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Rhys Patterson’s ‘It Factor’ – A Blueprint for the Future

Rhys Patterson has ‘It Factor.’

The product of Stouffville Ontario, recently-turned 18-year-old Patterson is the future of rugby in Canada.

The fast-paced Patterson has grown up playing rugby, primarily as a flyhalf, but he can alternate as scrumhalf, wing, or fullback. And he has a boot.

And he has more than his fair share of drive.

His rugby CV is as long as his arm. Not only has Patterson been on select teams most of his teenage years, he spent three seasons with Tyler Leggatt’s Upright Rugby Rogues and has travelled the world doing what he loves – learning from every experience.

Leggatt is a fan: “Rhys is very technically proficient. He studies the skill, always receives feedback openly, and constructively analyzes his own skill and performance with honesty and accountability. It is evident that he definitely does not like to disappoint himself, nor his coaches and teammates. You can see this in his pre-game preparation and at practice sessions. When others might be connecting, socializing and catching up, Rhys is often focused on a drill/skill and the technical aspects required to be successful. He is one of the few players I’ve noticed on the field and you can clearly say ‘that kid takes his skills seriously’.”

Leggatt was impressed with Patterson’s enthusiasm early on and knew that this was a player who was bound for good things, based solely on his drive alone.

Patterson played rugby every year throughout highschool at Stouffville District Secondary School but one – more on that in a bit.

He was deservedly awarded Junior Athlete of the Year in 2018. A popular player with his peers, a respected leader, a coach’s dream.

Robert Edmondson was Patterson’s coach throughout. He’s proud of his student. “His dedication and love for the sport is off the charts. And it is not a selfish ‘How can I get ahead’ mindset either. He is as passionate about the game, and learning the game, and helping his teammates understand the game as anyone I have coached in 20 years.”

Edmondson explained that last year there weren’t enough players to field a senior team. Instead of the “best rugby player in York Region, one of the best players in the province, a kid who now “plays for Canada” without a team to play on” sitting back and sulking that he couldn’t “show his stuff”, Patterson volunteered with the Junior team to pass on the love of the sport to the younger players and help them be the best they could be.

“He was early to practice, helped with tactics, taught the boys the laws, etc.” Edmondson adds. “You name it, he did it. All while maintaining a 90+ average in school. He is a phenomenal student. Add to all of this that he has dedicated his ‘free’ time to take courses and become an excellent rugby referee to help generations to come, and what else can you say? As an educator and a coach, he is the rugby player, and the young man, we wish we had more of. He is an outstanding ambassador for his school, his sport, and his community.”

You couldn’t expect any greater accolades than that, but they keep coming.

It’s clear that this is a one-of-a-kind individual. It’s also becoming increasingly clear that rugby is lucky to have him.

It’s likely obvious that Patterson doesn’t just play school rugby. He’s been with the Markham Irish since the co-ed days, and has always taken a leadership role, captaining (or sharing duties) in most of his notable years.

Coach Martin Coe offered this on the talented Patterson: “I have known Rhys since he was a U14 player with the Markham Irish and have had the opportunity to coach him for several years, in addition to following his success with the provincial and national programs and also at his high school in Stouffville. Rhys has always been an intelligent rugby player, but he has also always been committed to improving his skills. You could regularly see him either before or after practice working on his kicking, or other skills.”

Highschool rugby can enhance club rugby, Patterson says, but the biggest difference between the two is the culture. At the local club, your teammates are your brothers, whereas it seems the point at school is to get the W. A very different mindset to each, and the kind of observation that only a player who truly lives for the oval ball would arrive at.

Rhys’ Instagram account is testament to the dedication he puts in, and the time he spends just going over his drills on his own. Now, during the pandemic, it’s increasingly important for Patterson to maintain his fitness.

The amount of time he is spending on training maintenance is impressive. Patterson breaks down his routine: “I have been working out from home with the help of my local S&C coach Sean Allinson, and I work out in my basement gym 4 times a week. I try to get out and do 2 conditioning sessions and 1 speed session per week as well to keep up my cardio until we can go back to practicing.” That’s not all. Rhys heads out to the local field with Dad Mike a couple of times a week for passing and kicking practice. He says, “I’ve really been trying to improve on my kicking during quarantine, as it’s one of the areas in my game I feel I really needed to improve upon.”

Always working – always taking the learning opportunities offered to him.

