Saturday, April 26, 2014

International Rugby: Could BC Place become a home venue for Canada?

Photo BC Place
With the rugby stronghold province of British Columbia lacking an appropriate stadium to hold home internationals to rival that of the BMO field the Canadian test team has increasingly been having its most noteworthy home internationals concentrated in Toronto. This could be set to change as The Vancouver Sun has reported that Vancouver´s BC Place could have a rugby friendly artificial playing surface installed which would give Rugby Canada a ready made stadium in the west for international competition.    

Canada's most successful Rugby World Cup campaign too date was in 1991. That year the North Americans reached the Quarter Finals after finishing second in Pool D. Canada defeated both Fiji and Romania and lost to France by six points. France advanced to face England while Canada took on New Zealand and did so with a team made up of fourteen players from British Columbia. The only player not from the western province was Al Charron who was playing for Ottawa Irish in Ontario.

The make-up of the Canadian test side has evolved to now incorporate players from more provinces in the senior squad. Indeed a number of Canada's most notable players today are from other part of the country. Hubert Buydens is from Saskatchewan, Jeff Hassler is from Alberta, Ciaran Hearn is from Newfoundland and Labrador, Jebb Sinclair is from New Brunswick while Tyler Ardron, Aaron Carpenter, Phil MacKenzie, John Moonlight and Taylor Paris are from Ontario.

A lot has changed since 1991 as the sport's centre-piece, the Rugby World Cup has become a genuine global event and the sport has become more popular in many countries. In Canada the national team is unable to compete to the same extent against leading countries as was the case not only in 1991 but for quite some time thereafter.

Canada enjoyed success such as a win against Wales in Cardiff in 1993 and wins over France and Scotland in 1994 and 2002. During this time home matches were played not at stadiums but rather traditional club fields as the profile of the sport was deemed insufficient for Rugby Canada to have the test matches played at stadiums.

The decision to host the USA at the BMO Field in Toronto in August 2011 was arguably a turning point in Canadian rugby. The success of the occasion saw Rugby Canadian return to the same venue for tests against Italy and the USA in 2012 and against Ireland and the Maori All Blacks in 2013. Having set a record of 22,566 for a rugby match in Canada it was selected to host Scotland this coming June.

During the same period in which the BMO Field has come to be the unofficial home of the Canadian test rugby side few matches have been allocated to British Columbia. So much so that since 2004 the only tests played in the province were the 2009 and 2012 test matches against Russia and Georgia.

Although matches have been spread with Calgary, Edmonton, Kingston, Nepean and St John's all hosting the Vancouver area has been unable to secure matches with Nepean and Kingston joining Toronto as Ontario host cities on multiple occasions. The 2013 home test against Japan will be the first in the Vancouver area against a side thought capable of defeating the Canadians at home for over a decade.

While there is still a lot of work to be done having an IRB approved artificial surface installed at BC Place in Vancouver could change everything, opening up home fixtures for Vancouver against Six Nations teams. With seating for 54,500 people it is more than double the size of BMO Field. It also has a retractable roof making it rugby friendly at more times of the year. A realistic fixture that Rugby Canada and BC Place could aim to host as early as in November 2016 would be Canada v New Zealand. The All Blacks are soon to be confirmed as playing a test in Chicago against the USA Eagles this coming November. 

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