Updated: Feb 18, 2022
The rugby community in Canada is alive and very active. The Canucks are the mens national rugby union team and the Maple Leafs being the women's team, with the governing body being Rugby Canada. Sevens rugby is very popular here in Canada and taking the lead are the women's team who have and continue to fair pretty well internationally. Both 15's and 7's rugby information can be found on the Rugby Canada website.
As for your kids that may want to play rugby when you come over to Canada - I thought you may want the low down on how it all works. Because I live in Oakville, I have come to know the Oakville Crusaders Rugby Club which is on Ninth Line in Oakville. I have met quite a few South African's whose kids play rugby here and go to their summer camps. The staff and volunteers are a great bunch of people and there is always something for everyone. I chatted to Kevin Brenders, Director of the junior rugby at the club. The Oakville Crusaders are a well known club in Ontario with over 700 members. It is a busy, well managed club with fantastic grounds and club house. Kevin is the perfect person to talk on the subject of rugby. He also knows many South African families who get their kids involved at the club here in Oakville.
Kevin Brenders: Director junior rugby Oakville Crusaders Rugby Club
I have been a member at the club since 1993 and in my current role as Director of junior rugby since 2017. The club has just celebrated its 50th anniversary. I really enjoyed my time playing Grade rugby at the club, and at a young age had a chance to take on a number of leadership roles. That really helped me in my real career, which is in finance with a large Canadian bank.
So my way of giving back is to help here at the club a little bit. My family and I get a lot out of spending time at Crusaders Park. Staying connected with young people is great, and it’s a fantastic generation of kids coming through.
About the Club, we’ve been around since 1968 and in the current park since the late 80’s. We’re possibly the largest club in North America and are known for our large junior program and competitive senior sides. ‘The Cru’ are known for fielding a large number of teams, producing annually a number of age grade national team players, while trying to foster a reputation as a really good family club. If we had a style of rugby, we try really hard to let the players play what’s in front of them, to make the decisions. We teach rugby through a lot of game play in training. Of course, in Ontario the grounds are hard and fast and that really suits running rugby.
We also pride ourselves on the depth of our coaching group. We have a number of very experienced coaches with a fair number having international caps and professional experience. The coaches come from all over: Argentina, Hong Kong, Australia, UK, France, NZ, SA and of course Canada. So it’s really a great group, with lots of banter, and lots of idea sharing. My job is really to make sure the way we train the kids, the way we coach them, stays current with what is going on in other rugby playing nations and suits us Canadians. Also, we want to make sure that what we’re doing at the mini rugby level and junior level produces the type of player that will have success as an adult. I spend a lot of time watching film, networking with overseas programs and have spent time with other programs (even in other sports) to ensure we’re on the right path.
Ultimately my role, to the best of my ability, is to help the players achieve some reward for their efforts, whether that’s playing a high level of club rugby, move away to other clubs or in some cases play professionally. I believe very strongly that teaching systems and structures do not make good teams but teaching 15 really good players do. So we focus on that and I think it’s working.
How can kids get involved or join the club?
We are an ‘open club’, meaning all are welcome. There are several entry points. We run a wide variety of summer camps for new players ages 4 and up, which is a nice way for the new player to try it. We have programs and teams from U6 boys and girls that run in the spring, summer and fall, and a winter academy and winter mini skills program. So, lots of choices for new kids. The mini rugby runs twice a week with a couple of rugby festivals monthly against other local clubs throughout late spring, summer and fall. The junior rugby runs in the winter, summer and fall. Again, we’re open, so anyone can come along, we’ll teach them.
Barefoot rugby, is it a thing in Canada?
I’m sorry, I knew you’d ask this! Please bring cleats but we do see a number of the South Africans playing touch rugby bare feet! That certainly isn’t a Canadian thing, but all good, I’ve even noticed some Canadian convert to the bare foot thing! Maybe I’ll try it myself- when the snow fades!
Where is the club located? What is on offer for families and members?
We have a 27 acre rugby specific park in north east Oakville. The park is on 9th Line, between Upper Middle Road and Dundas across from the drive-in theatre. We have three international sized fields, two mini fields, a club house with club rooms, a licensed outdoor deck, licensed garden area, walking trail and fire pit. It really is a whole-family-get-involved place. Sport, social (there is a club house) and BBQ (braai guys!!!!). We have structured the programs so kids have a bunch of "try it" options! Our costs range depending on how much you do, but there isn't a more affordable sport in Oakville. In the winter we open the park to modest levels of snow shoeing and x-country skiing. We also show all of the international matches at the club. Two big events for the SA community were the World Cup and the Lions Tests, so a great chance for that green and gold community to gather. We even produced a charity cricket side last summer, but the less said about that performance the better!
How often do you train and what are the the options for summer camps/specialised clinics?
The minors (U12 and below) train Thursday and Saturday with every other Saturday being a jamboree or festival. Traditionally rugby clubs (junior U14-U18 and senior) train twice a week with games. Last year we began offering different options for a third session a week for U16 and up. For the juniors, we have Speed Clinics and Kicking Clinics and their own specialised summer camps as additional opportunities. For the older kids, (juniors and seniors), a third night of the week is set aside to work on individual or unit specific skills.
