Canada’s national men’s rugby team opens its season this Saturday in Edmonton against the United States, then returns home June 15 to take on Ireland at BMO Field.
Fans may be struck by the familiarity of at least one name on the back of a Canadian jersey: Beukeboom.
No, it’s not three-time Stanley Cup winner Jeff Beukeboom. It’s his 22-year-old nephew, Brett, a Lindsay native who is a rising star in the sport that features rucks, mauls, hookers and locks. And where a forward pass is, in fact, a foul.
The Brits call rugby a ruffian’s game played by gentlemen and, perhaps in a nod to the gentlemanly aspect of the game, a Men of the Match gala dinner will be held in Toronto June 13, featuring both the Canadian and Irish teams.
Beukeboom, who signed his first pro contract last year with England’s Plymouth Albion (one of a growing number of Canadian rugby players making a name for themselves overseas) plays the forward lock position. They’re the ones you see jumping for the ball in lineouts and offering power in the scrum — the position requires both strength and agility.
Although the family gene skews to hockey, Beukeboom found a love for the sport at 13 when he signed up with a local club. He says there are many similarities between the sports.
“In Lindsay, rugby’s a fairly big sport,” he says. “All the hockey players play it in the off-season, so that’s how I started out.”
Rising through club, high school and provincial ranks, it was only three years ago that he bought his first car, while he was a history major at the University of Victoria. For $500, he got a very used, 1994 Chevy Cavalier with 290,000 clicks on the odometer.
Beukeboom concedes he’s no gearhead: it was a practical, not romantic, purchase.
“I bought my first car off of one of my teammates in Victoria when I was 19. It wasn’t the greatest car, but it got me from point A to point B,” he says.
After fixing some initial tire problems, Beukeboom says it proved to be a solid purchase: the Cavalier was problem-free for two years.
With no major road trips, only a couple of quick trips to nearby Shawnigan Lake, he took it easy, using the car to mostly putter around Victoria.
It was only when he unloaded it on a buddy for less than $200 last year that things went downhill.
“I sold it to my friend and it broke down about two months later,” he says, laughing about what could have been a friendship-ending move. “I guess it worked out for me but not my friend.”
Beukeboom moved on to a 2002 Chrysler Intrepid, which he hasn’t gotten to drive much since he signed with the Plymouth team. But the move has meant more matches, a higher level of play and valuable experience.
Driving in England has also entailed a learning curve.
“(Last year) was my first year so I didn’t drive too much,” he says. “I drove my friend’s car a couple of times and it’s quite different driving over there. Everything is standard, as well, so you need to know how to drive standard.
“In my contract this year I’m getting a car, so it will be quite the change driving from the right side in Canada to the left side (in England).”
Gearing up for international matches, Beukeboom has his eye on the prize: playing for the Canadian squad in the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
“That’s the only real goal I have right now — the goal is the World Cup,” he says of one of the world’s largest sporting events (only the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics are watched by more people worldwide.)
Qualifying matches against the Unites States take place in August.
“It’s two tough games and, if we win those, we’re automatically qualified for the World Cup. So that’s obviously a goal that we’ve set as players and as a team.”
As Canada continues to shift culturally, it’s not a given any more that a young athlete will gravitate to the rink to lace up a pair of skates. Soccer, rugby and cricket are all fast becoming popular as well.
“Rugby is definitely a growing sport in Canada,” Beukeboom agrees. “It’s great to see little kids coming out to games and watching and supporting us playing the game.”
And that interest is reaping rewards in the professional ranks as well.
“There seems to be Canadians making it overseas, because of our hard work and I guess physicality. We’re known for forwards going over, because we suit the style of play the teams are looking for.”
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