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Legendary high school rugby coach reflects on 50 years of coaching

Dennis Quigley played for Canada in the 1970s

Welcome to “Cloverdale In Conversation.” This month, Dennis Quigley is our guest. Dennis reached a major coaching milestone this year as 2023 marked his 50th year of coaching rugby.

Dennis is a legendary figure in both rugby and lacrosse circles in Surrey and in B.C. He won two Mann Cups in lacrosse, as both a player and a coach. He also won two caps playing for Canada on the rugby pitch and he was selected to play for B.C. on numerous occasions. He faced the almost mythical Baa-Baas in Toronto and went to head-to-head with the legendary J.P.R. Williams three times.

Dennis sat down for a coffee and a chat and reflected on his life in sport, his time coaching, and some of his fondest memories on the pitch.

Malin Jordan: Let’s talk rugby. You’ve been coaching for 50 years this year. When and how did you get your start?

Dennis Quigley: I started coaching in 1973 in my first year out of university. I was teaching at Cloverdale Junior, which is now Martha Currie, and I coached there until 1993 when they moved us over to Lord Tweedsmuir.

MJ: How did you get into rugby?

DQ: I played rugby at [Sir Charles] Tupper High School in Grade 7. It was a new school and they took in Grade 7 to 10, instead of the usual 8 to 12. We had a really great coach, Rob Carkner, and I just fell in love with it.

MJ: Do you remember why you went out for the team?

DQ: I was a sports kid. Played hockey and lacrosse. We’d take two buses to Kerrisdale Arena at six years old. You think anyone would let their kids do that now? (Laughs.)

MJ: No, not at all!

DQ: Not a chance! My friend and I would go together and we’d walk with our hockey sticks up because sometimes dogs would chase us (laughs).

MJ: And your parents just popped you on a bus and you were off?

DQ: Well, yes. We had to take two buses and all the bus drivers and a few mailmen that would ride the bus would watch out for us. They got to know us. When we’d get to the depot out on 41st, if we weren’t there at the right time, or the bus was late, they’d make the next guy wait for us.

MJ: That’s hilarious.

DQ: Times have changed.


MJ: So you fell in love with rugby at Tupper. How did things go for you in high school and after?

DQ: When I was in grade 12, we won the New Zealand Shield, which is the Vancouver district championship. It’s a beautiful trophy donated by the New Zealand All Blacks. It’s still around. Then after high school, I played one year at Vancouver College, they had a program there, and second year out to UBC. I was a scrum-half all those years. To play with the ‘Birds, I had to wait until Rob Holloway graduated before I got to the number one spot. He’s a lawyer now. He was two or three years older than me.

That was a very good program, UBC. In 1972, it was a hall-of-fame year for UBC rugby. We won everything. There’s still a picture in War Memorial Gym of our team. We won 23 against zero losses, so they put us in the UBC Sports Hall of Fame.

MJ: A perfect season! Where’d you play after UBC?

DQ: Ex-Brits. All of my high school friends played there. I also played football for the Junior Blue Bombers. I played for them for six years, all through high school and university. After that is when I really got into rugby.

All the guys I played [football] with were a very special group of players. They also played rugby at UBC. So they waited a year after graduating, having played with the Vancouver Trojan Rugby Club, and they phoned me the next year and said, “Quig! We’re going to start our own team up and call it UBC Old Boys.” So, I thought about it, but all my high school friends were (at Ex-Brits).

SEE ALSO: Lord Tweedsmuir reclaims Quigley Cup

MJ: Wow! That’s some interesting B.C. rugby history. So that would be about 1973? So you’re working at Cloverdale Junior and driving in to play with the Brits?

DQ: Yes. I lived in Vancouver when I got married and commuting the whole time. I was teaching in Cloverdale, coaching in Cloverdale, and playing rugby and living in Vancouver.


MJ: So you get out of university, you find a job in Cloverdale, and you jump right into coaching. How were those first years at Cloverdale Junior?

DQ: They were great. We had good programs. There was another fellow coaching there, Roger Pells, he was one of the original guys who helped start the Beavers [Rugby Club], along with Gordie Jones and some others. I coached with Roger and a lot of kids that played at Cloverdale Junior ended it up with the Beavers. So, I coached grades 8 to 10. I was 20 years at the junior high and then in 1993, I went to the new Tweedsmuir. And then I spent 20 years teaching there and coaching rugby.

