The fall Smithers Secondary rugby sevens season likely started and finished last Saturday, after junior and senior teams from Houston, Prince Rupert and Fort St. James made the trip for the day-long tournament.
Though the teams kept score, the tournament was more about gaining experience, not winning or losing.
But the Smithers teams looked good.
“You could say that Smithers had the upper hand the whole day,” head coach Cobus Jonker said. “But it’s part of the tournament to not really declare a winner or loser; it’s developmental rugby.”
Two years ago there was no rugby to speak of at Smithers Secondary.
Now, thanks to two rugby loving, South African ex-pats, Jonker and Allan Slater, it’s the most popular sport in the school.
In the beginning it was difficult for Jonker and Slater to fill out their rosters.
Now, there are 65 players enrolled in rugby at Smithers Secondary, including 30 on girls teams.
“I think our recipe is working,” Jonker said.
“We don’t exclude anyone. If they don’t have the skills it’s up to us to teach them the skills. There are no bench warmers on our rugby teams.”
Jonker and Slater are using the two months before the snow hits in autumn to teach fundamentals through rugby sevens – a faster more high-tempo version of the game. Some of the juniors playing on Saturday saw the first game action of their young careers.
“It’s a softer game with lots of running and the tackling and the ball contact isn’t so difficult,” Jonker said. “So we view it as an opportunity to teach our younger guys.”
Then, in the late winter, the rugby 15’s start up. Jonker and Slater hold two practices a week for the boys’ and girls’ teams in preparation for the coming season.
This year, the girls’ teams will play in both the U-14 and U-17 competitions at the B.C. Summer games and, in lieu of the B.C. rugby championships, will take a tour of Scotland in the spring.
The boys are planning on entering U-16 and U-18 teams in the provincial competition.
“We can only go forward,” Jonker said. “As coaches we see it as a challenge to grow the sport.”