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Written by: Doug Crosse
Photo Credit: Rugby Canada
He is as comfortable with the U-Valve under the kitchen sink as he is smashing past the gain-line on a rugby pitch. And such is the range of the mercurial Admir Cejvanovic, a player that is putting his hand up for both Sevens and Fifteens this season for the Canadian rugby team.
Despite his early athletic prowess, the practical side of the 27 year old saw him get his plumbing ticket a few years back, a trade he uses for friends and family, but one that is definitely a sideline while he continues his rugby career.
His story is one of a hard scrabble, beginning in war torn Bosnia during the Yugoslavian war in 1990. With over 100,000 people killed in the messy break-up of the Balkan region, it was his mother, Rahmana Cejvanovic, that ultimately decided the Croatian refugee camp they were in could not be a place to raise a young boy.
They landed in Canada in 1994, and that would be the starting point for the rise of this young athlete’s life, playing a sport that in his home country barely has a foot-print.
“I would definitely be playing soccer if I was in Bosnia,” admits Cejvanovic.
But it was the oval ball game that attracted him as a teenager in Burnaby, BC. As an 18 year old, he challenged for – and won – a spot in the premier league Burnaby squad, taking on the top players in Canada week in and week out. Then a coach suggested he give Sevens a shot.
"I never thought I would be a Sevens player, but I remember one of my coaches saying I should give it a go,” he told World Rugby last year. “I thought he was crazy, I was a number eight and ran around smashing into people, I don't have that finesse. But I got invited to a camp and it took off."
Now, talking with Ædelhard Rugby ahead of the upcoming test and Sevens seasons, Cejvanovic is poised to take on both codes as coaches look to break up the previous approach of players playing dedicated to either Sevens or Fifteens, but not both at the same time.
“What Sevens does for my Fifteens game is make me a lot quicker, so I feel very good and very comfortable getting over the gain-line with ball in hand,” he explains. “Anytime someone tells me - ‘oh you are getting too small, you’re losing too much weight,’ I say the benefits of running around someone is way better than trying to go through someone.”
That being said, the 27 year old is no shrinking violet. At six-foot-three inches tall and 242 pounds, he is working out in Langford with Damian McGrath and the Sevens team, but is also getting ready to participate in the upcoming World Cup qualifier series against Uruguay in February. He is also not ruling out a shot at taking on the New Zealand Maori All Blacks when they play Canada next month in Vancouver.
“I am waiting to hear from the coaches about what – if any – involvement I will have in that game,” he explains.
Cejvanovic is hopeful that new incoming coach Kingsley Jones will take the reins of the team and get the squad pointed in the right direction. With ten Canada appearances as a Fifteens player, he has some perspective.
“I hope he can help us get better because at the moment we are a majority amateur side, and it shows when we struggle a bit, but hopefully he can come in and change things around,” he offers. “The number one goal is to beat Uruguay, but that is not going to be a walk in the park.”
And he has a firm message for fans of the game in Canada that wax poetic about the Canadian team of the early 1990’s. Times have changed.
“If people think that international rugby is like it was in the old days, I think they are a little delusional,” Cejvanovic says emphatically. “Rugby is growing at a rapid rate right now, and the professional era is in full swing. In Canada, we need to be more aware of that and need to be fighting to make the game a lot more professional, instead of staying in the amateur era and kind of hoping for the best.”
While he admits the challenges are large for Canada’s Fifteens squad, strides made during his absence last year on the Sevens team has him very bullish about the future under Sevens coach Damian McGrath. He points to Canada winning its first ever Sevens circuit tournament in Singapore as the bell weather for what the team can do.
“The Sevens team showed that when you work together for the right cause and everybody is dialled in and we don’t have differing opinions on the team then you can achieve great things like a first ever Cup win,” he says glowingly.
Under McGrath, who is entering his second season as Canada’s Sevens boss, the trust level has been set high by the Englishman.
“He allows everyone to do what they are good at and to show some creativity,” Cejvanovic explains. “The last thing you want is to have an athlete go out and second guess his ability to break the line or his ability to make a pass.
“He encourages us to go out and show what you are good at, then you will start backing yourself and finding success all over the place.”
For now, he will borrow from his experience in getting his plumbing qualifications and take on a workman-like approach to preparing for and playing the game he loves.