Rugby redux

JOHN SHORT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:09 AM ET

Barring a major upset, the story of Western Canada Games rugby has already been told.

Always-favoured British Columbia and fast-improving Alberta both registered easy victories over Manitoba and Saskatchewan on the first day of the double round-robin

The one-sided results - Alberta 26-0 over Saskatchewan and 22-7 over Manitoba; B.C. 48-0 over Manitoba and 31-10 over Saskatchewan - prompted national under-17 coach Dave Chambers to agree it is virtually certain that the winners will meet in the final of the six-province event on Saturday.

"Saskatchewan's team could pull an upset in one game if Alberta took them for granted," he said, "but the game isn't played as much in Manitoba or Saskatchewan schools as it is here."

For Chambers, the event - the seven-man variety, more suitable than 15-man teams for tournament play - is a window on the future of men's rugby in this nation.

"Everybody here is a prospect for me," he said, hoping yesterday's grim weather conditions would not diminish the quality of play in the next few days.

Like most rugby insiders, Chambers believes rugby has a solid future in Canada. "I don't know why public interest isn't higher," he mentioned.

"The game goes back more than 100 years in this country. The original Grey Cup was a rugby trophy. The original Edmonton Eskimos were a rugby team."

Conceding that the game usually is promoted poorly - "we've got a lot of people working hard to change that" - the coach maintained the rugged aspects of rugby will eventually make it attractive to large numbers. "We show in our approach to hockey and today's football that we as Canadians have an affinity for contact sports."

Admittedly, contact is less in Sevens than in orthodox 15-man rugby.

"This game calls for more on-on-one defence," he explained.

"It gives me a better chance to pick out the best athletes ... the ones with pure speed ... those with ball-handling skills ... the sure tacklers."

Chambers spoke in raptures about the skills required to be top-notch in this sport.

Assuming an athlete has played enough to be familiar with the game, "he needs quickness and speed, the foot skills of a soccer player, the vision of a point guard, the power of a running back and the soft hands of a hockey passer or a basketball player."

And physical toughness, of course.

Alberta players with a good supply of those attributes included team captain Jeff Hassler, hooker Jorge Escobedo and 14-year-old Red Deer product Gradyn Bowd, the youngest player in the entire competition.

"This team is the foundation of the under-16 side Alberta will take toNewfoundland (for the national age-class championships in)," said Alberta co-coach Matt Parrish of Sherwood Park. "We're young, but there is good chemistry and good ability.

"The only way to find out whether we're gaining on B.C. is to line up and play them."


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