It’s going to be a tough turnaround playing two Canadian Rugby Championship games three days apart, but the B.C. Bears will take it.
The Bears host the Ontario Blues at 7:30 p.m. tonight (Aug. 30) and Atlantic Rock at 4:45 p.m. on Monday at Westhills Stadium.
Bears assistant coach Kenny Goodland won’t complain. Getting two home games on the same grounds as the Americas Rugby Championship, which runs Oct. 11 to 19, is a coup for the Bears.
“A lot of these players will be featured in the ARC, so it’s a chance for fans to get to know them,” Goodland said.
The Bears are in desperate need of a win, as the team lost its first home game 31-10 to the Prairie Wolf Pack on Aug. 10. Over 1,000 people attended that game, which was part of the National Championship Festival at the University of B.C.
“Having that crowd was a great start to the CRC season,” Goodland said. “We want to maintain that passion from our fans.”
Goodland is a veteran of the B.C. Rugby Union but originally hails from Newfoundland. He knows the effect a crowd can have on a game.
“It’s tough to play out there in the Atlantic. They always get a good rambunctious crowd that makes it difficult for the opposition. We’d love to have some of that.”
The Castaway Wanderers, Goodland’s home club for more than a decade, will be well represented on the pitch this weekend. Forwards Clayton Thornber and Shea Wakefield, and Matt Buckley and Jonny Morris will all see playing time. So will a handful of UVic Vikes and James Bay Athletic Association players, including homegrown Connor Braid, who will start at fly half tonight.
“Friday to Monday is a tough turnaround in rugby (a sport in which games are usually played a week apart). We have to be able to adjust and deal with some of the stuff on the fly,” Goodland said.
To compensate the Bears have 28 players on hand this weekend, though only 22 are named to the match day roster.
The big addition for Friday is Adam Kleeberger, Rugby World Cup veteran and B.C. club champ with the UVic Vikes. But a number of potential Bears who were previously thought to be joining the club have been made unavailable for selection due to mandatory rest until later in the CRC season, with Phil Mack, Sean White, Harry Jones, Nathan Hirayama and Sean Duke among them. The former were part of the Canadian team that qualified for the 2015 Rugby World Cup earlier this month with a pair of wins over the U.S.A. Many were also part of the Pacific Nations Cup in the spring and the Sevens Rugby World Cup in July.
It opens the door for fresh blood, and players who might not otherwise get looked at by Canadian coach Kieran Crowley and his staff, which selects the ARC squad based on CRC performances.
“It’s always a struggle in terms of getting these top-level guys on the field to represent B.C. with so much (summer) rugby,” Goodland said.
Enter Jonny Morris, an undersized winger from Esquimalt who grew up watching cousin Sipili Molia, also a back, win provincial club championships with the Castaway Wanderers.
Most Esquimalt Dockers followed coach Peter Rushton, now retired from that school, to Rushton’s blue-clad James Bay AA. But Morris was dead set on wearing CW’s red, blue and black hoops, and is now a regular with CW’s premier team.
“I always wanted to be with CW. I’ll play any position CW asks me to, but I’m happiest on the outside wing. Getting the ball at full speed is my favourite thing about the game,” he said.
Morris isn’t tiny for a back, Goodland says, but his size isn’t winning him the type of credit larger players tend to get before the game has started.
“Morris is fit but he could stand to gain a little muscle. He’s a naturally quick kind of player and very deceptive.”
Either way, Morris is living in the moment this summer, soaking up each CRC game with glee.
He was on the field for the loss against the Wolf Pack and wants nothing more than to redeem himself in front of the home crowd.
Morris likely start Monday versus the Rock.
“If I get to play one, or half of one match this weekend, in front of everyone at home, showing everyone here what I can do and who I play with, that will be one of the best moments I’ve ever had in rugby,” Morris said.