Rugby Canada announced today the establishment of the Rugby Canada Performance Academy, who will compete as the “Pacific Pride”- a national high-performance men’s academy program targeting players across Canada between the ages of 18-24 years who have been identified as having the potential to be elite players who can eventually move into professional and international rugby. Fully funded by Rugby Canada via existing centralization budget allocations, the program is nicknamed in honour of a previous academy based out of Victoria that participated in the BC Rugby Premier League from 1996 through 2005. The Academy will run approximately 10 months a year out of the Rugby Canada Al Charron National Training Centre in Langford B.C., and will field its first team in the 2019-2020 Premier League season.
With a view to improving Canada’s world rankings, and an understanding that success as a nation is tied to the number of players who are exposed to elite competition on a regular basis, Rugby Canada’s ambition is to increase the number of Canadian players playing in top professional environments such as Super Rugby, Top 14, Premiership and Pro 14, the newly established Major League Rugby and the World Rugby Sevens Series.
“We are committed to working with all Provincial Unions to create the conditions in Canada to help our young aspiring players develop, with a goal of eventually playing in top professional competitions,” said Men’s fifteens head coach Kingsley Jones. “Identifying and working with players in a daily training environment will help them make the technical, physical and mental developments necessary to grow into elite players who can be successful in MLR, sevens or abroad, and contribute to improving our senior national teams’ world rankings.”
“We are thrilled to be welcoming back a Rugby Canada Performance Academy side into the BC Rugby Men’s Premier League,” stated BC Rugby CEO Annabel Kehoe. “In service of developing the next generation of Canadian players, we look forward to working with the Academy and Premier Clubs to provide an ever-increasing level of competition for all Teams in the BC Rugby Men’s Premier League.”
At its peak, the original Pacific Pride program helped to contribute a majority of players that represented Canada at the 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 Rugby World Cups, including Canadian rugby legends from across Canada such as Women’s Sevens national team coach, John Tait, from Orangeville, Ontario, who in addition to representing Canada internationally played for the Cardiff Blues and CA Brive; Jamie Cudmore from Winnipeg, Manitoba and Squamish, British Columbia, who represented Canada in four Rugby World Cups (2003, 2007, 2011, 2015) and recently retired from playing in the Top 14 in France; and Kitchener Ontario’s Ryan Smith, who represented Canada at three Rugby World Cups and played for US Montauban in the Top 14 of the French National Rugby League.
Smith stated, “there is nothing more powerful for an aspiring young player than to have the opportunity to be in an elite training and competition environment with like-minded teammates who will push each other every day, and hold each other accountable to the highest standard of performance and conduct both on and off the pitch. In addition to preparing Canada’s most promising talent for a professional career in rugby, this Academy, like its predecessor, can play an instrumental role in developing a great group of committed alumni who will take pride in giving back to the game at all levels across the country, and play a foundational role in the continued development of club rugby – by Canada, for Canada!”
The new program will be largely made up of uncapped players from across Canada whose progression suggests they are one to three seasons away from playing senior international rugby. Evaluation and selection of players will take place by Rugby Canada on an annual basis in conjunction with the Provincial Unions. Evaluations will include looking at players who have come through the current age-grade national and provincial team systems, the various club and university leagues throughout Canada, and Canadian qualified foreign-based players. Selection for the 2019-2020 season is currently underway, and further information on the coaching staff will be shared in the near future.
In addition to a full slate of away matches in the BC Rugby Men’s Premier League, the intention is for the academy team to also play pre-season games against MLR teams in order for players to showcase themselves with a view to eventually graduating players into professional leagues. The Academy program is also designed to support the development of 7s, with consideration for select Academy players to train with the senior men’s 7’s team on a weekly basis.
“We have heard consistently over the last few years from our rugby community about the importance and value an Academy program brought to our sport,” stated Rugby Canada Chairman Tim Powers. “We listened and agreed. The return of the ‘Pacific Pride’ Academy will be key as we work to improve our world rankings in the coming years.”