Written by: Mark Janzen
His last name is Beukeboom.
In Canada, that’s all you need to know.
He’s going to be big (probably 6-foot-5). He’s going to work hard. And he’s going to be one bloody tough individual.
Matt Beukeboom: Yup. Yup. And…yup.
“Matt is a very physical guy,” says Canadian men’s U20 head coach Jeff Williams. “He’s a no-nonsense guy. If you can crack a smile from him, that would great. He just doesn’t switch off. His level of intensity is what’s so great and he makes everyone come with that intensity.”
His uncle, Jeff Beukeboom, brought the Lindsay, Ontario clan into the Canadian sporting spotlight with career in the National Hockey League, spanning 14 years from 1986 to 1999. The 6-foot-5 defenceman finished with four Stanley Cups... and 1890 penalty minutes.
Since then, the Canadian sporting landscape has seen the Beukeboom name become synonymous with a few of the country’s toughest athletes and some of the best rugby-playing second-rowers. Matt’s older brother Brett, 27, who is 6-foot-5 and has become a mainstay in Canada’s engine room, most recently leading the senior men’s contingent into their World Cup qualifying series with the USA as a co-captain. Then, there’s his cousin Tyson, 26, who is 6-feet and who has twice represented Canada, as a lock, at the Women’s Rugby World Cup.
Now, there’s Matt, who is…6-foot-5.
Yes, of course, he plies his trade in the second row and, yes of course, he’s one of Canada’s tough-as-nails leaders in this year’s World Rugby U20 Trophy in Uruguay.
“Matt has no problem running guys over, sorting guys out, and laying the shoulder into guys,” says Williams, who also coached Matt for two years at Shawnigan Lake School on Vancouver Island.
He’s a rugby player’s rugby player.
Not surprisingly, that wasn’t always the case – hockey runs through the veins of every Beukeboom – but soon enough his focus turned to rugby.
“I was always more of a hockey player,” he says. “It wasn’t until high school that I made rugby my main sport and then Shawnigan really opened the doors to pursue a rugby career.”
For Beukeboom, 20, who has witnessed his brother carve out a career overseas – Brett currently plays with the Cornish Pirates in England’s second tier – rugby seemed to be his best bet to make it professionally.
“There was more opportunity with rugby,” he says. “The doors close pretty quick with hockey…and I was ready to start rugby.”
Canadian rugby fans should be thrilled he made that decision. After graduating from Shawnigan Lake in 2015, the younger of the Beukeboom rugby stars spent a year playing with Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Following that, he crossed the Pacific Ocean to join the Pau (Section Paloise) academy team that operates within the Top 14-based club. He’ll be back there this fall after signing a three-year contract extension this year. His end goal is the Top 14.
George Barton, who is Canada’s U20 captain and also played with Beukeboom at Shawnigan Lake, knows what it likes to play with and against Beukeboom. One seems to be the more preferable option.
“Matt has got to be one of my favourite players to play with, and one of my least favourite to play against,” Barton says. “He’s a leader and a high-class player who always has a big presence on the field. When Matt steps onto the field, he makes an impact and everyone kind of looks to him to get the train rolling.”
Like his brother, and like Canadian legend Jamie Cudmore, who has helped lay the foundation for Canadian rugby players in France, Matt has a full helping of that “grit” and “it” factor needed to muck it up with the best.
“Brett showed me that the basics can go a long way,” Matt says. “He’s a hard player, he makes his tackles and cleans his rucks. He showed me that hard work can take you far.”
On Feb. 11, 2017, when Matt was still 19 years old, he made his test debut for Canada against Chile in the Americas Rugby Championship. Two weeks later in Maldonado, Uruguay, Matt joined his hard-tackling brother on a test pitch for the first time. With Matt coming on as a substitute in the 61st minute of Canada’s contest with the Uruguayan side, the moment marked the first time the two brothers had donned the same jersey on the same pitch. A week after that, the brother duo started together, with Matt slotting in at flanker and Brett taking his regular role in the second row.
“That game against Uruguay was the first time ever playing on the same field together,” Matt says. “(Brett) helped me along the way and gave me a few pointers and just told me to stay calm and relaxed and to just play my heart out.”
Sounds about right. They’re certainly a duo cut from the very same piece of Ontarian fabric.
“You can’t teach size,” Matt says when asked about the success of the family tree. “We all seem to be pretty big and pretty tall. Also, the work ethic. We put in the hours at the gym and we really just try to outwork the opposition.”
With Canada looking to become the first North American side to win the U20 Trophy, one of the keys to their success will be a Beukeboom standing prominently in the second row.
Perhaps you’ve heard this story before? It’s a good one.