Coldstream’s Isaac (Ike) Olson could not have asked for a finer 21st birthday present than being able to wear the maple leaf on his chest.
The Canada Day baby will be in England preparing for a pair of rugby international friendlies as a member of Canada’s men’s 15s team.
Olson, a former Fulton Maroons rugby, basketball and football standout, is one of 30 players named to the squad that will face two of the world’s top teams in a pair of exhibitions.
Canada – ranked No. 23 in the world – will play sixth-ranked Wales two days after Olson’s birthday on July 3 in Cardiff. The following week, July 10, Canada will play No. 3 England at legendary rugby pitch Twickenham Stadium. Canadian head coach Kingsley Jones will use these two games as preparation for upcoming Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification matches this fall.
“I’ve been buzzing ever since I found out,” laughed Olson from his home in Victoria, where he plays for Rugby Canada’s Development Academy. “It’s been quite a journey, especially over the past year with COVID. I couldn’t be more proud to be selected to play for my country.”
The games will be the first action for Canada since the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan. Canada went 0-3 against Italy (48-7), New Zealand (63-0) and South Africa (66-7), while its final game against Namibia was cancelled due to a typhoon.
South Africa beat England in the World Cup final while New Zealand defeated Wales for bronze.
“After the World Cup, a lot of guys on the national team decided to retire or move on, and make way for the new generation,” said Olson, one of 15 backs selected for the tour.
There is a heavy Major League Rugby (MLR) presence in the Canadian squad that features 25 players currently signed to MLR clubs, including nine players from Canada’s only MLR franchise, the Toronto Arrows.
Jones has selected 11 uncapped players (never played for a national team) to the squad including Olson.
There are 18 players in the national 7s program that have not been considered for selection as they focus on final Olympic preparation and selection.
“This is an outstanding opportunity for these young players to test themselves and perform against two very high-quality opponents,” said Jones. “The July matches are critical for our team as we prepare for our long-term goal of Rugby World Cup qualification this fall competing against USA and South American opponents.”
Olson got noticed by Canada’s brain trust at a three-weekend identification camp last November in Victoria.
“We had two inter-squad games and in the first game, I didn’t do too much,” said Olson. “But in the next game, I made all of my tackles and had a few good runs.”
It will be the second time Olson will don the Canadian jersey for Rugby Canada. He was named to the U20 squad in 2020 that played two games in Portugal, and was supposed to have gone on a tour of the UK later in the year except COVID wiped out all plans.
“It’s definitely a sense of pride to wear the maple leaf,” he said. “This opportunity (senior mens) has been in my sights and it’s been driving me to wear the jersey, not just for me but for my family, friends, my hometown. Vernon isn’t really a rugby town compared to places on the Island or Lower Mainland, so this is a chance to show that the Interior can produce some talented players.
“It’s a very cool opportunity for me.”
Olson and forward Jake Ilnicki of Williams Lake are the only two B.C. players of 13 selected for the squad from outside the Lower Mainland/Vancouver Island.