Rugby Canada is hoping a blast from the past reignites the men’s national team program.
The Victoria-based Pacific Pride development program, which helped Canada reach a steady stature in the second tier of world rugby, is being revived.
Officially relaunched as the Rugby Canada Performance Academy, the program’s Langford-based main team will be named Pacific Pride in honour of the former team that played in the B.C. Premiership from 1996 to 2005.
The new Pacific Pride will begin play in the B.C. Premier League next season out of Westhills Stadium.
The original Pacific Pride, essentially the Canadian U-23 team, helped contribute the lion’s share of players who played for Canada in the 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 World Cups.
Canada has since seen its position steadily erode to the point where it became the 20th and final qualifier for the 2019 World Cup this fall in Japan with future World Cup qualifications looking precarious as nations such as the U.S. and Uruguay surge ahead in the Americas region. It is hoped the new Pacific Pride program will help stem that Canadian slide.
The reboot of the program will be largely made up of uncapped players from across Canada who are projected to be one to three years away from playing at the senior international level. It will run 10 months of the year at the Rugby Canada National Training Centre in Langford. It will be funded by Rugby Canada through its existing national team centralization budget.
“Identifying and working with players in a daily training environment will help them make the technical, physical and mental developments necessary to grow into elite players who can be successful in Major League Rugby, sevens or abroad, and contribute to improving our senior national teams’ world rankings,” said Canadian team head coach Kingsley Jones.
The sentiment is widespread that the time for the return of Pacific Pride is now.
“We have heard consistently over the last few years from our rugby community about the importance and value an academy program brought to our sport,” said Rugby Canada chairman Tim Powers, in a statement.
“We listened and agreed. The return of the Pacific Pride Academy will be key as we work to improve our world rankings in the coming years.”
An optimistic, but cautious, note was struck by John MacMillan, co-coach of Pacific Pride from 1998 to 2005.
“It needs to be done correctly,” said MacMillan, now president of 94 Forward, which administers the legacy fund from the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games.
“What is required [for Canadian men’s rugby] is a complete strategy and plan. This is one piece of it, as it was with the original Pacific Pride program. It is one piece of many pieces that matter.”
But the bottom line is that a key building block that helped in the past is being reinstated, and not a moment too soon.