Young Canadian rugby captain turns heads
By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Just 23, Tyler Ardron has big shoes to fill as Canadian rugby captain.
Hans de Goede, Gareth Rees and Al Charron are just some of the rugby icons to lead Canada to battle.
Other Canadian skippers of note include Mark Wyatt, Spence McTavish, John Graf and Mike James. More recently, Morgan Williams, Pat Riordan and Aaron Carpenter have captained Canada.
Ardron, who has got congratulatory emails offering advice and support from many of those captains, really is the new kid on the block.
"I know it is a great honour and it's great to be able to follow up in those guys' footsteps," said Ardron, who turned 23 on Monday.
It speaks volumes that after being named captain, Ardron's thoughts were not about himself but of those who helped him along his rugby road.
"There's so many things that if they hadn't happened right, I wouldn't be here now," said the willowy back-row forward from Lakefield, Ont.
With Carpenter transitioning to a new position — from No. 8 to hooker — Canadian coach Kieran Crowley opted for a new leader ahead of the June internationals. His choice was Ardron, who is coming off his first pro season in Wales with Ospreys.
While young, with just 15 caps going into Saturday's Pacific Nations Cup match against the U.S. Eagles in Sacramento, Ardron is no stranger to leadership. He captained the McMaster University team, as well as Canada at the IRB Junior World Trophy.
Ardron, who made his national team debut in June 2012, also led Canada twice in 2013 before Crowley made it permanent this year.
"He's a good player, he knows the game," said Crowley. "His year at Ospreys has really helped him. He's even being brought into the leadership group in the Ospreys camp. So that just shows you what their opinion of him is.
"I see him as a leader who could be a leader for Canada for a long time to come. He's grounded, he has good character. He's still obviously learning the whole leadership role of it but I've been very impressed with him."
The six-foot-four 242-pounder showed his commitment to the team last November in Tbilisi when Georgian flanker Vito Kolelishvili clotheslined Canadian fly half Liam Underwood.
Ardron, who was captain on the day, confronted the Georgian and a brawl began, with several Canadians engulfed in packs of Georgia players. Almost every player on the field got involved, with several mini-clashes breaking out as Canadian trainers tended to the prone Underwood.
Kolelishvili and Ardron were both red-carded when peace was restored. The Canadian forward escaped further sanctions because he did not throw a punch.
Rees, currently manager of the national men's program, says Ardron's rugby story is one of a "meteoric rise."
"For me one of the most important things with a captain is his name is one of the first on the team sheet, from the selection point, and it is in his case," said Rees, a member of the International Rugby Board Hall of Fame. "By no means a finished product in terms of captaincy but a really good head on his shoulders. He's very open to using and engaging the other senior players which is something that I learned over my course (as captain) is really important."
"A guy who cares about the jersey," said Charron, who like Rees played in four Rugby World Cups.
Charron, no stranger to leading by example, likes what he sees on the field with Ardron.
"I've been impressed with his play," added Charron, Rugby Canada's manager of player advancement and alumni relations.
Ardron grew up playing hockey, adding rugby in Grade 9. A centre in hockey, he played at the triple-A level and had dreams of playing in the OHL before focusing on university and rugby.
He moved to Victoria during his third year at McMaster to take his rugby to the next level. He had already won sevens gold at the 2011 Pan American Games, a squad whose members continues to excel for Rugby Canada.
This was the first season he hasn't played a sevens, due to his pro commitments with his Welsh club team.
Ardron, who rooms with fellow Canadian Jeff Hassler in Wales, played 22 games for Ospreys in his debut season.
"It went really well," he said. "Jeff made the dream (all-star) team of the league and played a ton. As a forward we had a lot more rotation but I still played well over 20 games and had a ton of game time."
Nicknames are key on a team that includes five Jones, two Smiths and two named Thomas.
There is more to life than rugby, however. Ardron continues his university studies in finance and economics online. An avid reader, he can see a future in real estate.
With his growing club and international demands, it makes for a busy schedule but Ardron has no regrets.
"Any time you take a step back and think if I had just done the normal thing and finished my degree, I'd be sitting behind a desk probably now and wishing I was doing this. So I've got plenty of time to do that when I'm done. I think I just need to always keep that in mind and take a step back and look at it that way."
Canada is ranked 16th in the world by the IRB while the U.S. is No. 18. Both teams are coming off earlier losses to Japan in the Pacific Nations Cup.