Mini Cowichan Piggie Brodie Brennan sneaks past an opposing defender during a match at the April 9 jamboree. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Mini rugby: small athletes, big deal

Sport growing in the youngest age groups

More than 300 athletes from 28 teams representing 10 clubs — including one each from the U.S. and England — took part in Cowichan Junior Rugby’s Mini Jamboree at Shawnigan Lake School on April 8.

Players from the U6 to U14 levels were involved in the long-running annual event, and Kenton McNutt, who heads up junior and mini programs for the Cowichan Rugby Football Club, was pleased with the outcome.

“This was my eighth year involved with Cowichan Junior Rugby’s spring Mini Rugby Jamboree at Shawnigan Lake School and once again it proved that mini rugby can deliver a fun-filled, safe and challenging sport option for all children,” he said. “Throughout the day, parents, coaches and players marvelled at the number of participants and the venue we had to enjoy this amazing sport.”

After decades on the fringes in Canada, rugby has experienced significant growth across the country for many reasons, McNutt said.

“Many of our players that are trying mini and junior rugby for the first time are really enjoying it due to its inclusive nature in that there really is a position for all players no matter what their skill set, size, et cetera,” he said.

“Quick and shifty or strong and sturdy, either way, everyone gets a sense of belonging to the team and contribute to it. It really is the ultimate team sport, we rely on every one of our players to contribute and every player gets the opportunity to touch and run with the ball and score a try. The culture of rugby is like no other. The respect for yourself, your teammates, the opposite team, the laws and the match officials are at the forefront of this culture.”

BC Rugby has moved toward the non-contact “Rookie Rugby” format for the U6, U8 and U10 age groups, with limited contact introduced at U12.

“The positive results this season have been almost instantaneous, with players who began our September season gaining the confidence and ability to execute the base skills with ease and at a higher level,” McNutt said. “A big step in the right direction.”

Rookie Rugby is being introduced to at least eight elementary schools in the Cowichan Valley this spring. Cowichan Junior Rugby is also hosting an eight-week introductory camp at the CRFC pitch on Monday evenings beginning May 1.

“This is for children ages 5 to 12 and specifically structured for young athletes being introduced to the sport for the very first time, focusing on the fundamental skills of rugby and safety,” McNutt related. “This more than prepares players for the next progression to our regular season of play, starting in September 2017.”

For more information about the program, visit the Cowichan Junior Piggies Facebook page.