Pierce gets fluent in French rugby

Cameron Pierce earns first cap with Canadian men's national team; signs pro contract in France.

Coldstream’s Cameron Pierce prepares for a lineout while playing U23 club rugby in France with ASM Clermont.

Coldstream’s Cameron Pierce prepares for a lineout while playing U23 club rugby in France with ASM Clermont.

Cameron Pierce’s Twitter profile says it all.

“Small town Canadian kid. National team rugby player with a travelling habit. ASM academy to Section Paloise (France).”

Pierce (@cdpierce4), a former high school standout with the Kalamalka Lakers, earned his first cap (and second selection) with Team Canada on June 19, coming on as a second-half sub in a 16-13 loss to Japan.

Despite the outcome, Pierce will definitely remember playing in front of 4,456 fans, especially because of the weather.

“We played in Nagoya and the rain didn’t stop the entire game,” said Pierce, noting it was part of the Pacific Nations Cup tournament between the U.S., Tonga, Japan and Fiji. Canada placed second.

“It was back and forth the whole game, but they capitalized on a few penalties against us and pulled through.”

The 21-year-old Pierce’s selection came as a shock. Even though he was training with the club, it wasn’t until about halfway through the initial Pacific Nations Cup camp in Victoria that he was selected for the first game against the U.S. (he did not play).

“I definitely didn’t expect to be selected that quickly, but I had a good few days at camp and some other players at my position were injured or not there at the time,” said the 6-foot-7, 240-pound second row player.

Pierce’s trajectory to the national team has been a direct one, albeit with a European detour.

He had a stint with the Kelowna Crows in Grade 12 before committing to the University of Victoria Vikings. By the end of his first season, he was the starting No. 8 for the Vikes, helping them win a B.C. Premier title while he was still a teenager.

Since then, he has spent the last two years with the Under 23 ASM Clermont academy team in France. He was a starter for all of last season, which saw Clermont fall to Montpellier on penalty kicks in the semifinal. The game remained tied after 20 minutes of overtime, resulting in kicks on the 22-metre line.

“Dumb way to lose if you ask me,” said Pierce. “They went on to win the final by 20 points to a team we crushed a few weeks prior, so that was pretty upsetting.”

Pierce recently went pro, signing a one-year contract with the club Section Paloise in Pau (southwest France). The team plays in the French second division (ProD2).

He probably could have signed with Clermont’s pro team, but said he would be way down the depth chart. He said Clermont are like the Boston Bruins of French rugby.

“I decided this would be a better fit for me to climb the ladder as a professional rugby player,” said Pierce. “This new club will give me a better opportunity to play at the professional level, and from there, hopefully make it into the Top 14 (France’s highest league).

He might be onto something here as the bottom two teams of Top 14 are relegated to ProD2, while the top ProD2 teams get promoted. Pau has placed third in ProD2 for the past two years.

Pierce will play and train with the Paloise pro team every week, and if he is not selected to the game squad, he will still be eligible to play U23.

Off the pitch, Pierce is loving life in France, especially now that he speaks the language.

“It was difficult at the beginning, but now that I speak fluent French it makes life a lot easier,” said Pierce, who was one of two or three Anglophones at the academy. “Many players who come to France come right into the pro system at an older age and have no intentions on learning a second language.”

And with flights and train tickets both cheap and plentiful, Pierce has made the most of his downtime while overseas.

“Any chance I have to travel I take it,” he said. “So far my favorite places have been Prague and Barcelona.

“When I moved to my new place in Pau, we drove less than an hour to the coast and stayed in France’s surf capital of Biarritz. Hopefully I can make that a hobby when I go back.”

Pierce said it will be tough to crack Canada’s roster for its upcoming World Cup qualifiers. The Canadians face the U.S. in a two-game, home-and-home series in August. The winner advances to the 2015 World Cup in England. The loser will take on Uruguay in a NACRA-CONSUR playoff final.

“Those games are very important, so Rugby Canada will try and put together their best team possible, including bringing in some big guns like my old clubmate at ASM Clermont, Jamie Cudmore, from Squamish,” he said.

Rugby Canada received a lot of face time (or perhaps beard time) at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, thanks to the lunch-box mentality of Adam Kleeberger and several other heavily bearded Canadian players. The organization is looking to continue that momentum after signing a two-year contract with TSN leading up to 2015. Canada’s home games, in both Sevens and 15s, will be broadcast.

“This contract will definitely help Canadian rugby grow in popularity; all the guys are pretty excited about it,” said Pierce.

Pierce has signed up for Open Learning through Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, with the goal of finishing the Bachelor of Arts degree he started at UVic four years ago.