Hanna Edenshaw, teacher Christine Cunningham, and Devon Bjur get set to watch the HSBC Canada Rugby Sevens tournament in Vancouver. (Submitted)

Hanna Edenshaw, teacher Christine Cunningham, and Devon Bjur get set to watch the HSBC Canada Rugby Sevens tournament in Vancouver. (Submitted)

Young players skill up at Canada Rugby Sevens

Haida Gwaii students travel to Vancouver to watch the international rugby sevens tournament

Devon Bjur caught his birthday present this year, and 39,000 rugby fans saw it happen.

Sitting in the “hot seat” right by the field at BC Place, Bjur caught the kick-off ball for the Canada/U.S. game at a rugby sevens tournament in Vancouver two weeks ago.

“You can’t get any closer,” Bjur said. “That was pretty cool.”

Bjur and Hanna Edenshaw, both students at Gudangaay Tlaats’gaa Naay, were in Vancouver along with teacher Christine Cunningham to watch some of the international tournament, and to join a rugby clinic called “We Scrum as One” that aims to grow the sport among Indigenous players.

Both students were chosen because they’ve already played rugby, and are keen to get teams started here on Haida Gwaii.

While Bjur got started on east-coast P.E.I., Edenshaw played her first rugby on the beach at Talalung Slung / Lepas Bay, during a ReDiscovery summer camp.

“That was the most fun I’ve ever had,” said Edenshaw, who can well remember getting tackled by former Canadian national team player and Haida Gwaii adventurer Genevieve Gay.

At We Scrum as One, Edenshaw and Bjur joined about 30 other Grade 8 to 12 players at Vancouver’s Andy Livingston Park for a clinic run by rugby pros and coaches from Fiji, Australia, England, and Canada.

While they played “fifteens” in the clinic, the tournament featured rugby sevens — a much faster, more high-scoring type of rugby that has seven rather than 15 players per side, and seven-minute rather than 40-minute halves.

Rugby sevens became an Olympic sport at the 2016 summer games in Rio de Janeiro, and several former rugby players and coaches on Haida Gwaii are hoping it takes off here.

“We’re trying to get it started,” said Cunningham, adding that the week-long Thunder Rugby camp from May 13 to 18 will be a big help as it may be the first time for many youth to see the game in action. The camp will include teams from north and south Haida Gwaii, as well as from Prince Rupert.

“There’s a lot of really incredible rugby players on this island” Cunningham said, including Genevieve Gay, former Rugby Canada president Rick Bourne, and former player Sylvan Daugert.

Along with a retired Maori player from the world famous All Blacks rugby team, Edenshaw said she and Bjur got to hear a speech from Waneek Horn-Miller at We Scrum As One. As an athlete, Horn-Miller is best known for competing in Olympic water polo, but she is also a competitive swimmer.

“It was really cool to meet her because my mom had spoken a lot about her,” said Edenshaw, adding that it was “super inspiring” to hear about all Horn-Miller has done. At 14, Edenshaw’s own age, Horn-Miller survived being stabbed by a soldier’s bayonet during a fight on the final day of the 78-day Oka Crisis in Quebec.

Edenshaw said several girls at GTN are interested in rugby, and she would be happy to captain a rugby sevens team in Masset.

“It’s a completely different game from fifteens — it’s really cool,” Edenshaw said. “There are so many different places in rugby, so many different things you can do.”

“Just try it out!”