Summer vacation plans for a South Surrey rugby trio changed in a hurry last week, after the Canadian under-20 men’s team of which they were a part qualified for the Junior World Rugby Trophy event set for Brazil next month.
Former Earl Marriott Secondary star Reid Davis and former Semiahmoo Totem captain Josh Tweed are both members of the Rugby Canada side that defeated the United States in a two-game, aggregate-score North American qualifier last week in Shawnigan Lake, while current EMS head coach Adam Roberts is an assistant coach.
Canada finished the series with a plus-28 aggregate score after 44-33 and 23-5 victories.
For Roberts and Davis, this year’s tournament – to be hosted in São Paulo – will be their second time suiting up for Canada at the World Trophy event, but it’s a first for Tweed. Prior to the two games against the U.S. last week, he had never played for Canada.
“It was definitely a highlight for me, just getting to put on that Canadian jersey. Everyone knows about the Canada-U.S. rivalry, and I’m a pretty patriotic guy, so to win, it was pretty special,” said Tweed, a prop with the Canadian team who currently plays for UBC.
“It was definitely emotional, getting to play those games. And some of those U.S. guys were pretty cocky, so getting to shove it back at them, that was pretty good, too.”
Davis, who plays lock, was a member of last summer’s U20 squad that competed at the same event in Romania; former EMS teammate Michael Smith was also a member of the team. That year, the Canada-U.S. qualifier series was played in Houston.
And though Davis has “been through the ringer” of BC Rugby and Rugby Canada programs through his teen years, the 20-year-old said the sensation of wearing a Canadian jersey never gets stale.
“It’s kind of like the first time putting it on, every time,” said Davis, who came up with the South Surrey-based Bayside Sharks program, though he now lives on Vancouver Island where he trains with Canada’s senior men’s program.
“You see that crest on the jersey, and it’s always special to pull it on, and have that Maple Leaf over top of your heart. It’s a brand-new experience every time I put on that jersey.
“I played last year and was fortunate enough to be selected again, so I’m really excited, of course. It’s going to be an awesome time.”
Both Roberts and Davis pointed to last year as a learning experience, not just for the individual players and coaches, but for the program as a whole. After three narrow losses in 2018, Rugby Canada has this year invested more in the team – including extra weeks of training sessions this spring and, last February, a playing tour in Spain and Portugal.
“We lost our first three games last year but every one was so close. We lost on the last play of the game to Uruguay, on the play to Portugal and then against Fiji, we were winning with six or seven minutes to go and then the wheels just fell off,” Roberts explained.
“We just couldn’t seem to win those games, which is why they’ve put a little bit more behind the team this year, and that’s why this year, we feel like we’re a little better-positioned to take on some of those teams. It’s going to be cool to see how we stack up against teams like Japan, who are one of the strongest countries.”
Davis agreed with his coach that a year of experience, as well as a renewed commitment on all fronts, should help them when they hit the pitch in Brazil.
“We’re right there, but now it’s just the little things that add up to the big things that we have to nail down,” he said.
“It could be something as simple as getting enough sleep at night… little things that add up and really matter in the last five minutes of a game, when you’re so gassed that you can’t move.”
— Rugby Canada (@RugbyCanada) June 9, 2019
Though a newcomer to the team, Tweed said he noticed almost immediately that the extra training sessions – which brought teammates together from all over the country – paid dividends against the U.S.
“Leading up to those games, we were together for about three weeks and it was really huge for us. I think that’s an advantage we had over the U.S. – they really didn’t have that time together. I talked to one guy on their team and he said he only met his teammates an hour before kickoff.
“I think that really showed, too, in the style of play. They had a lot of one-off runners, not much support, and we really played together well and showed some good chemistry. That really set us apart there, and hopefully it’s what will set us apart in Brazil.”
In addition to Japan, Canada will also play Kenya and Uruguay. It won’t be a quick trip south, either. Like the Romania journey last summer, this year’s adventure will see the team in Brazil for three weeks. Add in a pre-tournament training camp in Shawnigan Lake later in June, and the length of the event stretches to a month-plus.
“It definitely turns into one of those things where the guys around you are your family for those three or four weeks. When you go home afterward, it’s almost kind of hard to re-adjust because you’ve been around this group of brothers every day for so long,” Davis said.
As one of seven returnees from last year, Davis said he does his best to help the new players where he can – whether it’s about the team’s playing strategy or simply how to manage the pressures of playing for your country.
“There’s a lot more physicality (at the international level), and it’s much faster-paced, so for the guys who know what they’re doing, you help out the guys who don’t. I’m just trying to bring some experience, and the guys pick it up so quickly – and then it works like a well-oiled machine.”