There is no doubt that the popularity of rugby among Canadian high school students is growing quickly. From scrums to rucks to mauls, the sport’s physical and fast paced nature has athletes hooked.

Brian Lynch, President of the British Columbia Secondary Schools’ Rugby Union, has spent 20 years with high school rugby athletes and has seen the tremendous growth of the sport among schools.

“There are many successful programs at the senior level in schools (Grades 11 and 12) while more and more schools are playing junior rugby (Grade 8, 9 and 10),” comments Lynch.

While rugby has traditionally been much preferred by boys compared to girls, female athletes are starting to become more involved in rugby than boys, and at a faster pace.

“When I first started, girls didn’t play rugby at all. So you can see how significant the growth has been, because now high schools have all girl rugby teams,” says Lynch.

Shaun Allen, currently a rugby coach for McMaster University and a Coordinator at Rugby Ontario, has over 5 years of experience coaching high school rugby players. Allen comments, “Girls rugby in high school is increasing for sure. We look at women’s rugby very positively here, as our Canadian women’s rugby team is significantly better worldwide, placing sixth at the last World Cup, than our national male rugby team who is currently ranked 15th. So we definitely want to improve and encourage [participation] in our [female] student athletes.”

The game’s competitive and high-speed nature is what draws high school students to the sport. With students coming from a wide range of sport backgrounds, rugby brings the best out of each athlete and enables them to apply their athletic abilities to a new game that they are not as familiar with.

Allen comments, “Rugby is a fast paced, wide open, fun game. Especially sevens. It’s a good way to introduce non-rugby players to the sport. It gives them the opportunity to be creative with the ball, especially for girls, where they don’t have a lot of outlets for contact sports. Rugby is a real contact sport, and there are no modified rules for girls like there are with hockey.”

With rugby becoming more popular, students are also starting to recognize the opportunities available to them to compete on behalf of their province and even on the international stage. Lynch says, “We offer scholarships to people going to school to play rugby, and we encourage our kids to play provincially.”

What’s Happening in High School Rugby Now

Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation (NSSAF) Rugby Championships

On June 3, the Burnside Field Turf in Dartmouth was flooded with excited high school rugby athletes. The provincial tournament saw schools from all over Nova Scotia participating, and brought together some of the best rugby players in the province.

One team in particular, the Cobequid Educational Center (CEC) Cougars from Truro, performed exceptionally well in the girls division. After winning all six of their regular season games in the Northumberland region, the Cougars came into the provincials extremely confident and with momentum on their side. In addition to their strong regular season play, the Cougars had extra motivation after losing last year’s provincial championship game in double overtime on their home field.

The Cougars kicked off the tournament with an easy 22-0 victory over Avon View. The next game against the tough team from Lockview proved to be their most difficult win of the tournament, as their tight defence needed to be at its best during a narrow 5-3 victory. The Cougars strong defence prevailed again in the semi-finals, where they shutout King’s Edgehill School 18-0.

The Cougars found themselves playing against a familiar foe in the championship game, as they faced off against a Lockview team that was determined to avenge their earlier loss. This game was not as close as the first one, as Lockview’s defence just could not get the job done while the Cougars’ defence held strong again en route to an 18-0 victory.

In the Boys’ Division, the prime match up saw Citadel and King’s-Edgehill School (KES) go head to head as they faced off first in the round robin and then again in the championship game. In the first game, KES came out on top 17-10 in a hard fought battle that saw the outcome of the game decided on the final play. Both teams demonstrated their defensive prowess on the road to the championship final, as Citadel surrendered just 10 points in two games while KES was very impressive in shutting out both Sydney Academy and North Nova.

Cougars practicing in preparation for the NSAAF Championships

Photo courtesy: Truro Daily News

As a result of schedule delays during the day, the championship game was played just over an hour after KES had won their semi-final game against North Nova. As determined and mentally tough as they were, the KES boys simply did not have anything left in the tank, as the refreshed Citadel squad took advantage and came out on top 22-10 to take home the championship.

Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association (ASAA) Rugby Provincials

On June 10, the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association (ASAA) Rugby Provincial Tournament was held at the Calgary Rugby Union. For the Strathmore Spartans Girls’ team, the tournament was a memorable one, as it was not only the first time the school had hosted the provincial championships, it was the first time that the school had a team competing in the tournament.

The Spartans’ spot in the tournament was not always guaranteed however, as they lost their regional qualifying match in overtime. Originally, the Spartans needed to win that match to qualify for the tournament, however when one zone could not field a team, the decision was made to give the host school a spot in the tournament. With 32 schools competing from all over the province, the Spartans knew they were going to be in tough against many schools with larger and more established girls’ rugby programs.

In the Spartan’s first tournament game, they played against the heavily favoured #1 seed from Raymond High School, losing the game 49-0. Spartans Coach Jerry Flaws took a positive from the loss and noted that, “although we lost, it still looked like we belonged.”

The Spartans’ next game was against Ross Sheppard High School and proved to be another learning experience. The final score was 34-0, however, “it was a closer game [than the score indicates] and the girls played well,” said Flaws.

“It was the first time ever running the rugby program at Strathmore. The girls were just learning the sport. Throughout this tournament the girls really learned how to play with character and emotion. They all absolutely loved rugby and the whole team will be returning back next year. We are very appreciative of the position we were given.”

Strathmore Spartans girls in action

Photo courtesy: The Strathmore Standard

Raymond went on through the tournament to beat Sturgeon High School for the provincial title in the girls division. In the boys division, Medicine Hat High won the provincial title, along with the Sportsmanship award for their professional demeanour throughout the tournament.

Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association (MHSAA) All-Star Rugby

Brian Yon, a teacher and coach at Souris High School, encountered a lot of critics when he first proposed a provincial boys’ and girls’ All-Star game. “Although there were skeptics, it felt like something that we could attain. In the end, the event was a great success, and there was great feedback from parents and fans,” states Yon.

Coaches from rural and urban Manitoba high schools were asked to nominate players to compete in the All-Star games held in Souris. Athletes were then placed either on the Rural team or the City team, depending on what school they came from. Yon states, “At the end of the day, there is always a rivalry between the rural side and the city.”

On the Rural team, students from schools like Souris, Swan Valley and Minnedosa were all nominated to participate. On the City team, students from Selkirk along with schools located in Winnipeg also played. Yon says, “This tournament will do nothing but good things for us next year. It gave recognition to the kids.”

The teams were split into boys and girls divisions. In the girls’ game, the City and Rural teams were clearly well matched, as they fought to a 22-22 draw. The competition level was high in the boys’ game as well, with the Rural team prevailing over the City team in an exciting 29-21 match. With several hundred people in attendance, competitive rugby on display and happy athletes from all over Manitoba, the inaugural provincial All-Star games certainly proved to be a major success.

Boys All-Stars

Girls All-Stars

Photo courtesy: Westman High School Rugby

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