VICTORIA – With more games than ever on the horizon, the UVic Vikes men’s rugby team is gearing up for an extremely busy 2017-18 schedule that will see them compete in an expanded B.C. Premier League slate as well as battle for a possible return to the Canadian University Championships, being played for the first time since the 1990’s.

Playing in multiple competitions, as well as the certainty of missing players due to national team commitments will test the depth of a Vikes squad that saw many key players graduate at the end of the season last year.

“We are going to have a younger team, we had a quite a few guys graduate,” said Vikes head coach Doug Tate. “That’ll be good though, we have a lot of strong young players coming up, a lot of good skill players coming up who have a year under their belt now.”

With players who have Canadian national team experience, both in the youth and senior ranks, up and down the lineup the depth of the Vikes should be more than up to the task of the gruelling schedule.

Tate pointed to Macbryan BosFergus HallConor Keys and James Pitblado as veterans that will be key if the Vikes hope to make the BC Premier League playoffs after narrowly missing out on a spot last year.

Playing in the top men’s league in the province offers some unique challenges for a Vikes team that is often out-sized by their opposition.

“We are going to spend a lot of time on defence,” said Tate. “It’s always a challenge for us defensively in the premier league because you are playing against teams that have a lot of mass. If you want to win, you have to defend.”

The Vikes dropped their first game of the season 24-20 against the Westshore Valhallians but have the chance to rebound this weekend, Sep. 16 at 2:45 p.m., when they host their long-time rivals James Bay.

“Sometimes the young guys don’t really know anybody in the league so they just go out and hit people,” said Tate. “There are some good physical guys coming up that were big surprises for us last year.”

The Vikes will have two chances to qualify for the Canadian University Championships.

The first will come when the Vikes play the UBC T-Birds on Sep. 23, with the winner of that game moving directly into the tournament hosted in Guelph, ON from Nov. 16-19.

The loser of the Vikes, T-Birds clash will then go into a four-team tournament against teams from the University of Calgary, Alberta and UBC Okanagan with the winner of that also earning a ticket to Guelph.