Capilano kicks off rugby season with new head coach

Multi-sport star and longtime club member Garth Prouse takes over premier men's team

■ Capilano Rugby Club premier men’s home opener vs. Meraloma Rugby Club at Klahanie Park, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2:30 p.m.

The Capilano Rugby Club’s premier men kick off their season this weekend and they’ve got a new head coach running the show.

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Garth Prouse may have a new title as premier team head coach but he’s a very familiar face at the club – the longtime North Vancouver resident first started playing in the Capilano youth program in 1993. 

“I played for every division in the club at one point or another,” he said. “I’m super proud to be the head coach.”

Prouse, however, is much more than just a rugby player. He’ll bring with him a wealth of experience in sports and fitness that few could match, ranging from junior A hockey to national team rugby to the CrossFit Games. The Winnipeg native, whose family moved to North Vancouver when he was five, said his love of sport and physical fitness started at an early age.

“I grew up in that era where we were just thrown outside, we were able to leave the house when the sun comes up and come home when the sun goes down. I was very lucky to be a kid growing up in the ’80s,” he said. “My parents put me in every sport that I asked to be in. … I wasn’t really allowed to sit around the house.”

Rugby entered his life when Prouse went to Balmoral Junior Secondary where revered rugby coaches Harold Heer and Bruce Bourdon recruited everyone they could for the schools powerhouse program. 

“I went to Balmoral, and you don’t have a choice,” said Prouse with a laugh. He was kidding, sort of, but not really. “If you had any athletic ability you played rugby at that school, especially in the early ’90s. … It was a rugby school, and I wanted to play.”

His rugby career continued at Carson Graham Secondary and Capilano. At the same time, however, he was also an elite hockey player, suiting up for the New Westminster Outlaws, Surrey Eagles and Trail Smoke Eaters of the BCHL.

Rugby eventually won the battle for his attention, as Prouse progressed to play for the U17 and U19 Canadian national teams before earning a spot on the senior men’s national sevens teams, heading to events in rugby hotbeds like New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong.

A neck injury finally forced him out of the sport but he wasn’t quite ready to stop competing so he followed his background in personal training and fitness into the world of CrossFit, scoring some impressive results in that blossoming sport.

This summer, life came at the 40-year-old fast as he accepted the head coaching role at Capilano following the departure of Keith Reeves just a short time before becoming the new fitness director at the North Shore Winter Club.

Add it all up, and Capilano is coming away with a new head coach who knows the club inside and out and has a lifelong passion for sport and fitness. The premier league season kicks off this weekend with a trip to Seattle before the Caps return to Klahanie Park for their home opener next Saturday starting at 2:30 p.m. against Meraloma Rugby Club.

The team will once again be led by No. 8 Glen McKinnon and scrum half Chris Robinson, two Carson Graham grads who are team captains this season and have been key cogs for Capilano for several years.

“I would think Glen to be one of the top players in our province, if not our country,” said Prouse. “We rely pretty heavily on those guys on-field and for leadership.”

Flanker Jordan Reid-Harvey and forward Alex Boyd should also be leaders on the pitch, said Prouse. He’ll also be counting on contributions from Neil Courtney and Connor Weyell, two players who are coming back to Capilano after spending several seasons in the powerhouse UBC Thunderbirds program.

“They’re a rugby factory at this point,” Prouse said of the UBC squad, winners of three straight B.C. Rugby Premier League titles. “(Courtney and Weyell) are looking like they’re going to make a real impact for our squad this season. It’s going to be great for us to have them.”

It will be a young Capilano squad this year, with McKinnon and Robinson surrounded by several players in their early- to mid-20s.

“Youth is on our side,” said Prouse. “We’re a little stronger in our forward pack, so we’ve got to play to our strength. Definitely at the beginning of the season we’ll be a little more forward-orientated. We have a simple but effective system in place where everyone is involved and we can use everyone’s talents within our team.”

Capilano failed to make the Premier League playoffs last season, something they’ll be looking to change this year.

“The goal is to make the playoffs,” said Prouse. “I think a realistic goal for us is to come top-four. There’s some pretty stiff competition in our league.”

The rugby power in the province has shifted in recent years, said Prouse, with UBC attracting top talent and national team players congregating on Vancouver Island where they have a permanent Team Canada training base. That shift has forced Capilano to work even harder to keep up, said Prouse. 

“Our rugby club has historically benefitted from being on the North Shore and having all the North Shore players,” he said. “It’s kind of turned now into a bit of a detriment just because of the way the city has developed. We’re not attracting players from anywhere else. … We’re kind of on our own little island over here where if we don’t breed our own talent, generally we’re not getting talent from other areas. That’s been our challenge the last few years – just developing our own talent.”

The team will get a good test of where they stand when they host Meraloma, their longtime rivals from Vancouver, next Saturday at Klahanie.

“Historically our home openers have been great energy, good rugby and a dry day,” said Prouse, who has seen his fair share of opening days since joining the club more than 20 years ago. Guys are relatively healthy at that point, obviously because it’s the beginning of the year, so it should be an exciting day for everybody.”

• • •

Several Capilano players scored big while playing national and international rugby over the summer. Andrea Burk helped the senior women’s national team finish fifth at the Rugby Wold Cup in Ireland. The Canadians were unlucky not to make it to the medal round, finishing the tournament with a stellar 4-1 record, their only loss coming against a powerhouse New Zealand squad. Canada wrapped up the tournament with a big 43-12 win over Australia in the fifth-place match.

Three Capilano players – Jordan Reid-Harvey, Connor Weyell, and Neil Courtney – all played for the BC Bears squad that won the Canadian Rugby Championship. The Bears claimed the title by knocking off the Ontario Blues, defending champs, 30-29 in a thrilling final played Aug. 19 at Rugby Park in Calgary.

Three Capilano youth players – Liam Doll, Steven Ng, and Nick Frost – are currently in Uruguay for the World Rugby U20 Trophy tournament. The team has posted a record of 0-3 in the tournament and will play in the seventh-place game Sunday, Sept. 10.

Seven Capilano youth players recently toured Ireland with the provincial U18 teams. Jared Andrews Almack, Ben Cameron, Aiden Cottrell, Nicholas Gray, Ari Stan, and Tyler Wong played for U18 men’s team while Lyric Atchison suited up for the U18 women’s squad.

Capilano players Joel Hulett and Jack Couzens played Rugby League for Canada recently in Jamaica, with Couzens scoring a try during a 28-14 loss to the home side.

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