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Elias Ergas the latest North Shore player hit the BC Place pitch for Canada Sevens

The North Shore’s strong rugby tradition has been on display at this unique and exciting annual tournament that returns to BC Place this weekend
Elias Ergas finds some running room for Team Canada at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens at Hong Kong Stadium in November. | Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby

The first points that North Shore rugby star Elias Ergas ever scored for Canada’s national men’s sevens team could not have been scripted much better.

He was at home, playing against Spain in the 2021 Canada Sevens tournament at BC Place in Vancouver, and as he touched down for a try, he raised his head up to a perfect sight.

“I remember touching the ball down and looking in the crowd ahead of me,” he said. “And I saw my parents and all my friends and family.”

It was a moment made possible both by a tournament that brings something entirely unique to the Vancouver sports scene, as well as a rugby culture on the North Shore that has helped local players reach the sport’s biggest stage for decades.

The HSBC Canada Sevens tournament was first played in Vancouver in 2016, quickly growing to become one of the most entertaining annual events on the local sports calendar. A sevens tournament is a sports extravaganza, with multiple fast-paced games rolling out one after another, the rugby action stopping only briefly for two new teams to be welcomed to the field with blaring music and blasting flames. And at the Vancouver event the fans in the stands are as entertaining as the action on the field, with BC Place patrons treating the tournament as a costume party, attending in “fancy dress” that ranges from a section full of Gord Downies to a whole bunch of cows, udders out.

And if you’ve been there, you’ve most likely seen a North Shore player hit the field. Starting with the Capilano Rugby Club and the powerhouse programs at Carson Graham, Collingwood, Rockridge and a number of other North Shore schools, there’s an impressive rugby system here built on the strength of coaches and organizers who are passionate about the game and its players.

Ergas first picked up a rugby ball while in elementary school at Mulgrave, and then pushed his game to its peak while playing for Collingwood, Capilano and the University of British Columbia. And before he earned his way onto the pitch as a player at the Canada Sevens, he was a fan in the stands.

“I went to every single Vancouver sevens growing up,” he said in a phone call last week while preparing for the USA Sevens in Los Angeles. “Going to Vancouver sevens as a young kid in high school and watching the previous team have all the success they had, and then being able to try to mimic them at home in front of friends and family – it’s a surreal experience for sure.”

He is following in the footsteps of other Capilano Rugby Club players who have suited up for the national sevens teams, players like Akio Tyler, Christoph Steuben, Garth Prouse, Mike Langley and Ryan Stewart on the men’s side, and Andrea Burk and Mandy Marchak on the women’s side. North Shore players Harry Jones and Adam Zaruba were key members of the most successful national sevens team, starring for Canada while Ergas was watching from the stands.

“Adam and Harry, I just remember hearing about them growing up, knowing they’re from the North Shore,” he said. “And then you go to see them play and both of them have definitely set a certain standard for the new group coming in representing Canada – just the professionalism that they brought to the table and the work rate that they brought, it definitely set a good standard for us, and we’re just trying to fill their shoes as best we can.”

Ergas joined the national team along with fellow North Shore player Nick Allen, whose career took a sad turn last year when he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a scooter crash in Bali. Allen is making progress in his recovery, and he is always in his teammate’s thoughts as they take the field, said Ergas.

Representing Canada in international competition is a “dream come true,” said Ergas. “It’s always an honor to be with the boys and to represent your country,” he said. “It’s almost been two years now and I’ve been loving every moment of it.”

The Canada Sevens tournament returns to Vancouver March 3-5, featuring 12 of the best men’s and women’s national teams from around the world. If you like rugby, or world class athleticism, or dressing up as Wario, but have never been to the tournament, I’d suggest giving it a shot. There certainly will be scores of people from the North Shore’s booming rugby community there with you, and at least one of them fighting it out on the pitch. Go and see for yourself. And don’t forget to dress fancy.

Andy Prest is the acting editor of the North Shore News. His lifestyle/humour column runs biweekly. [email protected]