Vernon’s Cam Pierce is taking a break from his university education. Rugby classes begin in France on Monday.
The 6-foot-6, 230-pound second row player with Canada’s Under 20 team starts a basic apprenticeship with an Under 23 club in Clermont-Ferrand, one of France’s oldest cities. ASM Clermont Auvergne is the city’s Rugby Union team running the academy.
“I’ll go back (University of Victoria) and finish my education degree, but for now, I’m going to focus on rugby,” said the soft-spoken Pierce, who played five years of high school ball for Ian Busfield’s Kalamalka Lakers.
“It’s a three-year academy contract which is negotiable every year. They pay my accommodation and bills, and I can eat at the buffet. They pay me a little bit so that’s why some people say it’s professional rugby.”
The season starts in late August, takes a Christmas break and then goes again until June.
Pierce, who turns 20 in October, is “pretty nervous” about the venture, but he did get a good feel for Clermont-Ferrand on a three-week trial in April.
“They flew me out and had me practise with them. I got killed in the weight room. I’m strong for a Canadian kid, but those guys have been on a program for a while. On the field, I matched up well. I’m going to enjoy it for sure. I was looking at playing somewhere hot where I could do some surfing but this opportunity came up.”
Pierce was the youngest player by about five years on the B.C. Bears, a summer season team in the highest league for youth in Canada. His coach at the time was Mike James, who recommended Pierce for the French side.
“He called me and said, ‘We need to send you over there to get some experience and start a rugby career.”
Right after the tryout in Clermont-Ferrand, a city of 150,000, Pierce and Team Canada headed to Tbilisi, Georgia (formerly part of Russia) for the Junior World Rugby Trophy tournament. The event featured eight of the lower-seed countries ranked in the top-20.
Canada, coached by Mike Shelley, finished fifth, at 2-2, improving on a lone win in the 2010 tournament. They grounded Russia 49-24 to claim fifth.
Earlier, the Canadians suffered losses to Georgia (38-9) and Japan (30-15), while defeating Zimbabwe 49-23.
“I thought I played very well,” said Pierce. “I played all 80 minutes in all four games. I was well prepared: Doug Tate works you pretty well at UVic. We used our forwards to smash and let our backs run. We had a lot of speed in or backs, who run hard. We also dominated the lineouts.”
Rugby is the national sport in Georgia, where games are televised regularly. There was a crowd of 3,500 for the Georgia-Canada game, a career-high attendance for Pierce.
“Playing in front of that many people definitely got the adrenaline going,” said Pierce. “We felt like we could have beat Georgia and Japan, and if we were better prepared, we could have had a better result. We had a three-week training camp and the rest of the teams had been together for much longer.”
With Canada up 14-7 after a Russian try, Pierce touched down on a push-and-drive play for his second score of the tournament to increase the Canadian lead to 21-7 after 20 minutes.
Canada stopped Zimbabwe in scorching conditions of 35 C, with the Canadians trailing 8-7 at the half. Alberta’s Jeff Hassler scored the only Canadian try of the first half and had two on the day – his second straight two try effort after he scored a pair in the loss to Japan.
At the one-hour mark, Pierce touched down from in close, extending the Canadian lead to 28-16 with the Carlin Hamstra conversion. Hamstra, a Duncan product who plays for UBC, has grandparents in Coldstream – Bill and Coby Hamstra. His other set of grandparents – Klaus and Gundi Grosse, formerly of Armstrong, now live in Duncan.
“The competition was intense,” said Pierce. “There were no slouches at the tournament. The play was on par with top premier teams in B.C, with more passion and pride playing for your country.”
Clermont-Ferrand was the first city in France to get a new guided light transit system. Clermont-Ferrand is famous for hosting one of the world’s leading international festivals for short films, the Festival du Court Metrage de Clermont-Ferrand, as well as the corporate headquarters of Michelin, the global tire company created more than 100 years ago.