Saturday may mean hockey night in the rest of Canada.
But this isn't the rest of Canada.
Rugby, one of the popular games on an eclectic sporting Island, was on display at Bear Mountain Stadium as the Canadian Maple Leafs defeated the Ontario Blues 31-18.
The new Langford-based Canadian Rugby Centre of Excellence will play a crucial role as Canada prepares for the 2015 World Cup in XVs and 2016 Rio Summer Olympics in sevens.
But of more immediate concern are upcoming Test matches June 9 against the U.S. in Kingston, Ont.; June 15 against Italy at BMO Field in Toronto; and June 23 against Georgia at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby.
Several of Canada's top players performed in Saturday night's fixture to state their cases for inclusion on the roster for June's Test matches. National team head coach Kieran Crowley was certainly a highly interested observer of Saturday's action.
Long-run tries by Sean White and Tyler Ardron of James Bay Athletic Association helped key the victory for the Maple Leafs, the nickname applied whenever a team of players based at the National Centre of Excellence gets together to play a game.
"We only had two training sessions coming in, so we kept it to a really simple game plan," said Oak Bay High product White, a veteran of the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand and Canada's recent Shield win at the Hong Kong Sevens.
"It's been a bit of a whirlwind for me, from the unbelievable high of Hong Kong two weeks ago to returning to club rugby [with B.C. Premier-leading JBAA] last week and now this Maple Leafs game this week."
Mike Scholz of Oak Bay's Castaway Wanderers, also a member of the Hong Kong sevens squad, answered with a field-length interception try for his home province of Ontario.
The score was 19-18, and the game wasn't truly decided until Nanyak Dala of Castaway Wanderers, yet another veteran of the recent Hong Kong trip, scored a late try off a chip kick by White, followed by another Maple Leaf try by Connor Braid of JBAA at the whistle.
"Some of us are coming from the high of Hong Kong. ... We wanted to keep things basic tonight," said Dala.
The Ontario Blues are preparing for a tour of South America, where they will play the national teams of Uruguay and Chile as well as an elite club team from rugby power Argentina. Several of the Ontario players play for Island clubs Mike Pletch, Gord Kehoe, Kyle Armstrong and Scholz of Castaway Wanderers and Luke Tait and John Moonlight of James Bay.
The game was played on a turf surface that has been sanctioned by the IRB, although that is still an acquired taste in rugby.
"It's a really quick field. It's a lot easier on the calves and is like running on a track," said White.
"But I don't like landing on it."
"Everyone prefers grass but this is good for speed, although being tackled on it hurts more. It's perfect for the backs but a little tougher on the forwards."
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