May 28,2014 (ISN) – WEST VANCOUVER, BC – On Saturday, May 31 at Klahanie Park, Canada’s top senior men’s players from across the country will scrum down in the BC Rugby 125th Anniversary Fixture. Some of BC’s finest rugby players will be battling it out on the pitch while numerous BC provincial team alums will be supporting from the stands. One former BC legend – four-time Rugby World Cup participant Mike James – will be providing commentary for the live webcast being streamed on www.bcrugby.com.
James will be teaming up with The Province’s Patrick Johnston, providing analysis for the 125th Anniversary Fixture and breaking down the action. A former professional of 11 years in France with Perpignan and Stade Francais, James has been tackling the new challenge of commentary at BC Rugby events including CDI Premier League games and the BC High School Provincial Sevens Championships. We caught up with James ahead of this weekend’s match to discuss all things rugby and to get his take on the status of the game in BC.
BC RUGBY: The BC Rugby Union celebrates its 125th Anniversary this year. Can you talk a bit about what it’s meant to be part of the game at all levels?
MIKE JAMES: Rugby has given me so much as an athlete and a person. It is my pleasure and an honour to try and give back to the game. I started my rugby in BC Age Grade and senior Men’s competitions before I played overseas for 11 years. When I retired from France I wanted to share my experiences with the players and got into coaching my club BLRC and the BC Bears. After a 3-4 year stint of coaching I wanted to try the admin side and help make sure rugby doesn’t lose its cultural values of inclusiveness and camaraderie at the club level, and we continue to grow and develop rugby at all levels in BC. The commentating is a new twist and I hope I can help educate and entertain people while they watch the wonderful sport that is rugby.
BC: As a player, what was your greatest rugby achievement while playing for BC?
MJ: I had few occasions to play for BC due to the onset of professional rugby in the early to mid-90’s. I played in one memorable National Final at Brockton Oval where we beat Ontario. I scored a rare try off a set piece move – off a scrum where Gord MacKinnon popped the ball inside to me and I went in untouched from about 30 metres. A picture from the game showed the line break inside of Al Charron. Probably one of the few times that ever happened to Al!
BC: Who was the toughest player to have suited up for BC?
MJ: There have been many uncompromising, tough players that played for BC – and Canada for that matter. Gord MacKinnon was pound-for-pound the toughest rugby player I ever met. At any level.
BC: Best player to go on tour with?
MJ: I had the chance to go on many rugby tours and had many roomies. My two favourites are Dan Jackart and Ryan Banks.
BC: Fondest memory of playing for BC?
MJ: My fondest memory of playing for BC came before I was capped. Dave Brown – still with BC Rugby – had identified me as a 18/19 year old and invited me to play with some BC President Selections. He encouraged me to do additional interval training with him on his bike in Stanley Park. This extra work and attention to detail really helped me realize the work ethic required to play rugby at the highest levels and succeed. I am grateful for Dave Brown and BC Rugby for that.
Now for the hard questions…
BC: What would you say BC Rugby’s greatest achievement has been?
MJ: BC Rugby has had some significant rugby achievements considering the geographic and player base challenges we have always faced. Obviously, the Lions victory (8-3, 1966) is noticeable. The pride in which BC engaged touring sides is really a notable achievement.
BC: What do you see as some of the strengths of rugby in BC?
BC: I feel BC Rugby’s real achievement has been identifying and developing players that have gone on to represent Canada and beyond. All those players and their successes started somewhere on an age grade selection or provincial selection. BC Rugby can be proud of its contribution to high level rugby in Canada and beyond.
BC: What would you consider as areas for improvement?
MJ: Where BC Rugby can improve is continuing to grow the lower levels of the pyramid in rugby and continue to increase our critical mass. We need to engage and develop more young athletes to see rugby as a viable choice of sport early in life and continue to play beyond the teen years. BC Rugby has some very good rugby players that with right mix of culture and opportunity, will continue to flourish in the BCRU programs offered.
BC: You’ll be commentating the Canada vs BC game on May 31st. Any thoughts or predictions for the game?
MJ: I believe there will be real competition on the field for all players involved to cement their spot in selections for the National team. There is an enormous amount of pride to be chosen for BC to play in front of our home fans. There is a real rivalry between the BC players and those from the other provinces within the Canada mix. I hope the game is of a very high standard of skill and pace, and will be entertaining to watch.
BC: BC has a proud history at the senior men’s level that you have been a part of. How has the game evolved both locally and nationally since you played for Canada?
MJ: Rugby has changed since the mid 90’s and the onset of professionalism. All you need to do is watch the final phases of the European competitions or the Super 15 in the Southern Hemisphere. With professionalism comes the accountability of the athletes being incredibly well prepared tactically, technically and physically. Although we don’t have a professional league yet in North America, there is no reason why our competition can’t strive to be bigger, faster, stronger. It involves a greater commitment to physical training and high quality training sessions. That has to come from within.
That said, I feel we are fortunate to have a good level of amateur rugby here in BC. If everyone pulls in the same direction I feel we can achieve many great things together. I feel the game this weekend can be a reminder as to why all the work is worth it!