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Rugby’s stars need a place to play

There’s got to be some way to see more of Canada’s rugby team in Victoria besides at practice, or on the Premier League sidelines.

I took my toddler son to a rugby game recently.

We caught the later stages of a remarkable match and he sat on my shoulders, fixated.

Granted, he’s too young to know what it means to see Rugby World Cup players and possible future Olympians competing for local clubs.

For junior, the smash and hustle of 30 players chasing one ball is good enough.

Sadly (more like full-on crying, in his case), I had to cut the post-game interviews short. Taking junior to sporting events is a trial-and-error experiment on my days off.

Yet I still learned something new, thanks to some compassionate interviewees.

The Canadian Direct Insurance Premier Rugby League, which has featured nearly every player who has donned a Canada jersey in recent years – save for a couple of imports with Canadian passports – limits the number of nationally carded, non-homegrown players to three per team per game.

This, despite the opening of Rugby Canada’s new $1-million, high-performance training facility in Langford, which draws even more national-calibre players to the four South Island clubs.

Rugby Canada’s centre is a final step towards centralizing the national program on the South Island. It will provide training for Canada’s under-17 and U-20 teams, plus the senior sevens and 15s sides. It’s a boon for the local economy and athletics scene, growing Victoria’s reputation as a mecca for Canadian athletes.

Except from the sidelines, it leaves one wondering where the players are supposed to play in the meantime.

Every Island team in the CDI Premier League has found a home for migrating national players at one point: the University of Victoria Vikes, James Bay Athletic Association, and though they’re not currently in the premier league, the Velox Valhallians.

The B.C. Rugby Union approved the carded player rule by a 119-78 margin at its 2010 AGM. One club manager told me it was to prevent the “stacking” of teams with carded players they did not develop.

Doing the math, there are between 40 to 60 nationally carded senior players, with another couple dozen on the radar. Langford is the stepping stone to their international desires, and the Premier League is a stepping stone to Langford. Aside from about a dozen of those players playing pro in Europe, the rest rely on homes with one of the Premier League’s eight teams. That’s only 24 players walking into spots.

The Castaway-Wanderers benefited from an influx of eastern players hoping for a sniff at the Rugby World Cup when they won the provincial title last year. The Canadian team that defeated Tonga in the World Cup was heavily flavoured with that same CW team.

A stipulation to the rule says that carded players who are “developed” by the teams for which they are playing are exempt. UVic and UBC are also immune, because of their varsity status.

It means James Bay can throw national scrum half Sean White and fly half Connor Braid into the lineup at any time. And when national sevens captain Phil Mack finishes his time at UVic, he too will be free to play for James Bay. The same goes for the Castaway-Wanderers, with Michael Fuailefau and Beau Parker.

The rule does slow graduating Vikes with national team status from jumping ship to Island clubs, however. National prop Andrew Tiedeman and his Vikes front row mate Toby Peyton came to the Castaway-Wanderers from UVic this year. Tiedeman is CW’s new captain, while Peyton hasn’t played in the Premier League yet this year.

One would expect Velox to get a boost sooner than later, and hopefully it means their return to the Premier League next year. But that’s still only a few players. Perhaps the answer lies in a return of the Pacific Pride under-23 program, which was also part of the Premier League.

Whatever the answer, there’s got to be some way to see more of Canada’s rugby team in Victoria besides at practice, or on the Premier League sidelines.

Travis Paterson is sports reporter for Black Press Greater Victoria.