Pulamoo would like to see more students discover fun of rugby
Wed May 6 2015
Byline: Katie Smith
The game of rugby has had a bad reputation, likely since its beginnings in the 19th century. This might have to do with a match’s many tackles and hits – by players wearing little equipment.
The odd player might wear a scrum cap, but other than that, the often metal-studded cleats and a mouth guard are all that is required.
Rugby players rely on fitness and skill over padding and helmets, which is to say they not only learn how to tackle, but they also learn how to protect themselves.
And while the sport may seem barbaric to many, for those who play, it brings camaraderie, friendship, healthy competition and a constant striving for improvement. It becomes a lifestyle, an obsession.
One of the coaches of the Miramichi Valley High School Pulamoo boys rugby team said the stigma around the sport could account for the low numbers of players he sees coming into the high schools.
Tim Sullivan, who has been with the team for five years, said in the northern part of the province, support for rugby is fairly low, but said in Miramichi the support is decent.
“There’s a pretty good community, as you can see, a lot of people want to come back (to help),” he told the Miramichi Leader during an outdoor practice on Wednesday April 29. “We’ve got some players that have come back today just to be at practice, so there’s a strong culture with that and the school is excellent with us.”
Sullivan said in the past 10 to 15 years, the sport’s popularity has grown in the Miramichi, but in other areas of the northeast, it’s been in decline.
“Bathurst used to have two teams, nothing now. There used to be some other stuff up in Richibucto, there’s nothing anymore. So it’s unfortunate that way. We’d really like to see it grow.”
Having a program in the middle schools would help get numbers up when the students reach high school, but it’s more than that, Sullivan said.
“It’s a slow process trying to convince people it’s not some barbaric sport with a bunch of brutes punching each other, and for whatever reason, that’s what people think it is.”
Sullivan said he doesn’t like to put expectations on any season but he feels confident in how the boys will do this year.
“For us, our biggest goal every year is to make the crossovers, to make the provincial semifinals. We want to get ourselves into a position for that, so usually that means being the top two in the conference. This year I think there’s only three teams in the conference, so the odds of that are usually pretty good.”
In his years as coach, Sullivan said there was only one year when the team didn’t reach its goal.
“We’ve been pretty consistent.”
Last year, the MVHS boys rugby team lost in the semifinals to Fredericton High School.
“Last year was definitely a rebuilding year, that’s how we looked at it,” said Sullivan.
Oromocto beat Fredericton High School in last year’s finals, and Sullivan said Oromocto often wins, and with good reason.
“They have a strong program and a great coach. They’ve always got good numbers and have two teams going. As soon as one guy graduates, another moves up. That’s what we’d like to get here.”
The high school’s team is made up of a large contingent of Grade 11s and a few seniors who will play a pivotal role this year, Sullivan said.
“The last couple of years we haven’t been able to get the 9s and 10s we’d like to, so that’s kind of the issue we’re trying to address,” he said. “As it stands right now, we like our team. We have a nice mix of guys who have been involved in rugby and like rugby. We have three or four guys who have played at the provincial level. We have some talent in here and some guys who have really helped the culture.”
One of the players Sullivan referred to is Grade 11 student Patrick Hache.
Upon first glance, Hache looks like he’s a coach rather than a player.
Standing almost six feet tall and weighing about 200 pounds, the 17-year-old played on last year’s provincial under-18 team in the front row of the scrum, as a prop.
The scrum is generally made up of bigger players, like Hache, but for his high school team, Hache plays with the backs at number 10.
For those unfamiliar with the sport, a rugby team consists of 15 players – eight in the scrum (forwards), a scrum-half who feeds the ball into and retrieves the ball from the scrum and passes the ball out to the six back players (backs).
When a scrum is won, the scrum-half throws the ball to the backs, and the first player who usually receives that pass is the number 10.
Having a strong build and speed is ideal for a number 10, but it also takes brains, and as Sullivan said of his team captain, Hache has it all.
“He’s the general out there. He can read the field and tell the guys where to go.” Hache said he’s happy in either position.
“I kind of like the backs because there are not a lot of backs who are closer to my size, but I do like the forward pack because I like being in close.”
To add to his playing advantage, Hache also wrestles (which helps with tackling) and does competitive powerlifting, which he said is, “just for fun”.
Powerlifting is good for rugby, he said.
“A lot of it’s explosive, compound lifts and squats.”
Hache also used to play basketball, but gave it up.
“I thought it would be better to train for rugby because it was the only sport that really meant a lot to me and that I did well at,” he said. “It’s definitely my favourite sport.”
Unlike many students who start high school, Hache was introduced to rugby at an early age because his sister, Jillian, used to play in high school.
“She was right into it, she’s not a very big girl, either, but she’s tough. She really got me into it. When we were younger she’d want to go outside and want to hit me.”
He said his friend’s involvement in the sport also piqued his interest.
“Me and my buddy, his older brother played and we’d kind of just practise in the yard and I got interested in it.”
Rugby has brought a lot to Hache over the years.
“A lot of good friends, I got really close with the team. It’s something to really look forward to and work hard for and train for.”
Hache said he would love to see more boys from the younger grades getting involved, and to convince them not to be afraid.
“A lot of the Grade 9s are convinced that if you’re not big then you can’t play, but I try to tell them there’s a position for every size. It doesn’t matter if you’re small; it doesn’t matter if you’re big. If you’re small, you’re probably quick and you’ll run the ball; if you’re big you’ll be taking on the little guys. I try to put them in a position where they feel confident.”
He said the decline in interest from Grade 9 students is disappointing.
“There was so much interest in my Grade 9 year, we had 25 guys out. Not all of them stuck with it, but we still got at least 10 guys who have kept up with it.”
As for this season, Hache is feeling good about lies ahead.
“I think this will be a really good season for us. We’ve had a pretty good group since Grade 9. I think if we’re going to do good or go anywhere, this is the year. We still have a good chance next year, but I think we’ll make an impact for sure this year.”
The team is also coached by Todd Beck, Jason Dedam and Rob Murphy, Sullivan said.
“They’re the ones bringing the majority of the knowledge and experience. They’ve got lots to share. And having Rob imported from Ireland helps too,” he said laughing.