VANCOUVER — Canada opens play in Japan at the 2019 World Cup of Rugby on Sept. 26.
And while the UBC Thunderbirds men’s team won’t be able to attend any of their home nation’s matches, they’ll be returning from the Land of the Rising Sun with some world-class rugby memories of their own.
That’s because the ‘Birds leave this weekend for their own two-week Japanese adventure as one of only eight hand-picked teams set to participate in the second annual World University Rugby Invitational (Sept. 14-24).
“From a performance standpoint, we have a huge roster going over,” began UBC head coach Curry Hitchborn of the 32-man squad (full roster below) set to don the blue-and-gold. “Every kid plays and it’s a massive development opportunity. It’s also another chance for our alumni and our donors to share in a real sense of pride with the program.”
UBC will partake in group-stage play Sept. 17 and 19 with teams from South Africa (University of Cape Town) and France (University of Bordeaux), as well as a combined New Zealand universities team.
On the other side of the draw, England will be represented by Oxford University as part of the other four-team group which also includes Russia’s Siberian Federal University, Australia’s University of Sydney and host Waseda University of Japan.
Semifinals are slated for Sept. 21 and the grand final set to follow Sept. 22.
Back in 2015, the Thunderbirds enjoyed one of biggest moments in program history when they defeated Oxford 18-14 on its national soil to finish in third place at the inaugural event.
That performance got UBC an invite back in 2019 where they will open as the event’s No. 3 seed.
Yet there’s more to the trip than just the games.
On Thursday, as Hitchborn prepared the team for the trip, he took inventory of so many of the historical remnants from the program’s voluminous and tradition-laden past on the Point Grey campus.
“In 1976, the UBC team went undefeated and that is the same year they went to Japan and played the All-Japan team,” says Hitchborn who counts Japanese rugby jersies among a trove of treasures impressive enough to open a museum.
“I really want our guys to understand the significance of this trip and experience it for what it is,” continued Hitchborn who says Thunderbirds players will partake in a cultural exchange with Tokyo’s host Waseda University by doing work in local elementary schools.
“It’s about something deeply cultural and deeply relevant,” he explained. “It’s an invaluable experience to go outside your comfort zone, immersing yourself in a new culture while representing your university.”
Only one player remains from the UBC roster which travelled to England in 2015, and that’s the team’s veteran fly-half/inside centre Adam McQueen of Mill Bay’s Brentwood College.
Some of the other notables include forward Liam Doll (North Vancouver-Carson Graham), and backs Elias Ergas (West Vancouver-Collingwood), Jake Lan (West Vancouver-Rockridge) and captain Michael Smith (Surrey-Earl Marriott).
With what down time they do have, Hitchborn says a couple of events are tentatively planned.
“We may try to get to a Japanese baseball game, and if we can, we’d like to go see the France-Argentina game (Sept. 21),” said Hitchborn.
Of course the squad would love to take in Canada’s first game, a Sept. 26 match against Italy.
Yet UBC’s schedule is so chalk full, that less than 100 hours after they finish in Japan, they will be back at their cozy Gerald McGavin UBC Rugby Centre to face the UBC Old Boys in a 2:30 p.m. Premier League clash on Sept. 28.
“In terms of value, this trip is going to be immense for us,” said Hitchborn. “Once we get back we have a Wightman Boot title (against the Victoria) to defend, a national university title to defend, and a World Cup title against Cal-Berkeley to defend.”
UBC will face Victoria in the first leg of the Wightman Boot series in the provincial capital on Oct. 11. After the winter thaw, the series wraps up March 14 at UBC.
The ‘Birds are in Montreal from Nov. 20-24 for the Canadian University Men’s Rugby Championships.
Hitchborn said the dates for the two-match World Cup series with Cal were still being finalized.
2019 ROSTER WORLD UNIVERSITY RUGBY INVITATIONAL
(At Japan Sept. 14-24)
Fraser Hurst (Vancouver-St. George’s), Matthew Ye (Markham (Ont.)-Bill Crothers), Sam Hughes (North Vancouver-Handsworth), Adam McQueen (Mill Bay-Brentwood College), Jack Scher (Vancouver-St. George’s), Niko Clironomos (Vancouver-Lord Byng), Flynn Heyes (North Vancouver-Carson Graham), Elias Ergas (West Vancouver-Collingwood), John Jubenville (Surrey-Earl Marriott), Evan Norris (Shawnigan Lake), Jake Lan (West Vancouver-Rockridge), Tighe Maxwell-Whiteley (West Yorkshire (Eng.)-Brighouse), Tyler Nylander (North Vancouver-Carson Graham), Conor Byron (Abbotsford-Yale) Maxwell Radcliffe (Surrey-Earl Marriott)
Nicholas Frost (West Vancouver-Collingwood), Conor O’Flaherty (International School Brussels), Sam Turner (Vancouver-St. George’s), Bryce Worden (Sussex (N.B.) Regional), Alex Chitan (West Vancouver-Sentinel), Tom Abercrombie (Victoria-Oak Bay), Josh Tweed (Surrey-Semiahmoo), Connor Sampson (Vancouver-Sir Charles Tupper), Liam Doll (North Vancouver-Carson Graham), Frank Carson (Delta-Southpointe), Donald Carson (Delta-Southpointe), Izzak Kelly (Surrey-Earl Marriott), Owain Ruttan (Ont.-St. Mary Catholic), Harrison Smith (North Vancouver-Handsworth), David Carson (Victoria-Oak Bay), Callum Motchar (Vancouver-Magee), Michael Smith (Surrey-Earl Marriott).
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