Plenty of Pride on the line in rugby battle

Everything old is new again for Langford-based Rugby Canada. And not a moment too soon.

Many of the young Canadian players who will form the roster for 2023 World Cup qualification will be on display tonight when the rejuvenated Pacific Pride national U-23 program meets the Vancouver Island Crimson Tide at 6:30 p.m. at Westhills Stadium.

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The old Victoria-based Pacific Pride U-23 program from 1996 to 2005 was credited with lifting Canada into the second tier of rugby and developing many of the players who graduated to play for Canada at the 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 World Cups.

“The Pride program prepared me for pro rugby. It’s as simple as that,” said former Pride player Jamie Cudmore.

Cudmore played in four World Cups for Canada and pro in Europe for big-name clubs RFC Grenoble and Clermont Auvergne. The 41-year-old Squamish native has returned to become head coach of the newly relaunched Pride program, based at Westhills Stadium, and known officially as the Rugby Canada Performance Academy.

“This is has been a hugely positive move for Rugby Canada,” said Cudmore, as he ran his charges through their soggy paces this week at Westhills.

It is hoped it will halt reeling Canada’s freefall from the second tier of rugby playing nations into now the brink of the third tier.

“It has been clear to fans across the country that the standard of Canadian rugby has been slipping the last 10 to15 years,” said Cudmore.

“A big part of that has been because of the lack of development of young talent. This new Pride program addresses that.”

It’s a case of a backward glance to an old program paving the way to the future.

“I have kept a lot of the original structure in place from the old Pride program that was coached by David Clark and John MacMillan,” said Cudmore.

The results have been there for all to see.

The new Pride squad is playing each team in the B.C. Premier League. The games are counting in the standings but the Pride is not eligible for the Rounsefell Cup playoffs. The undefeated Pride leads the B.C. Premiership table at 7-0 and has regularly rung up 30 or 40 points in those victories.

“We are training these players to perform in the modern game, which is high-speed rugby, with precision play at the point of contact,” said Cudmore.

Seven of the Pride players are already under pro contract for the upcoming Major League Rugby season. But that is as one would hope and expect from Canada’s emerging next generation.

Pride players are already making an impact with the national team. David Richards is with the Canadian team at the Cape Town Sevens in South Africa and Guiseppe du Toit was an injury replacement called up for the just-completed 2019 World Cup in Japan. Other names to watch include Tyler Rowland, Josh Thiel, Reid Davis and Nik Hildebrand.

The Crimson Tide is the representative Island side coached by Canadian World Cup player Nanyak Dala. Both the Tide and Pride teams are preparing to play the Seattle Seawolves of Major League Rugby in exhibitions next month. Admission for the Pride-Tide game tonight is $10 with proceeds going to support the Pride program.

Players will also be conducting a kids’ rugby clinic before the game from 5 to 6 p.m. with entrance via a toy donation for the Rugby Canada Toy Drive.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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