Maori All Blacks make Vancouver appearance as rugby continues to grow in Canada
As Canadian rugby gains popularity, world renowned rugby team only elevates the hype
Reported by Trevor Nault
A record crowd packed BC Place on Friday to watch the Maori All Blacks destroy the Canadian men’s rugby team and Canada couldn’t be more excited.
Jorden Sandover-Best, a rookie on Canada’s national rugby team and former UBC Thunderbird, believes the sell-out crowd is only the start of something bigger for rugby in Canada.
According to data from Statistics Canada and Canadian Heritage, soccer, swimming and hockey have traditionally dominated the list of sports played by youth in Canada. Rugby’s never broken the top ten, but Sandover-Best is hopeful that trend could change.
“It’s the fastest growing sport, it’s on the up. There’s so much going on. It’s been popular all around the world and it’s just been catching on in the last ten years or so from my perspective,” Sandover-Best said of Canada’s rugby scene. Canada currently has 263 registered rugby clubs.
Though Canada has yet to win a game against the All Blacks this season, nearly 30,000 fans came to watch their 51-9 loss on Friday, the single largest crowd for a fifteens match in Canadian rugby history.
“It’s not a traditional rugby country,” said Clayton McMillan, coach of the Maori All Blacks. “Thirty thousand fans here, It’s a great advertisement for rugby worldwide.”
“[The fans] were very vocal and passionate, and that certainly added to the occasion,” McMillan said.
Phillip Mack, Rugby Canada’s team captain has seen the game grow since high school.
“In high school, I didn’t know what rugby was, it was just thrown on me and I took to it and I just didn’t look back,” Mack said.
“We’ve seen an exciting growth of the popularity of rugby in Canada, based on the the success of the Olympics in Rio, key tournaments like Canada Sevens in Vancouver and Langford and the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups,” said Dustin Hopkins, Director of National Development, Rugby Canada.
Canada heads to Europe now to play Georgia on Nov. 11, Spain on Nov. 18 and Fiji on Nov. 25. They’ll return to Vancouver on Jan. 27 to take on Uruguay in an attempt to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Video by Evan Hagedorn