'Fit, fast and strong' prevalent in rugby sevens
There is no bigger proponent of the sport of rugby in the Okanagan than Doug Manning.
It's little surprise then that the president of the Central Okanagan Rugby Enthusiasts (CORE) was thrilled to see some elite rugby talent showcased last weekend in Kelowna.
The Apple Bowl played host to the RugbyDaze sevens tournament, an exhibition featuring some of the country's up-and-coming young players, as well as a few veterans with extensive service records on Canada's national teams.
With rugby sevens making its Olympic debut in 2016, fans had a chance to view both men and women athletes who have the potential to suit up for Canada in two years time in Brazil.
Canada is currently ranked sixth in the world in men's sevens, while the national women's program is fourth.
"Sevens is a very popular sport all around the world," said Manning. "With 15-minute games, the players are going all-out, and for about 3 1/2 of that the players are in a dead sprint. It's a great spectator sport."
In scorching temperatures at the Apple Bowl on Saturday, the Canadian Maple Leafs romped to the men's division title, downing Lionheart 42-7 in the final.
The Leafs, who won the rest of their games by 40 points or more, featured talent such as 19-time capped Nick Blevins, scrum half Gordon McRorie, and Pat Kay, captain of the under 20 men's team which placed second last year at the world juniors last year in Chile.
"Their team-play, fitness in the heat, and world-class skills made them far and away the best team in the tournament," Manning said of the Maple Leafs.
Manning expects Kay, for one, to be a strong contender to land a spot with Canada's Olympic sevens side in 2016.
On the women's side, a mild upset saw the Apotella Angels—consisting of former Canadian players and some up-and-comers—knock off the Canadian Maple Leafs 26-14.
"Those in attendance would all agree this was the most exciting game of the weekend, with end-to-end runs, strong defense on both sides, and high quality team play," Manning said.
Some of the talented Canadian women on display included flanker Barbara Mervin, Magali Harvey (national sevens) and Andrea Burke.
In the men's division plate (consolation), the Kelowna Crows prevailed as champs, defeating there Strathcona Druids 25-15.
A player and builder of the sport for more than four decades, Manning said the image, quality and athleticism of the top rugby athlete has evolved significantly over the years.
"People have this picture of guys from the 1960s with his ear half torn off, a bandage on his head, all dishevelled and half drunk…that's just not the way it is," he said. "They're as elite an athlete as you can get, particularly the sevens players…and even the 15s are progressing towards that. They're fit, fast and strong.
"Of course rugby is played at all levels, so there's place for everyone to play."
Manning is hopeful Kelowna will be included next year on the B.C. Rugby Summer Sevens Series. The four elite-team showcase currently has four stops in the province, but none as of yet in the Interior.
CORE will also help host an instalment of the Canadian 15s national championship next month. On Saturday, Aug. 16 at 7 p.m. at the Apple Bowl, the B.C. Bears will take on the Prairie Wolfpack. The Rock, from Atlantic Canada, and the Ontario Blues are also involved in the championship tournament.
In other news, Manning has been appointed to the board of directors of B.C. Rugby and will serve as an advocate for Interior rugby.
There are currently close to 1,000 rugby players in the Central Okanagan—with about half of those under the age of 13—playing touch, sevens, 15s and elite league.