BC Bear's Mike Nieuwenhuysen prepares to fend off a Prairie Wolfpack player during the 2017 CRC Match at UBC Thunderbird Stadium. (Photo Credit Ilanna Barkusky, Courtesy of BC Rugby)

BC Rugby is proud to announce the BC Bears team ahead of their opening match in the 2018 Canadian Rugby Championships (CRCs), sponsored by Langara Fishing Adventures.  Lead by Victoria’s Luke Campbell, the team will kick off the defence of their 2017 CRC title on the very pitch that they won the coveted MacTier Cup last summer.  They will face Prairie Wolfpack, with the match will be hosted at Calgary Rugby Park on July 27 and is set to kick off at 7pm (MDT)/6pm (PT).

The BC Bears won last year’s CRC campaign with a flawless run, undefeated in the whole tournament, beating Ontario Blues in a nail-biting final by just a single point (30-29).   Since then a number of the players in that 2017 team have gone on to play for their home clubs in an exciting BC Rugby Premier Men’s League, as well as take up roles in MLR and the Candian Men’s XVs in the America’s Rugby Championship (ARC) and the 2018 Summer International Test series.  Having only played together in BC colours once since last summer, this opening match against Prairie Wolfpack will be a real eye-opener with what is a much-changed side from 2017.

While a core of nine players from last summer’s side remains (Paul Ahn, Noah Barker, Luke Campbell, Dustin Dobravsky, Giuseppe DuToit, Doug Fraser, Craig McLaughlin, Mike Nieuwenhuysen and Shea Wakefield), there are a number of new faces for this CRC season.  That doesn’t mean they are entirely new to the BC Bears set up though, or indeed top level rugby.

Five of the named team have already played at the national level in 2018, including newly capped Jordan Sandover-Best (UBCOB Ravens) and Theo Sauder (UBC Thunderbirds).  Eleven of the side were also part of the BC Bears team that won against the British RAF in June (the RAF having already defeated Prairie Wolfpack just days before).  There are some rising talents as well, with Abbotsford’s Josh Theil continuing to show that top-level rugby runs in the family.  Theil played for Canada’s U20 Men’s XV team with his twin brother Jake and many will remember their dad Jon, who racked up 44 caps playing prop for the Maple Leafs.  Josh is joined by Liam Murray, Steven Ng and Fraser Hurst, all of whom had the honour of playing for the BC U23 Men’s XV earlier this year when taking on Canada’s Men’s U20 XV in an exhibition match at Abbotsford in May.

BC Bears coach Jebb Sinclair was cautiously optimistic when discussing this year’s CRC tournament.  “We’re lucky to have rugby action in BC year round, so we hope to use that experience to our advantage when facing opponents who have to sit out the winter season”.  It’s not all been straightforward though, as Sinclair noted, “These guys are so used to being opponents in club leagues for most of the year, so they have to adapt to working side by side.  The RAF match was a real plus for us, not only in terms of game time but as an opportunity to get things out of the system and start to build a strong team dynamic.”

Looking beyond the first match, the BC Bears will play a return leg against Prairie Wolfpack, this time on home soil at Klahanie Park in North Vancouver on August 3, KO 7pm (PT).  This will be the only opportunity for fans to see the BC Bears playing in the Province this summer, and the significance of that is not lost on the players either.  “For a lot of these guys, this is still a huge honor to pull on Provincial colours”, remarked Sinclair, “Only one game at home means the pressure will be on in that match to put in a really great performance, not just for the team but for friends, family and fans”.