Prince Rupert Seamen, Vancouver Rowing Club and Bayside Sharks cleared to begin registration for in-person rugby activity.Photo by BC Rugby

Three clubs have completed BC Rugby’s sanctioning process for the Rugby Re-Engage phase of Return to Rugby, and become the first clubs approved to open registration for in-person rugby activity. Vancouver Rowing Club and Bayside Rugby Football Club are the sides sanctioned in the Lower Mainland, while Prince Rupert Seamen Rugby Club becomes the first club sanctioned from the Northern region.

These clubs can now open registration to members wishing to participate in in-person rugby. Clubs participating in the Rugby Re-Engage phase will not hold any inter-club or contact activities, and are limited to activities that maintain physical distancing at all times, with rugby balls as the only permitted shared equipment. Sessions are limited to 50 people divided into small groups of 5-10, and daily attestation is required to ensure players are not participating if they have been exposed to a potential case of COVID-19. 

Prince Rupert is a true success story of grassroots rugby, building up an excellent youth program over the past few years. Despite the long travel distances to the nearest opposing club of over 140 km for boys’ rugby and nearly 350km for girls’ rugby, Prince Rupert has built a thriving youth rugby community. in 2019, Prince Rupert participated in the Kamloops Sevens tournament and fielded a team for a 15s competition in Abbotsford.

“We’re very lucky in Prince Rupert that we’ve not had any outbreak of COVID-19 cases, which no doubt has had an impact on our being one of the first clubs in BC to be sanctioned to return to practice,” said club Executive Member Jon Phelan. “However, the nature of the virus means that we can’t let our guard down or become complacent in the protocols that we have set up. Nevertheless, we’re looking forward to getting back outside to run around, freshen up on our skills, and find new ways to enjoy rugby within the current guidelines. The situation can change quickly so we’ll be staying on top of the local situation and continuing to work with BC Rugby to keep our practice guidelines current.”

Vancouver Rowing Club’s Director of Rugby Chris Seyler expressed profound excitement in being able to return to the pitch.

“We are beyond excited in taking the next step to be able to return to the pitch in a safe manner. The club has worked with BC Rugby to create a Return to Play Policy that will protect our members. Looking forward to throwing around the oval ball again!”

Bayside Club President Kevin Whitmarsh sees the restrictions as an opportunity to focus on skills and fitness.

“The biggest positive here will be having a perfect window to give a true attempt at a touch rugby model in the fall to showcase what that looks like when done properly,” said Whitmarsh.  “Most players just know it as what you do messing around in the first 15 minutes of practice, or as a summer activity where the majority of players have played all year and mainly want some time off. We think that by showcasing a fast, skill-heavy, fun and fun product, and an in house league with most of the bells and whistles of a normal season (standings, set teams, a draft, a finals day) we can engage our current players and attract new ones. We think there are a lot of players out there who will be less intimidated to try rugby with contact off the table who may catch the bug and stick around when we hopefully return to somewhat-normal soon.”

Whitmarsh encourages clubs to collaborate with each other and take advantage of available resources so that as many clubs as possible can return quickly and safely.

“Just set a meeting with BC rugby staff regarding programming and discuss your options ASAP, as well as discuss with other clubs. There’s no sense in every club separately doing a ton of work to come to very similar end results.”