by Neil Olsen
(ISN) – After ten years with Rugby Canada from the Under 17 level to the Senior Men’s Team, Canadian Hooker Ryan Hamilton has decided to call time on his playing days.
As the pressures of completing post graduate studies in law mount, as well as having to take stock of injuries sustained on the field, Hamilton has decided to focus on his life after rugby. He will be missed by his colleagues and teammates in the Canadian Senior Men’s’ team but leaves behind some great memories and a consistent track record of achievement and will remain a passionate supporter of the game and its continued development in Canada.
Hamilton has been playing rugby since the age of eight and has risen through the ranks to reach the top echelons of Canadian rugby, including playing in the 2011 World Cup.
Although his preferred position is hooker, Hamilton started playing as a back but by the age of 14 was encouraged to move to the forwards starting as a flanker.
At Rockridge High School, coach Tim Murdy, who also coaches the U17/U19s for Rugby Canada, recognised Hamilton’s potential and encouraged him to play at hooker. Murdy was instrumental in encouraging Hamilton to try out for Canada’s Under 17s program and although he didn’t make it on the first cut, determination and hard work paid off and six months later Hamilton made the U17 team.
At this point, buoyed by his success in the Under 17 programme, Hamilton knew he wanted to continue playing rugby at a senior level.
This influenced his decision to attend the University of Victoria for his undergraduate studies and get the opportunity to play for the UVic rugby team, which had an excellent rugby reputation both provincially and nationally.
At the same time Hamilton was able to continue his association with Rugby Canada playing for the Under 19 team while at university. In between university league seasons, Hamilton played for the B.C. Bears and this ensured he received further attention from Rugby Canada.
It was while at UVic that Hamilton met and played alongside Pat Riordan, who was captain of both the UVic team and the Canadian Men’s Team from 2008-2011. Hamilton really enjoyed his time with Riordan and found this workhorse of Canadian rugby to be a real mentor and inspirational figure. The two would play continuously together for several years.
“Pat was captain of every team I played on from UVic to the Canadian Men’s team, including my summer stints with the BC Bears,” Hamilton said.
While at UVic, Hamilton says that Riordan helped him develop the mental fortitude required by a hooker, especially at lineout time.
“I was a very committed player and used to beat myself up pretty badly if I had made some bad throws to the lineout but Pat really helped me work through this as well as stand my ground and not accept all the blame,” Hamilton said. “Sometimes you just have to forget that throw and move on to the next one. As a hooker you need to develop a pretty tough skin and the mental strength to stand your ground and Pat was great for that.”
2010 was a big year for Hamilton as that summer he got his first call up for the Canadian Men’s Senior Team to play in the Churchill Cup in Denver against Uruguay.
Hamilton remembers the emotion of getting his first jersey the night before the game from none other than Riordan. Hamilton played the last ten minutes of that match, which Canada went on to win comfortably, 48-6.
In 2011, Hamilton was selected to be part of the Senior Men’s squad to play in the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
Hamilton played in all four of Canada’s games at the tournament. For Hamilton, undoubtedly the highlight of those weeks in New Zealand was Canada’s opening match and a thrilling win over Tonga, but also the incredible support both from Canadian supporters and other fans and locals that the Canadian team received throughout the tournament.
“We had some tough games, especially against New Zealand and France, but in the French game we felt we really competed and thus of the two games we lost, that was probably the hardest one to take – but the support was amazing,” he said.
Hamilton felt the camaraderie amongst the Canadian team at the 2011 World Cup was quite special and something that coach Kieran Crowley was instrumental in developing. Furthermore, manager Gareth Rees and the rest of the coaching staff were also very supportive and did a superb job of managing the pressure the team was under while in New Zealand.
“There were lots of highs and lows during those five weeks but the experience itself was really positive and one I will always remember and value,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton would make nine more appearances for Canada after the World Cup as well as spending six months in New Zealand at the beginning of 2013, playing on a tryout for Taranaki for the ITM Cup.
Hamilton said his time in New Zealand was one of the highlights of his rugby career and Crowley played a big part in encouraging and supporting his decision to go to New Zealand.
“There is a good setup at Rugby Canada that benefits from an exceptional trust between players and coaches,” Hamilton said.
On returning from New Zealand, and after playing in Canada’s summer matches in 2013, including the game against Ireland, Hamilton decided to return to school and work on a law degree. The 26-year-old made a total of 17 appearances for the Senior Men’s side.
He also felt he needed some time to recover from a run of injuries picked up in 2012/13. Given that the subject of concussion as a sport related injury has been highlighted in the media recently, Hamilton felt from his own experience with the injury that Rugby Canada is at the forefront of doing everything it can in terms of player welfare and education on the subject.
Furthermore he feels that the support given by management and coaches places a primary emphasis on letting the players make decisions about their fitness levels and whether they should be playing/training or not.
“I never felt any pressure from the coaches to play if I didn’t feel I was at my best and the system is very supportive of putting the player’s health and welfare first and foremost without any question,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton feels the new protocols relating to concussions being put in place by World Rugby are definitely a step in the right direction, as well as the education about concussions as an injury being done at the school level by Rugby Canada that will be instrumental in encouraging more young players to take up the sport.
In 2014, Hamilton felt that he had the time to make a continuing commitment to Canadian Rugby as well as having had sufficient time to recover from injury. As a result he was selected for the Canadian Men’s Tour to Europe in November and played in the match against Namibia that took place in Wales. However, continuing injury problems made him feel he was no longer playing at his best and after much thought he decided to call time on his rugby playing days and focus instead on his studies and other commitments.
Once he gets through his exams in April, Hamilton plans on spending the summer with the B.C. Wildfire Service and working out his next steps.
His commitment and hard work on the rugby field for Canada will no doubt translate into success on whatever path he ultimately finds himself on.
Although Hamilton feels it’s the right time to move on, it was still a difficult decision and he knows he will miss the team spirit and camaraderie that has been built up in the Canadian Senior Men’s team.
He feels this will serve the team well in this year’s World Cup and points to some promising recent performances against Scotland and Samoa as good preparation for this year’s global showdown for the Canadian team.
“Canada has a good core of settled players who know what needs to be done and what to expect, especially having played Ireland, Italy and Romania in the last 3 years, all of whom are pool opponents for Canada in this year’s World Cup,” Hamilton said.
Although sad to leave Rugby behind him for a while as he focuses on the next phase of his career, Hamilton has numerous moments to reflect on.
“[These were] some great memories of the best years of my life,” he said.