During the 7s season in the fall, the juniors drop back to one game, one practice session. We offer a Strength and Conditioning Program for the older juniors to aid in their transition to senior and representative rugby.
U14, U16 and U18?
Our U14, U16 and U18 programs run independently of the seniors, however, our U18s do train on the same evenings and often train together. For girls we generally run one side per age grade and boys generally two and sometimes three.
Is there touch rugby or only 15'S and 7'S rugby?
Winter is touch rugby with club Academy Programs indoors. Our junior competition window is Spring (schools rugby with some club rugby (10 a side tournaments). In summer 15 a side leagues and in fall, 7s tournaments. We are hoping to see Regional 15s come back in the fall of 2022 (October) as a representative window,
How does the club compete? What is the path for kids wanting to take rugby to the next level?
Great question. Like most club competitions the seniors play in Ontario wide leagues (broken into regional pools) with a championship at the end. The standard of amateur club rugby isn’t bad and the top league especially pretty good. They can give very good overseas players a solid, competitive match. Our juniors also compete against our traditional club rivals from various communities. We host a number of overseas tours annually, where we boast a very good record.
Unlike other areas of the world, players are not selected via league play for representative programs, the province holds open tryouts and run skill programs. From these they select national team camp invitees. Unfortunately there is a significant cost to play for our province or national team at age grade level. Its holds us back as a nation, however, we are all working on improving these issues.
For those who are good and passionate about the sport, from our club, players have gone on to play in our National Team Development Program (the Pacific Pride), overseas University Programs, Pro French Espoir Programs, the MLR, all with the hope of playing for Canada and securing contracts. I tell the kids that after playing with us they will be well prepared to play where the wind takes them. As an example, one of our 2002 born players just played against Free State Cheetahs in the Toyota Challenge in December. We’re getting better at helping players and parents maps these things out.
Is rugby an extra mural activity in schools in Canada?
There is school rugby in Canada - not at all schools though. School rugby runs for 8 weeks in the spring. The level is a little below club rugby, but it’s a wonderful way to introduce new players to the sport. This is the exact opposite I understand from South Africa, where you have wonderful school programs. Schools run from very good locally to very much developing.
Women's rugby is huge in Canada. Tell us more.
Yes, the women’s rugby is quite popular in school and club. Thirty percent of our membership is female. There is a well-established girls junior competition within the clubs which leads to a decent College and University competition in the fall, and a women’s club league in the summer. Unlike many countries, our women’s 7s team is centralised in British Columbia, so they train full time with a deep player pool and government sponsored (own the Podium) support. Players move freely between 15s and 7s in our national team and it seems to work well. We are working very hard to strengthen our girl’s and women’s offerings, I think it’s an area where we can do even better.
International rugby opportunities for our players?
As mentioned, we look forward to some of the gaps in our pathways being filled by the Pacific Pride program, greater flow back to European clubs, and the Toronto Arrows and MLR teams. The Arrows attend a number of our training sessions and games and have done a good job scouting Ontario talent. They had a half back named Ross Braude from Grey College sign last year, so although he competes with a local player in Andrew Ferguson for Canada and Arrows playing time, I’m looking forward to seeing him play this year. I think there’s an opportunity for South Africans to advance their rugby here.
Likewise, we encourage our players to advance their rugby however they can. We have a very deep 2002 group with a number of Canada age grade players, with one player choosing to stay local and develop with us. One is in the HP program at Loughborough University (UK), one is at Cardiff Metropolitan University playing there, one in Victoria at the Pacific Pride after playing overseas. Another with is with Montauban in the French leagues and two others in the Canada U20 side, capable of following the same overseas path. Not bad for a Canadian Club.
Any difference that would be obvious to a South African family with children playing rugby in Canada vs South Africa?
Well, the general feedback from the parents is how much they enjoy it. It’s obviously going to be considerably a little bit more low key in Canada; we have ice hockey that fits the same spot in our culture, as you know. I would say one of other things is that the relationship between the player and coach is a subtle difference here. The South African players who come here are more formal with their coaches. In Canada, in the heat of the summer, where kids have literally 100 other things to choose from, we do probably coach them a little differently, we guide them, nudge them and it’s likely a little more player driven than coach driven here, however ultimately we get them to the same place.
Finally, as there isn’t as many people playing rugby in Canada we are very connected, to national team programs and opportunities, so for ambitious players it’s a little less crowded.
Oakville Crusaders social networks:
Instagram Cru Juniors - https://www.instagram.com/crusadersjuniorrugby
Instagram Cru Seniors - https://www.instagram.com/crusrmen
Instagram Cru Club - https://www.instagram.com/crurugby68
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/210806962447609/
Other rugby info:
The Canadian Ruck is something you may want to plug into to catch up on Canadian rugby news. They have great podcasts you can listen too. This is Season 2, Episode 22 where Kevin is interviewed by Jamie Grey. The club also has a YouTube channel, two Instagram Accounts and a Facebook page that gets updated regularly.