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Written by Chris Perrotte
As a young Canadian boy, I grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada with my dad. We were watching the very gifted and talented stars create magic on the ice. According to my parents my first word was "Gee"; I was trying to say "Guy Lafleur" star for the Montreal Canadiens. Whenever I could, I found opportunities to play the game I loved. I even dreamed of one day hoisting the Stanley Cup. She was my first love and her name was 'hockey.'
Later in life, I discovered the game of Rugby. Out of curiosity, I headed to BMO Field to watch and cover Team Canada as a sports writer, as they hosted the Ireland team. I was amazed by the atmosphere created by the fans of the game who traveled near and far to support the team and share their Canadian pride.
Not only did I enjoy the atmosphere, but others did too. Eamon McBride, a native of Ireland who moved to Toronto commented, “great crowd, great atmosphere. Canadians are crazy about their rugby.” McBride was surprised by the enthusiasm of the fans: “It’s like one big rugby family and everyone has a bit of banter. It’s great fun!” The stadium was full to near capacity that day with family, friends, supporters and many who had played the game at one point or another in their lives. Imagine a sea of red as fans donned the colour of our flag and cheered our Rugby men into glorious battle.
Tyler Harper who had played rugby for the University of Toronto in 2013 said, “It’s awesome because we’re a pretty big rugby family. It’s good to come out and watch Team Canada play." Tyler even brought his father Glenn with him to share in the excitement and to create yet another family rugby moment. Here I was, at my first rugby game; I found myself suddenly intrigued by this sport, and I needed to learn more. At that point, I started inquiring as to the details of the game, treating Rugby as if she were a woman I was courting. I started viewing profiles of each popular sport to compare them to Rugby as if I were on a sports dating site.
First, I came across hockey. She was very attractive. She’s smooth, young, very creative and hardworking on the ice. She’s great to be with in person. But, she can be quite cold and expensive the longer you grow with her.
Then I spotted Basketball. She was sweet with near magical moves. Her crossovers made me weak in the knees. The way she glided to the hoop, it seemed like she could fly. The gifts she was blessed with however didn’t provide any modesty to her soul. She became arrogant, demanding, a ball hog. My skills weren’t good enough to hang out with her.
The next profile was Baseball. She was slow, sometimes boring, and mainly uneventful. I couldn’t keep up with all of her analytics and percentages. After all, I never was very good at math! She confused me. Making matters worse and even more frustrating, I could barely make it to first base with her!
Next on the list was Lacrosse. She seemed nice, with a great pace and zest to her game. She is a sweet mix of hockey and basketball. Although she has great qualities, Lacrosse seems like the forgotten girl in the corner. No longer mainstream or considered for a relationship. I couldn’t see myself with her for the long term.
Rugby! Sweet, beautiful rugby. Physically in shape, with plenty of stamina to endure the battle at hand. Watching her play allowed me to see her in non-stop action. Like the board game Risk she strategized how she would advance the ball up the field, overcome her opponent, and obtain as many points as possible. Being near her exposed me to different cultures and how they approached the game. I was intrigued with how they brought their love to the pristine field of battle.
I swiped right!
Rugby was a keeper. I had to learn more about this great game. But before I could do that I had to get some advice. Had to ask my boys (the crew I grew up with) if pursuing Rugby was a good idea. You know how it is when you find someone you like, you've got to get another opinion. Gotta know if that new love is worth holding on to.
First I asked my brother Glenn. I told him I was looking to pursue Rugby. I asked for his advice. He laughed and said, “are you crazy?! Good luck and play hard.”
I smiled. Well, I could always count on my brother for brutal honesty.
Next, I approached my friend Ulando with the same question. “Sky's the limit CP" he said, "you're only limited by the boundaries YOU set for yourself!"
Hmmm, very interesting. You see, I have never played Rugby before. So when I looked at BMO Field and saw the players' physiques, how athletically gifted they were and how physically demanding the game was, I hesitated for a moment. But the more I watched the game, the more I loved to watch its physical nature. I admired the teamwork and camaraderie on the field as they trudged through enemy territory to gain important points. It’s a fast paced game. Genuinely fun.
So in the words of my friend Ulando, if I apply myself there isn’t any limit to what I can do in Rugby. I just need to learn the intricacies of the game. The same sentiment was echoed by my friend Anderson: "you go and be the best you that you can be and be great at it! Enjoy!"
I most certainly will. I’m not the biggest physical guy, but do I have to be in this game?
My friend Bobby probably thinks so when I hear his comments as I inform him of my Rugby interest.
“Well, my son said he wanted to play football this summer and I looked at him and said hell no, too skinny,” Bobby laughs.
Speaking of football, she did approach me to ask why not choose her. After all, she feels she is very similar to Rugby when it comes to her style of play. She said, "I am very engaging, entertaining, popular, and lots of fun...and I look great."
I turned to Football, and using some parody, recited the words of a New Edition song:
“Oh Football I know that you're
Attracted to me,
And I should feel the same
There's just something wrong
I don't know what it is,
That keeps us from becoming a two.
It's not your looks, you're very pretty.
It's not your style, the way your uniform is oh so fresh.
