward to the challenge of playing both NZ and the hosts Scotland in pool play. We know that if we play well, we have a great chance of being in the Cup round and competing hopefully for a medal. But many other teams will be thinking the same, so we will need to prepare well, and I know Geraint has got a good camp coming up prior.
There’s lots of non-rugby events happening this summer, with three golf tournaments, dinners and fundraisers taking place across the country. How does the money raised from these events go towards the National Team athletes?
This money provides a number of benefits including housing, travel, nutrition, supplements, access to more sports science support and so on. It is critical funding as every bit helps in order for our players to compete against better funded programs.
Canada’s Men’s Fifteens June schedule is a bit smaller than last year’s, but still some difficult opposition in Japan, Scotland and USA. What are your thoughts on June?
We only have two test matches at home this year, so I hope everyone comes out to support our men. We haven’t beaten Japan for awhile, so that will be a good challenge, and obviously Scotland is an exciting match for our players, to play a tier 1 nation in front of a capacity crowd at BMO is something they are very much looking forward to.
Finally, I understand you are undertaking a Community Rugby Strategy?
Yes, we have spent quite a bit of time developing a framework for the development and delivery of a new strategic focus on community rugby. We are also tapping into the expertise of other sports, as well as looking at what the USA did with their Rookie Rugby initiatives, which proved very popular.
Thanks, Mike. I’m looking forward to all the upcoming events and we’ll stay in touch until the next Q & A.