One of those distance-training opportunities open to Patterson is Coach Robin MacDowell’s Online Skill’s Camp. Robin has known Rhys a few months but has known of him for a couple of years. He says “Rhys is one of the most exciting developing Canadian rugby players on the rise. He is massively devoted to his craft. Rhys has vision, creativity, and skills to back it.”

To the keen eye of MacDowell, who knows how to pick them, Patterson is one to watch.

MacDowell was impressed with Patterson in January when he watched him play with Canada’s U18 team. He says the youngster has “skills and creativity” and that his ability to “push kicks behind the defence to set up Canadian tries” was exciting to watch. He looks forward to seeing Patterson on the West Coast with the Vikes, transitioning into the mature player he’s destined to become.

Patterson is the kind of player that is so attractive to coaches like MacDowell for being that well-rounded individual; his focus is not only set on the oval ball, but on his studies and future plans as well.

His hope is to attend the University of Victoria this coming September with an eye on both rugby and the future, even if his freshman year begins with online classes. Patterson says, “UVic had the very two things that I was looking for in a school: A very good Kinesiology program, and a top-level rugby team. After doing my research, talking to Doug Tate and Robin, as well as visiting and running around with the rugby team before nationals, I saw that UVic could be a really good place for me as it had the high-level academics and rugby team. Victoria in general is just a great place to play rugby, if not the best place in Canada. The club rugby is more like the rugby overseas and if I want to reach my goals of pro and international rugby, then Victoria is the place I need to go to.”

Patterson was selected to the Rugby Canada U18 squad at the end of 2019, and spent some time with the team making his mark. It was the best time Patterson had ever spent playing, he says. He was enjoying every aspect of the game for the first time in a while, had forged great friendships, and thrived on the attention to detail which is the difference between national and club rugby. He remembers coming off the field at the end of his first game with a huge smile and telling his Dad he’d had a great time despite the nerves, pressure, and post-match fatigue he felt.

The goal will be to experience that level of elation again. And again and again.

He was due to attend more training camps and would have had more matches under his belt this coming summer. Alas – the dream is on hold… for now.

The global pandemic has impacted Patterson’s plans to play U19 rugby with Ontario and senior club rugby with the Markham Irish this summer. But as Patterson says, “I can accept that and get over it.” He says the same about losing out on grad and prom too, adding “I was nominated for valedictorian of my class and that kind of helped get my attitude up and keep pushing through this time.”

A temporary setback for the talented athlete. A disappointment, to be sure.

By now you have gleaned on to the fact that his coaches are beyond proud of Rhys Patterson; you probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the feeling is very much mutual. Patterson credits coaches with getting him to where he is headed. “Tyler Leggatt and Zack Lamacraft have been the two coaches who have really put their whole heart into me and believed in me. Without those two, I wouldn’t have the chance to play for Canada and for sure I would not have had the chance to go to UVic.”

Patterson further credits MacDowell and provincial coach Kyle Ripley, and offers that Sean White was instrumental in helping the young player with his mental game.

Young players who look up to a player on the verge such as Patterson will wonder who he holds as the gold standard. In terms of a role model who “dominates pro rugby overseas”, his reply is DTH van der Merwe. Added to the list are Wales fly half Dan Biggar with his style of play. “He is a loud leader with an incredible attacking and kicking ability, but he is also a solid defensive player.”

And closer to home, Patterson admires Toronto Arrows player Sam Malcolm . Here is a player, Patterson muses, who “didn’t make it professionally or nationally in New Zealand, but he comes to Canada and plays for a new pro team and he absolutely dominates even though he is one of the smaller players in the league. He has one of the highest tackles made percentage which just shows me how size doesn’t matter in rugby. His kicking game is also fantastic. He’s just one of those players that I’d like to be like one day.”

To that end, Patterson’s ‘one day’ is likely to kick off within the next five years.

As to the future, he’s looking to play as long as he can. He’d love to play in a World Cup for Canada, but the ultimate goal is to play professionally, here at home or overseas.

Patterson wants to be that player younger kids look up to, to illustrate to them, as players such as van der Merwe and others have to him that “it’s possible to make it to the big leagues even if you’re from Canada where rugby isn’t as big as it is in other countries.”

Then came the final word: “But for now, the goal is winning some national championships with the Vikes and playing U20 for Canada. “

Rhys Patterson has set his goal. My money is on him making it. Both in the short term and for the future. Patterson’s future is bright. So is Rugby Canada’s for having a player like him.