MJ: So that’s 40. Then after retiring you’ve stayed on to coach the past 10 years? That’s half a century of service.

DQ: When you put it that way, it sounds elegant (laughs). I coached all grades in that time, but since I retired, I’ve been kicked around (laughs). They tell me where to go. You can’t really say anything (laughs). I coached the junior boys last year. I may go back to Grade 8 next year, we’ll see. I’ll go where I’m needed.

MJ: Coaching for a half century can bring on a kind of legendary status. How did it feel when Walter van Halst donated a challenge trophy in your name, the Quigley Cup?

DQ: I thought it was pretty funny at first. I thought, “Usually, you’re dead when you get this type of recognition” (laughs). But it’s an honour to be recognized for your years of coaching.

MJ: Do you coach any other sports?

DQ: I also coach lacrosse. I played lacrosse for the Vancouver Burrards for years. I started coaching when one of my boys wanted to play.

MJ: When did you start that?

DQ: ’85, I think. In PoCo. My youngest guy played. He was 12. I’m actually on the BCLA executive. I got a position they call VP Technical Programs. And basically, my job is to liaise with the referees and the coaches because we had a bit of a donnybrook with the referees. They got (mad) and wanted to break away.

MJ: So you coach rugby at Tweedy, then where are you off to for lacrosse?

DQ: I helped with the midget Surrey Rebels team. A friend of mine asked me and I was already helping coach in PoCo with the Junior B1.

MJ: So you coached Jr. B lacrosse and midget with two different associations?

DQ: (Laughs). Yes. And then rugby. I remember some nights being really exhausted when I’d have all three in the same day.

MJ: What’s that ring on your finger?

DQ: That’s for the Mann Cup.

MJ: You won a Mann Cup championship?

DQ: This is one I got for coaching. I was on the Coquitlam Adanac bench in 2001. I won another Mann Cup as a player in 1975.

MJ: Really? Where’s that ring?

DQ: (Laughs) You know what? Our house got broken into and it got stolen. At the time, that insurance money went to shoes for my kids. Anyway, one day I’ll get it. I retired in ’76, basically because my rugby career was starting to take off.


MJ: So you start playing rugby full time and you end up playing for Canada. Tell me a little bit about that.

DQ: In ’73, I got picked to play for B.C. reps against Wales at Brockton Oval. I have a picture of me tackling Tommy David, this big Welshman.

MJ: I remember Tommy David. He was involved in “That Try.” The famous try for the Baa-Baas against the All Blacks. Probably the greatest try ever scored in rugby.

DQ: Yes, and Phil Bennet. He did the side steps and then flipped it up before pitching it off. He was on that Welsh team too. And Gareth Edwards. Don Spence had the film—not video—but the reel-to-reel film of that try. I was sitting there watching it and at the end Gareth Edwards gets the try. And I was scared stiff for two weeks after that. I had trouble sleeping just thinking about having to play the guy.

MJ: How did that game go? That game was played May 26th, if I’m not mistaken?

DQ: It was a beautiful day. I was freaked out. They’d just annihilated all their opponents coming across Canada. After the game started, Wales took a penalty just across the centre line in the middle of the field. Ro Hindson was our big second-rower, and our captain said, “Ro, you wanna take a crack at this?” It was zero-zero and Ro said, “Sure!” So, he puts it right through the uprights and we’re winning 3-0 (laughs). That was the last time we had the lead. I think the game ended 31-6. They smashed teams on that tour.

MJ: What are some of the memories you have of that game? Do you think about it?

DQ: Sometimes. I remember putting the ball in the set and it came kind of rocketing out. So I went for it, kind of came out the side on an angle, so I raced to it. I’m expecting to hear a whistle. I don’t hear a whistle. So I push it ahead a bit and all of a sudden, Gareth comes out of nowhere, dives on the ball. So he’s got his back to me, right, and I was just in the process of kicking. And I kicked him right in the ribs. And you should have heard it was like, “Ooh-ooh!” But I thought, “He’s human! Now relax” (laughs). But it got me into the game.

