YORKTON - The next couple of weeks are going to be big for Canadian rugby player Matt Klimchuk who grew up in Regina, getting his first taste of the sport in the provincial capital.
Klimchuk was recently named to Rugby Canada’s November Internationals Squad, so he dressed in Canada’s red jerseys against Netherlands Nov. 12, and is expected by be on the game day roster against Namibia Nov.19.
Klimchuk would earn his first international cap (appearance) for Canada as a second half replacement Saturday. Canada would top Netherlands 37-25.
“Of course it’s kind of what I’ve been working for the last bit of my life,” said the 20-year-old in a telephone interview from the Netherlands.
Klimchuk said getting the news he was on the squad was huge, adding he immediately needed to call his mom and dad with the news.
“They’re two big supporters of mine,” he said.
Personally, it was just a moment of joy.
“I was just happy. It felt incredible. I was looking to get a look here,” he said, adding the national team really has been his goal from the first time he hit a rugby pitch. “Ever since I first started playing I knew that this was going to be my goal.”
So just when and how does a boy growing up in Regina not only gravitate to rugby, but excels at the sport?
Klimchuk said as a youth he actually played a lot of sports soccer, some martial arts, then in high school took up football and wrestling.
Then he gave rugby a try and was hooked.
“It’s the dynamics of the game,” he said.
As a football player Klimchuk played offensive and defensive lines where the expectations are pretty well defined along rather narrow lines, protect or get the quarterback depending on which side of the line he was on.
Rugby is more diverse in what players get to do.
“Rugby is one of the coolest sports,” said Klimchuk. “You are the quarterback, the kick returner, the wide receiver, the linebacker. You get to carry the ball. You get to make tackles.”
As a classic lineman in football the idea of being able “to get the ball and score touchdowns too,” was heady stuff, offered Klimchuk.
But, he was in Regina and that meant he was not exactly in a locale noted for rugby excellence.
“Canada’s a big country and there are rugby hotspots,” said Klimchuk, adding there are some good club teams on the Prairies, but the best rugby tends to be played on the west coast.
Klimchuk said if a rugby player is looking to achieve the top levels of the sport in Canada “it’s really tough to stay on the Prairies.”
So, in high school Klimchuk made the decision to pursue his dream away from Regina.
“I left Regina in Grade 11,” he said.
His suitcases packed he headed west to finish his schooling in Victoria where he could also hone his rugby skills under the tutelage of coach Ian Hyde-Lay.
The move worked in the sense Klimchuk has now got a chance to show what he can do on an international rugby pitch. It’s a key step, he realizes.
“To be a good international rugby player you’ve got to play international rugby,” he said.
As it happens right now there are likely opportunities for a young player like Klimchuk which would not always exist. The men’s team has scuffled of late, failing to qualify for the world championship tourney for the first time. It’s likely there will be a new look to the squad moving forward as a result.
“There’s no question there’s been a bit of a struggle the past two years,” said Klimchuk, adding younger players are definitely getting attention from national team head coach Kingsley Jones. “. . . We’re getting these international looks.”
So when Klimchuk self analyzes his game what does he feel he brings to the pitch for Team Canada?
“Being from the Prairies and Regina, I like to think I play fast, skillful rugby, and I pride myself on some of the athleticism that I have,” he said.
Also being a Prairie boy, Klimchuk said he tries to bring a level of physicality to the pitch, in concert with a high level of relentlessness.
But, in the upcoming games it will be important to just play solid, mistake-free rugby.
“I just want to do my role,” he said, adding rugby is very much a game where each player is a cog in a machine, and if all 15 cogs are doing what they are supposed to they can win games.