Americas Rugby Championship puts Langford on rugby map

Gareth Rees of Victoria, who later this month will become the first rugby player inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, is proud that his hometown is known as the spiritual home of the sport in this country.

But when any big international matches are held, they invariably seem to go to places like BMO Field in Toronto or Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton because, obviously, Rugby Canada wants to grow the sport nationally and doesn’t want to ghettoize it in one corner of the country.

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But Greater Victoria got its due in 2012 when the IRB Americas Rugby Championship was held at Westhills Stadium in Langford. It continues its extended run for the third straight year when the 2014 Americas tournament opens today with the U.S. playing Argentina at 2:30 p.m. and Canada kicking off against Uruguay at 4:30 p.m.

But all runs must end. There will be no Americas tournament next year, because of the 2015 World Cup in England. Upon resumption in 2016, Uruguay and Chile have expressed interested in hosting the Americas event.

Yet, it’s because of the success of the past two tournaments in Langford — with crowds of over 3,000 not uncommon — that the Americas tournament was brought back for its hat-trick appearance. And that’s also why Westhills Stadium has been chosen to host an official 2015 women’s World Series Sevens event, a qualifier for the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, from April 18-19.

“Having fixtures at our training base [the XVs and sevens men’s and women’s national teams are based at the Rugby Canada Centre of Excellence in Langford] is important,” noted four-time World Cup player Rees, now director of national team programs for Rugby Canada.

“And the Island has done a good job of supporting the Americas Championship.

“The only reason the IRB is bringing the women’s World Series Sevens here is because of the success of this [Americas men’s] tournament. It’s a good argument for why we should bring games here when cities such as Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Halifax are lobbying to host international games.”

The Americas Championship, won four straight years by Argentina, continues Wednesday night with Uruguay playing Argentina and Canada facing the U.S. and concludes Oct. 19 with Uruguay-U.S. and Canada-Argentina.

The event features the development national teams from the four nations, essentially those being groomed as their future Test players. There are also numerous elite international veterans mixed in, with the U.S. team here featuring several capped Eagles while Argentina brought to Victoria five of the players who played in the Pumas’ stunning upset of the Australia Wallabies on Sunday in Mendoza.

In the IRB world rankings, Argentina is No. 10, Canada No. 17, the U.S. No. 18 and Uruguay No. 20.

Canadian head coach Kieran Crowley of Mill Bay, a World Cup champion during his New Zealand All Blacks career, has named his starting 15 today against Uruguay. It includes Tom Dolezel, Seb Pearson and Derek Daypuck from St. George’s Club of London, Ont., Jamie Mackenzie and Duncan’s Pat Kay from the University of Victoria Vikes, Gordon McRorie and Nick Blevins of the Calgary Hornets, Ray Barkwill from the Castaway Wanderers of Oak Bay, Doug Wooldridge from Lindsay RFC of Ontario, Aaron Flagg of Abbotsford, Kyle Baillie from the Edmonton Druids, Evan Olmstead from Prairie Wolf Pack, captain Kyle Gilmour of St. Albert, Alta., Dan Moor from Toronto Balmy Beach and Sean Ferguson of the UBC Thunderbirds.

At stake for these players are not only roster spots for the November Test window but also consideration for the 2015 World Cup team.

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