Pacific Tyees latest exhibit of how Langford has become Canada’s rugby proving grounds

Pacific Tyee host Ontario Blues for a Canadian Rugby Championship kickoff, 7 p.m. at Westhills Stadium.

Canadian centre Michael Fuailefau spins a pass out wide during the Maple Leafs exhibition win over the Ontario Blues at Westhills Stadium in April. Fuailefau is hoping to jump from this weekend’s Canadian Rugby Competition to the Americas Rugby Championshp in Langford next month.

`Rugby has come a long way in Langford.

City Centre Park was once but a twinkle in Mayor Stu Young’s eyes. Now it’s the home of the Canadian Rugby Centre for Excellence, an incubator developing the country’s top players.

The progression continues tomorrow (Sept. 15) as City Centre Park’s main field, Westhills Stadium, will host the Pacific Tyee against the Ontario Blues.

It’s the Tyee’s final match of the Canadian Rugby Championship, the annual regional contest between the Tyee (Team B.C.), Blues, Prairie WolfPack and Atlantic Rock.

And it’s happening on the same grounds as the international America’s Rugby Championship will take place between Canada, Argentina, U.S.A. and Uruguay, Oct. 12 to 20.

“(The Tyee) have been at it for three months now and we’ve tried to put together an inclusive program for the players and various coaches who’ve helped out,” said Tyee head coach John MacMillan.

A core of Oak Bay High graduates lead the Tyee, Phil Mack at scrum half, Sean White in the backs, Luke Campbell in the second row, and captain Callum Morrison at No. 8. White, a James Bay player, is out for this weekend due to injury. Assuming White recovers in time for the ARC, he and Mack (UVic Vikes) will be unavailable anyways, as they’ll be in Australia with Canada’s national sevens team. Same goes for UVic Vikes Nathan Hirayama and Sean Duke.

Despite all the national team talent, most of it in the Tyee’s backfield, it hasn’t been the rosiest of CRC competitions. But in 2012, the Tyee have just one win in four matches. Wouldn’t you know, the only win was against Ontario on Sept. 1.

“Outside of the results on the field it’s been a satisfactory result all around,” MacMillan said. “The win against Ontario means a lot for our old rivalry with Ontario.”

Moreover, Saturday is the final opportunity for players to catch the attention of the ARC selectors, national team head coach Kieran Crowley in particular. It’s why the CRC was developed in the first place, to give the country’s top 100-plus elite a chance to face each other on a regular basis. Professionals, of which Canada has less than a dozen, are not released for the CRC and ARC tournaments.

“We’re chasing a quality performance against Ontario,” MacMillan said.

In the previous win scrum half Mack scored three tries and Conor Trainor another.

“Of those four tries, we constructed one,” MacMillan said.

The rest were individual efforts, the likes of which even the best teams can not count on getting every game, he said.

Moving on up

One Tyee player who has come through the under-20 national team ranks is centre Michael Fuailefau. The 20-year-old is 6-foot-1, 220 lbs., and has represented Canada at the past two under-20 Junior World Cup Trophy tournaments, a product of the St. Michaels University School rugby program.

“ARC selection is something everyone involved here is hoping for,” said Fuailefau, who trains daily with a senior national team’s long list.

“Fuailefau will be in and among some pretty good company, and if he excels within that group it’ll be a positive indicator for him.” MacMillan said.

Fuailefau’s first taste of the CRC came as a winger against the Atlantic Rock in August, in which he played a steady 80 minutes, MacMillan added.

Against Ontario, Fuailefau will start as a centre. It’s his ideal position, where he’s played for Canada U20, the UVic Vikes premier men and will likely suit up for the Castaway Wanderers this year.

From the scrum

The Pacific Tyee, formerly known as the B.C. Bears, won the CRC in the competition’s inaugural year of 2009. The team’s rebranding is part of the team’s change in management, as it was previously run by the B.C. Rugby Union, and is now under the thumb of Rugby Canada.

The WolfPack lead the CRC with three wins.

Tyee vs. Blues

Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Westhills Stadium. For tickets call 250-391-1738, or visit Eagle Ridge Arena, 1089 Langford Parkway.

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