It's not the way that you carry yourself.
Oh, Football, I'm sorry
You're not my kind of sport.
'Cause you're the kind of sport a man's dreams are made of
Oh Football I'm sorry
You're not my kind of sport
'Cause you're the kind of sport
That a man would be proud to call his own”
With that, Football went away dejected. Back to the subject. My friend Bobby raised an interesting point. Do I not have the physical attributes to be a rugby player? For answers I headed to the Ajax Wanderers clubhouse, a rugby organization that has been home for many local enthusiasts since 1979. I met with Stewart Dobbs, Director of Rugby for the Wanderers. One of the questions I asked him was whether it mattered what size my body is to play this sport?
“The one really good thing about rugby is there are all kinds of body types, all kinds of shapes. One of the things about rugby too is you don’t have to be the best to play, said Dobbs. “There are different levels of rugby. In the Ajax Wanderers, we have a very social element, [then we have] a midway point between social and competitive, and then a purely competitive side.”
Dobbs continued: "So for people that may not be as fit or as big physically as others, they can still play the game. Different body types suit different positions in rugby, which is really neat to have as well.”
Great, so now I know my body size doesn’t matter when it comes to participating in this sport. But what do I need to start playing rugby?
“The desire to play", says Dobbs, who has played rugby for over 20 years. “A pair of cleats is what you may want. (In this sport) you don’t have to spend $500 on a pair of skates, a stick, or any of that kind of stuff. A football helmet, nothing!”
“All you have to do is want to play the game and you will get on the field and play.”
I thought I might need a bit of a history lesson.
The game of Rugby was introduced to Canadians in 1864 at Trinity College. The first ever game in Canada was played in Montreal in 1865. Ajax Wanderers' history may not go back that far, however their history of sharing the love of rugby to the community stems back to Toronto in 1949. Started by immigrants from England missing the sport they love. Today, The Wanderers provide many levels for people of all ages, and both men and women have the opportunity to play rugby. From children eight and under to Senior Men and Women, if you have an interest, curiosity, or love for rugby, the Ajax Wanderers has the facility for just for you - and me.
As I surveyed the clubhouse, I bumped into a few players and asked them when they first fell in love with rugby.
“I fell in love with rugby shortly after high school once I discovered club rugby’” explains Mike Powers. “The atmosphere and the environment of being with a bunch of friends, who you sweat it out with and get through bumps and bruises with. Those friends, those guys will be friends with you for a long time afterwards. That’s what I enjoy the most about rugby.”
Mike went on to say the most exciting thing for him about playing rugby was the hits on opposing players. He said this with a laugh. I laughed with him and said to myself when I start to play I better make sure I’m on his team.
For Santiago Berna,l who has been playing rugby for only 5 years, fell in love with the sport just after Grade 10. That's when he decided to join the Ajax Wanderers club.
“The friendships you make and the brotherhood that you get from playing rugby is the thing that keeps me going even with my busy schedule," he said.
From talking to these guys, I notice that the common theme in their shared interest is the bond that is formed both on and off the field. According to Stewart Dobbs, on Sundays the older gentlemen gather together in the clubhouse and watch a game of professional rugby being broadcast. Dobbs could watch it at home but prefers the atmosphere of watching with others. It is one of the things he feels that makes Rugby different
“For me it’s the actual camaraderie, and the whole thing about rugby verses other sports is the sportsmanship both on and off the field," says Dobbs. "Most importantly the respect for each other as athletes and opponents compared to other sports.”
“That is something I was taught when I first started playing rugby and I instill this into kids as coach. It goes beyond just playing of the game.”
I realized in talking to Stewart that this game isn’t just about the love of sport but a respect for it and the players and all those who participate in it.
For his part, Dobbs was introduced to the sport at Dunbarton High School in 1984 and has been in love with rugby ever since.
“Dunbarton school toured the U.K and I found that one of the most unique things versus other sports was the opportunity to travel to different countries through rugby," said Dobbs. “And our school was actually good at it so winning was also was fun.”
“I first fell in love with Rugby when I went to England, Wales and Ireland for a tour,” explains Tyler Grey who toured in 2008 when he was 16 years old with J. Clark Richardson High School.
For him the most exciting thing about this sport has been his transition and growth in rugby. “Definitely the transition from coming from down the street [J. Clark Richardson H.S] to here and getting a role with the committee," says Grey. “I’ve been registered here at [Ajax Wanderers] since I was 15 years old. Watching this game grow, especially our club. The membership has grown. It’s definitely been exciting.”
Seeing the excitement and joy in the people I have spoken to at the Ajax Wanderers club makes me want even more to be a part of this rugby culture.
To be able to participate, to make new friends. To gather together with fellow rugby lovers and cheer on Team Canada as they battle for a berth in the 2019 Rugby World Cup set to take place in Japan.
If you ever get the chance to see Canada's National team live in action, go. Don the team colours: red, black and white. The excitement in the air is unmatched as thousands of people of all ages cheer on full of Canadian pride. It is a memory you won’t soon forget.
As for me, I will pick up some cleats, and partake in the full experience of the sport I have courted and am beginning to love more and more with each passing day.
Rugby I look forward to spending more time with you.