I remember their hooker, little guy, can’t remember his name, he squeezed my head so hard I thought it was going to pop off (laughs).

So it was a good game. I remember people were sitting on the roof at Brockton Pavilion. So many great memories.

MJ: What about your game against the Baa-Baas in Toronto? That Barbarians team had two players—Sandy Carmichael and Phil Bennett again—that were on the ‘73 Barbarians team that beat the All Blacks in Cardiff. It also had up-and-comer Gareth Davies. He spent 20 years in the game for Wales, big in the ’80s. He came off the bench, I believe.

DQ: I think he did come off the bench. We played at York University. There was a scrum-half on that team, great player, he played with Gareth Edwards, Brynmor Williams, he was a backup. He often got overlooked because everyone was focussing on Gareth.

I ended up playing against J.P.R. Williams three times, he was on that ‘73 team too. He came here for Bridgend. We played them over there and beat them in their own park too, when I was playing for B.C. reps. They welcomed us with a Welsh choir. And then we had to sing to them, of course (laughs). And Hans de Goede was on that team. He played over there [for Cardiff in ’78-’79] and they just loved him. When he came back with B.C. reps, he walked into the clubhouse and they were all waiting for Hans to come through the door and when he did, they went crazy! (Laughs). They sang to us and after they wanted Hans to do a solo. He doesn’t have a great voice but he did it. And he just belted it out. And they were over the moon.


MJ: Rugby in the ’70s seemed like it was a lot of fun! You ended up playing in France too. You got your second cap for Canada in 1979. What do you remember about that?

DQ: Well, we beat France “B” first [14-4 in Lille] and when the newspaper came out, they had canned the whole France “B” team. They cut everyone except one guy after our game. So our next game was supposed to be against France “A,” but it wasn’t. There was only one uncapped player, the captain I think, and the rest was the starting French 15. We lost that game [34-15 in Paris].

MJ: What’s your fondest memory of your entire career in rugby, playing or coaching or just being a fan of the game?

DQ: When I was coaching the Ex-Brits in 1984, we ended up playing the Surrey Beavers in the B.C. championship. They got by James Bay somehow, which was a huge accomplishment. The Beavers had a really big squad—they had a second row named “Lurch” (laughs)— and Roger Pells was coaching the Beavers. Well, him and I were teaching at the same school, so there was so much (stuff) going on in the staff room, you wouldn’t believe it (laughs).

MJ: That must’ve been a really fun week.

DQ: It was. And we beat them in the game, it was in Burnaby, and I got carried off the field on everyone’s shoulders. That’s a special memory.

Playing against Gareth Edwards was special.

Playing against the Barbarians was special. There were a lot of big names on that team. And even the Wales team in ’73.


MJ: Sounds like a helluva ride for you over the years with a life in rugby. Any other games you remember fondly, or tours?

DQ: I went to Samoa and Fiji with the B.C. reps, ’84, I think. We played five games in Apia, Samoa, and one game in Fiji. As we played the five games in Samoa, each one got dirtier and dirtier. And we played on the infield area of a racetrack and it got so hostile to get to the pitch. They had to get a small bus to take us onto the field and dropped us in the middle of the pitch (laughs).

One game we got off the bus, this teenage kid runs at smashes Spence McTavish in the face and keeps running. He throws a hit and run and races off!

MJ: That’s crazy! It got emotional, eh?

DQ: They were throwing dirt in our water.

MJ: What? Were you winning those games?

DQ: Yeah. It was so dirty, we’d make a pass and then, “Boom!” A missile’d hit you in the forehead. It was nasty.

MJ: Just tough rugby, eh?

DQ: Very rough. Five games. We wore out our welcome mat (laughs). We lost in Fiji. We played a great game, but we could’ve won. We missed all our penalty kicks.

MJ: Final thoughts on a life in rugby?

DQ: I’m just thankful for the opportunities I’ve had. And thankful for all the guys I played with, and against. They were all great guys. I remember Brynmor Williams came up to me after our game [in 1976] and congratulated me on my play. That was a great compliment coming from a guy like him.

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Malin Jordan

About the Author: Malin Jordan

Malin is the editor of the Cloverdale Reporter.
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