Rugby amateurs take pro approach to World Cup

Pair of Castaway-Wanderers sign pro contracts ahead of Rugby World Cup

Castaway-Wanderers flanker Jebb Sinclair is tackled by James Bay's Phil Mack in a B.C. Premier League rugby game in 2009.

Castaway-Wanderers flanker Jebb Sinclair is tackled by James Bay's Phil Mack in a B.C. Premier League rugby game in 2009.

Pair of Castaway-Wanderers sign pro contracts ahead of Rugby World Cup

Before championships are won and legends are made, a player needs to make it to the top level. By signing a pro contract in late July with England’s historic London Irish rugby club in the Aviva Premiership, Jebb Sinclair, a Team Canada back row forward, has taken the next step.

It marks a new chapter in Sinclair’s career, one that’s brought him from high school in Fredericton, N.B., to spending several seasons developing with the Castaway-Wanderers in Oak Bay while earning 23 caps on the national team.

It’s a similar route taken by Chauncey O’Toole, another back rower who came from New Brunswick to the Castaway-Wanderers with Sinclair in 2007. In early August, a week after Sinclair signed, O’Toole put his name on a contract of his own with the RaboBank (previously known as Magners) League club Ospreys of Swansea, Wales.

For Canada, professional players like Sinclair and O’Toole are the exception.

National coach Kieran Crowley, a former New Zealand All Black, would love to see the day he can select an entire Canadian roster from overseas. But the duo are just two of eight professionally contracted players on Canada’s 30-man roster named to the Rugby World Cup, taking place in New Zealand, Sept. 9 to Oct. 23.

Rather, the majority of the national team comes from the B.C. Premier League and the Canadian Rugby Championship provincial competition.

“(Playing pro in Europe) exposes the players to the day-to-day rigour of playing at the highest level of competition seven to nine months of the year,” Crowley said.

“The games are at a level massively higher than anything in Canada. If we think our players are physically developed and capable of playing there, we try to get our players signing over there.”

Back to Sinclair, who celebrated his contract with his first international try in the opening minutes of Canada’s 28-22 win over the U.S. in Toronto on July 30. Sometimes known as Big Jebb for carrying 238 lbs. (108 kilograms) on a 5-foot-10 frame, he usually wears No. 6 for Canada.

When his agent told him representatives from the London Irish watched him play in June’s Churchill Cup in England, Sinclair didn’t want to get his hopes up.

“The (London Irish) said the Churchill is what got me noticed.”

Sinclair, 26, joined the national team for its November 2008 test window and toured Portugal, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

“Every player on the other team was a pro. I was thinking, ‘I can keep up here.’”

But Canadians get unlucky when it comes to signing pro contracts, he said. Just two foreign players can be named to a match roster in the Aviva Premiership, creating fierce competition for the remaining spots.

Of the eight World Cup-bound Canadians playing pro this year, four are in a division one below that of the Aviva and RaboBank.

On Aug. 8 Canada jumped to 14th from 16th in the International Rugby Board world rankings. The gains are the result of Canada’s sweep over the U.S. in the recent two-game Can-Am series.

However, it could be a lifetime before Canada has more players at all 15 positions, preferrably two deep, playing at the elite professional level, said Ian Hyde-Lay, a former national player who coaches the Castaway-Wanderers and St. Michaels University School teams.

Plain and simple, Canada’s up against a ceiling, with all 13 teams ahead of them in the world standings featuring fully pro rosters.

Getting there would take a complete overhaul, which could take as long as 15 years, starting from the bottom up, Hyde-Lay said.

“All we can do is put as much resource into developing the B.C. Premier League as best we can,” said the seasoned coach and former international referee. “Conversely, there are a lot of amateur players with a very pro attitude, who bust their ass, and that’s what we’re seeing. The hope is if you’re playing in Europe you’re there too improve but being there doesn’t guarantee anything.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A rockfall closes Finlayson Arm Road and West Shore Parkway on Friday (March 5) afternoon. (Twitter/BC Transportation)
Malahat closed due to rockfall

Section of Trans-Canada Highway was scheduled for intermittent closures today for rock scaling work

The Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
Tsartlip First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA revealed COVID-19 outbreak

Chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA Adam Olsen apologizes

E:Ne Raw Food and Sake Bar is closing its doors until further notice after sexual assault allegations against an employee surfaced on social media. (Google Streetview)
Sexual assault allegations temporarily closing a second Victoria restaurant

Social media posts accuse an E:Ne Raw Food and Sake Bar employee of sexual assault

Valerie St. John and Heather Forbes hold up paintings by Sheryl Fisher that were auctioned off at the Bridges for Women Society’s 10th Annual International Women’s Day luncheon. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria event raising funds to support women facing violence, trauma

Bridges for Women Society will host its 11th annual International Women’s Day event online this year

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to pair of lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend service, in Chilliwack, B.C., on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Lawyers for the British Columbia government and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are back in B.C. Supreme Court today, squaring off over the legality of COVID-19 rules that prohibit in-person religious services. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. top doctor has power to restrict access to a place during health hazard: lawyer

Under B.C.’s Public Health Act, Jacqueline Hughes says, Henry can restrict or prevent entry to a place

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
B.C. dentists and bus drivers want newly-approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine

BC Dental Association says dentists and their teams cannot treat patients remotely

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

President of the BC Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) Teri Mooring is calling for teachers to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by summer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Why it’s ‘urgent’ B.C. teachers get vaccinated from COVID-19 before summer

President Teri Mooring says not enough is being done to prevent virus transmission in schools

FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2014, file photo, endangered orcas from the J pod swim in Puget Sound west of Seattle, as seen from a federal research vessel that has been tracking the whales. A new study from federal researchers provides the most detailed look yet at what the Pacific Northwest's endangered orcas eat. Scientists with the NOAA Fisheries Northwest Fisheries Science Center spent years collecting fecal samples from the whales as well as scales from the fish they devoured. They say their data reaffirm the central importance of Chinook salmon to the whales. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Study reinforces importance of Chinook to Pacific Northwest orcas

Data confirms how central the big salmon are to the orca’s diet year-round

Most Read