October 1, 2020 Victoria, BC ( ISN ) - File Photo - Phil Mack - Erich Eichhorn image (www.allsportmedia.ca)

Right across the Province, rugby has been safely returning with touch and flag programs for young and old.  The Return to Rugby in BC plan officially progressed to the Rugby Restart phase on September 1, and in just over a month, sanctioned clubs are in full swing. Membership numbers are high with over 3,400 players registered, over 30 clubs have had their COVID Safety Plans sanctioned, and many clubs have sold out their fall programs.

In line with guidelines released by viaSport BC and Rugby Canada, BC Rugby is following a segmented Return to Rugby in BC Plan designed to allow a gradual return to our sport that is fun & engaging, safe for all participants, and develops skills for an eventual return to full-contact play.

Under the current phase of the plan, all rugby activities are limited to touch or flag rugby, strictly outdoors, limited to one hour with no spectators permitted. Clubs have also appointed a COVID Safety Coordinator and key leaders have completed World Rugby online COVID-19 awareness training.

With these controls in place, clubs have been organizing in-house touch leagues, flag rugby programs and modified training sessions, all with limited cohorts and number of players on the outdoor fields. While numbers were slow at first, Clubs are now seeing success in welcoming returning players, and even some coming back out of ‘retirement’ for the non-contact games, as well as many newcomers.

Minis membership (players aged 11 years and younger) is up 13% from this time last season. John de Goede, James Bay AA President, mentioned that “the numbers increase in Minis has been a pleasant and unexpected surprise; playing touch has certainly made the game more attractive to some kids.”. de Goede also mentioned an increase in girls’ players signing up for rugby programs, a sentiment echoed by numerous other clubs including Comox Valley Kickers, who have sold out their junior girls’ program with record numbers. “I was a little hesitant that no one would want to play non-contact, but we’ve had our best numbers so far,” said Comox Director of Junior Rugby Operations Ona Thorington.

Central Okanagan Rugby Enthusiasts ran a touch league that ended this week with consistent turnout, and President Doug Manning emphasized that players stayed safe and enjoyed their return to rugby. “We held a consistent 60 participants, which we split into two, even cohorts of 30. The participants were excellent – they followed all protocols… we anticipate that we will run this again in the spring.”.

Servicing the Tri-Cities, United Rugby Club’s junior touch rugby programs sold out in less than two weeks, a record for the club. The increased interest in minis rugby has led to the creation of a separate girls’ minis program, a first for United. Elsewhere in the Lower Mainland, Burnaby Lake Rugby Club’s senior programs have experienced similar success, as well as Bayside RFC and Scribes RFC with their senior touch leagues.

Jon Phelan, Executive Member at Prince Rupert Seamen Rugby Club, says 10 of their new members are completely new to rugby, and women’s interest in the sport has increased, opening the door for a potential women’s team in Prince Rupert.

BC Rugby CEO, Annabel Kehoe, added “Thanks to all the sanctioned Member Clubs and their COVID-19 Safety Officers, we now have over 3,400 players back enjoying rugby.  On behalf of all of those players, I want to say thank you.”

Kehoe added, “I know that COVID-19 has given all of us many hurdles to jump over, and I’m so thankful to all of the Clubs’ volunteers that have taken on the challenge and are delivering safe, fun rugby to the BC Community.”

Prior to the pandemic, Touch Rugby has been limited to recreational adult leagues during the summer months but the strong numbers in youth and female players have BC Rugby excited for the expansion of the non-contact game for both young and old.

For more information on Return to Rugby in BC or to access resources for players, coaches, referees and club admins, visit the Return to Rugby Hub. To learn about touch rugby rules and guidelines on running touch progams, visit our Rugby Programming page. You can also see BC Rugby’s Touch Rugby Experts Panel on the Return to Rugby Videos page, and keep an eye out for more touch rugby content coming soon.

A list of clubs currently sanctioned for rugby activity is available here.