Canada rugby earns ratings

Canada's upset win over Tonga at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand is creating a stir in the sporting community.

Used to wonder why James Bay rugby star Hans deGoede used to down a few beers and then bash his head against the wall of the Nanaimo Hornets’ Pioneer Park clubhouse.

No blood. No stitches. The wall always lost. Everybody laughed. It was just rugby culture at its finest.

I covered Island rugby for a decade. It took me a year or two to figure out what the heck they were doing in a ruck or scrum, and why some guys in the lineouts didn’t have underwear.

Took another few years to figure out the difference between the eighth man and the prop. It was very good rugby, but I was never quite hooked on the sport, referred to by ruggers as a barbaric sport played by gentlemen.

I got hooked the other night when Canada stormed back to stun Tonga 25-20 to open their World Cup campaign in New Zealand.

Started out intent on watching a few minutes before finding a Criminal Minds re-run on another channel. Watched the whole game and then some more the next night on the re-play. Even my kids, who had never watched a play of rugby in their lives, were mesmerized.

The skill set, intensity and pace of the game was amazing. TSN had several camera angles available and the coverage was first-class. I had chills watching the Canadians celebrate the victory as BTO’s Takin’ Care of Business blared over the stadium’s speakers.

Loved Adam Kleeberger, the bearded tackling phenom from White Rock, who has gone from a nobody to a media darling in 80 fast minutes.

Kleeberger, who grew the large mass of facial hair while recovering from shoulder surgery after a two-game stint with Auckland’s ITM Cup side, is 27 and will likely earn a pro contract following the world tournament.

He and Hubert Buydens and Jeff Sinclair are being called the “beardos” with Team Canada, whose power and determination shone through versus Tonga.

Kleeberger, who was a force in the back row, is telling the media he will take a razor to the beard once the Cup ends.

“It would be pretty hard for me not to shave it off. I kind of miss having my face.”

Kleeberger pretty much has cult status and the rest of the team isn’t far behind. Nobody expected them to beat powerful France on Sunday, which was Saturday in New Zealand.

France was dressing their ‘B’ team to rest their stars for the New Zealand All Blacks. Hopefully, Canada used that for inspiration and gave the Frenchman a good run. France grounded Canada 50-6 in 2005.

Gareth Rees of TSN, a former national team superstar, noted in his column about how committed the Canadians were to this tournament.

Rees wrote that “James Pritchard opted to stay and kick the vital goals that propelled Canada clear, rather than return to the U.K. for the birth of his second child.”

And Rees noted: “Jamie Cudmore conceded his only summer break from professional rugby to come back and ‘volunteer’ for the Canadian cause by making 23 of the team’s 100 tackles.”

Canada’s superb efforts against Tonga have forced mainstream media to take notice that rugby is worthy of prime-time coverage. As former Kiwi Kieran Crowley, the Canadian coach, says, these are some of the best professionals he’s ever seen, except they aren’t being paid.

If you get a chance, check out a game or two. Once you look past the beards, you’ll love the action.

Colvin remembers Salei’s kindness

Seems like just about everybody knows somebody touched in some way by the plane crash which killed 27 elite Russian hockey team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl players two weeks ago.

Vernon personal trainer J.C. Colvin, a former Medicine Hat goaltender, got to know one of the players while at the Vancouver Winter Games.

“I was just reviewing the program from the Belarus Team that I worked with during the Olympics and Ruslan Salei was on that team,” said Colvin. “I got to know him a little through conversations during and after workouts. I had him sign a program and team jersey the team gave me as well as he presented me with an Avalanche toque in front of the guys after one of the cool downs I led them in.”

Feeling extreme sadness. Colvin said the accident took him back to his WHL days when he learned the Swift Current Broncos’ bus crashed in 1986, killing four players.