A constant past refrain in North American rugby has been about the need for a domestic pro league. That has now come to be in the form of Major League Rugby and it is having an impact.
Twenty-five of the 30 players, including five of the eight Islanders named for the Canadian tests next month against England and Wales, are from MLR teams. Quinn Ngawati of Victoria plays for Rugby United New York, Doug Fraser of Ladysmith for Old Glory DC of Washington, Lachlan Kratz of Victoria for NOLA Gold of New Orleans, UVic Vikes-grad and CW-product Jake Ilnicki for the Seattle Seawolves and Josh Larson of Nanaimo captains the New England Free Jacks.
Ben LeSage and former UVic Vikes player Lucas Rumball, from the Toronto Arrows, and Matt Heaton of Rugby ATL of Atlanta will captain Canada.
“The MLR is providing our players the opportunity to consistently train and play at a high level,” said Canada head coach Kingsley Jones of Sooke.
Other Islanders selected include Foster Dewitt of Courtenay and Isaac Oslen of Victoria, both from the Rugby Canada National Development Academy in Langford. The lone overseas pro is Will Percillier of Victoria from Stade Francais.
Ngawati, Dewitt, Kratz and Olsen are among 11 uncapped players selected. No players from the Langford-based Canadian sevens team were picked because they are preparing for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
“We are very excited to assemble for the first time since our high-performance camp last November,” said Jones.
“It’s been a massive undertaking in coordinating the logistics of assembling these players in a COVID-world, but we feel privileged and humbled to have the opportunity to play these critical World Cup qualification preparation matches.”
Regional qualifying for the 2023 World Cup in France begins in the fall.
The two Canadian tests in the U.K. are against world powers and both on hallowed rugby grounds – versus Wales on July 3 at Principality (formerly Millennium) Stadium in Cardiff and July 10 against England at Twickenham. They will be the first games for Canada since the 2019 World Cup in Japan.