Bryce Colquhoun hasn’t played a game with the Wolf Pack at the under-19 Canadian Rugby Championships yet, but the experience has already changed his life.
The 17-year-old Vincent Massey High School graduate was looking at attending Brandon University in the fall, but making the team that will represent Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta at the national championship — beginning July 16 in St. John’s, N.L. — has changed his mind. Colquhoun has opted to move to Vancouver to join Ravens Academy to focus on playing rugby at the elite level.
"I figured that if I made the U19, then if I’m going to have a chance to make these high-level teams then I’d take a year off of university, go play rugby," said Colquhoun, who helped the Westman Warlords finish fourth at the under-18 Prairie Rugby Championship in Regina over the weekend. "I figure school will always be there and not these opportunities.
"There’s a lot of boys coming up playing rugby in the Prairies, and if I want to make some of these higher-level teams and do something with rugby and play the sport I love, then I have to go to these academies and make sure that while other people are training, I’m not just sitting around and reading books."
When he first tried out for the Wolf Pack, which is coached by Souris Sabres high school coach Brian Yon, Colquhoun wasn’t sure he fit in with the team, as other players seemed a lot more experienced. But as time went on, the 6-foot-2, 285-pounder, who plays tighthead or loosehead, started feeling more comfortable and his confidence grew.
That was also the case for Souris native Nathan Greig.
The 18-year-old had tried out for the Wolf Pack last year, but didn’t crack the roster. The 6-foot-2, 223-pound lock, who will attend West Point Grey Academy in Vancouver next year to improve his rugby skills, is on top of the world as he prepares for the Canadian championship and he knows how valuable the experience of playing for the Wolf Pack will be in his future.
"It’s a higher level of rugby, so there’s more eyes looking at it instead of a high school rugby game where it’s just relatives and friends," he said. "Definitely learning every single time I’m on the field because it is a higher level, so all the players know quite a bit about rugby so there’s always advice coming at you. It’s not like they would yell at you, but they would suggest you try it differently.
"Every time I think about it (the CRC), butterflies are turning in my stomach."
Sheldon Kowalchuk, one of the Wolf Pack’s centres, also believes playing in nationals is a golden opportunity for him.
The 19-year-old from Souris spent part of last season with the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Virden Oil Capitals and wanted to do something competitive for the summer, so he went back to his rugby roots from high school and made the Wolf Pack.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder, who plays the centre positions, has enjoyed being on the team and expects the Wolf Pack to be tough.
"It’s been a great experience and the guys are even better this year," he said. "We’re coming into the tournament pretty physical. Our trial games were very physical games and hopefully we’ll have a good chance of taking the championship."
The Wolf Pack haven’t had a lot of time together. They’ve had a few camps that determined the roster, but they’re off to Calgary later this week to train and play a couple of exhibition games against a club team from England. They will then fly out to Newfoundland to begin the five-team U19 nationals.
Although final roles on the Wolf Pack haven’t been decided yet, the players are optimistic about their chances.
"We’ll just do what Prairie boys do: Play good rugby, hit people as hard as we can and make sure we’re rucking," Colquhoun said. "I don’t know how good this team has been in the past or how well they’ve compared to other places in Canada, but I really want to make sure I’m not letting them down and that we can be the best team we can be. There’s a lot of good athletes on the team and I believe we can go far."