Season opens for newer, fresher B.C. rugby union

UVic Vike Jamie MacKenzie is the latest B.C. Rugby Union player to sign pro in Europe. Following his stint as scrum half for Canada during the Autumn Internationals

UVic Vike Jamie MacKenzie is the latest B.C. Rugby Union player to sign pro in Europe. Following his stint as scrum half for Canada during the Autumn Internationals

All eyes are on the men’s CDI Premier League as winter’s B.C. Rugby Union season kicks off this weekend.

Saturday’s matches are the first of the re-formatted BCRU schedule.

The new system was built to promote opportunity for 12 B.C. Rugby Union clubs to qualify at the CDI Premier League level.

It’s a big change, something that drew a lot of discussion from the voting members of the BCRU.

Two pools of six teams will play among themselves for the first half of the season. Second-half pools will be decided on March 5, based on the standings.

The key to league expansion was maintaining the ever-developing level of competitiveness with elite clubs like UVic, James Bay and the Meralomas.

But not all are for it. Coach Doug Tate of the UVic Vikes believes there’s many ways to promote competitiveness while expanding the league.

“For us, it’s not the best (format). I don’t know our schedule beyond March 5. I’m happy with the teams, but I’d like a set schedule.”

The Vikes men’s program is three rosters deep (premier Vikes, first div. Jutes and Norsemen) and organizing the travel is a major task, Tate said.

All four Victoria-based clubs are in action tomorrow, with the Velox Valhallians and UVic Vikes hosting Abbotsford and the Vancouver Rowing Club (Rowers) on their respective fields, one block apart. James Bay visit Jericho Beach’s UBC Old Boy Ravens and the Castaway-Wanderers are at Capilano.

Finding ways to grow the sport and raise the competition level is a constant question with the BCRU and Rugby Canada.

As an organization the BCRU is in a different place than other leagues in Canada. The amateur league is home to international players and, is often the first step for Canadians going professional. That includes UVic, which has a long-standing tradition for honing Rugby Canada talent.

“In terms of having the top teams play against each other, I think it’s a good question,” Tate said.

“The rich get richer, the strong get stronger, like the European super clubs that we see in soccer. How do we develop a higher level without hurting the small teams?”

Both Velox and UVic kickoff against their respective opponents at 2:45 p.m., Saturday at Velox and Wallace fields.

Vikes internationals come and go

The Vikes are home to plenty of international talent and have long benefitted from sharing Victoria with Rugby Canada.

Sean Duke, Adam Kleeberger, Nathan Hirayama, Beau Parker and Keaton Styles are all unavailable to Vikes coach Doug Tate as they’re on tour with Canada at the International Rugby Board Sevens tournament in New Zealand next week. Scrum half Phil Mack is also out due to injury. UVic also lost backup national team scrum half Jamie MacKenzie to Europe.

Back with UVic for the winter semester, however, are two of Team Canada’s forwards, captain Pat Riordan and Kleeberger (away with Canada’s Sevens)

Riordan studied the fall semester online while helping his original club Burnaby Lake regain their form with a winning fall season.

Kleeberger returns after a stint playing in New Zealand’s elite provincial ITM Cup.