New rugby CEO takes charge of Langford-based Canadian teams

Allen Vansen, the new CEO of Langford-based Rugby Canada, feels like a surfer who has caught the sweet spot on a cresting wave.

The Canadian women’s sevens team, who will again play at Westhills Stadium April 16-17 in the Canada Sevens, are favoured for a medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Canadian men, meanwhile, are at the Las Vegas Sevens this weekend ahead of coming home March 12-13 to two days of the sold-out lower bowl of B.C. Place for the Canada Sevens at 28,000 fans each day.

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“We are at a historic time for the sport around the world and certainly in Canada,” said Vansen, who was named Monday.

“Rio will be a defining moment. The sport is really going to take off after the Olympics.”

Vansen comes to the position after playing key roles in the organizing committees of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games.

“We are going to see growth [in rugby] like we’ve never seen before,” he said.

The rise of the sport was acknowledged Monday at the Legislature with a ceremony in which Rugby Canada presented several B.C. cabinet ministers with signed national-team jerseys, including Peter Fassbender, the minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.

“It’s going to be unreal playing in front of not just 28,000 fans each day, but Canadian fans,” emphasized national team sevens player Mike Fuailefau, a graduate of St. Michaels University School.

Canadian women’s team captain Jenn Kish, reiterated that sentiment.

“B.C. Place is sold out for the men, Langford was sold out last year for the women’s Canada Sevens, and the Pan Am Games in Toronto had tremendous crowds [on the second day],” noted Kish.

“We’re looking to get that Pan Am Games feeling again [when Canada won gold in both women’s and men’s].”

They have a fan in the B.C. sport minister.

“These players don’t get there by accident. It takes a lot of work,” said Fassbender.

The ultimate goal is in August. The Canadian women, ranked No. 2 in the world, have qualified for the Rio Olympics. The men, ranked No. 12, will play in the last-chance qualifier June 18-19 in Monaco.

“A medal at Rio would be huge for our sport in drawing public and mainstream media attention,” acknowledged Vansen.

Vansen takes over from Graham Brown, who now runs Canadian Interuniversity Sport.

Among Vansen’s priorities is finishing Rugby Canada’s $8-million dorms and gym complex in Langford next to Westhills Stadium, of which $3 million still needs to be raised.

SCRUM NOTES: Host Argentina XV (3-0-1) defeated Canada (2-2) 54-21 in the Americas Rugby Championship on Sunday.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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