When Rick Honeyford first started playing senior men’s rugby, he got schooled.
“I went out there and tried to tackle the way I tackled in high school, and the guy probably outweighed me by 50 pounds,” Honeyford said with a laugh.
“I separated my shoulder.”
This spring, the Balmy Beach Rugby Club launched a new team to bridge the gap between high school rugby and harder-tackling kind played by its three senior men’s teams.
Called the Beach Academy, the team is open to men under 25, though so far most are in their late teens. Their May to August season ends early enough that players in college or university can play straight to finals.
Honeyford, now the team manager, said the idea of running an academy team has been talked about for years.
But so far Balmy Beach is the only Ontario club to do it.
“It’s a pioneering move,” said the Academy’s head coach, Matthew Guinness-King, adding that it was club president Haydn Gage who really made it happen.
Big hits aside, Guinness-King said young, fast-footed players can get deflated by the more grinding pace of senior rugby.
“Strangely enough, in rugby as the guys get bigger, the game slows down, especially in the tackle area,” said Guinness-King, a five-year Team Canada captain who also led the rugby team at Cambridge University, UK.
“If they’re a really good winger standing out there the whole time waiting for the ball to come to them —it just never gets there.”
On June 14, in their first game on home turf at Tubs and Gee Gage Field, the Beach Academy routed the competition from the Georgian Bay Titans, who hail mainly from Collingwood, Ontario.
Asked for a final score, Guinness-King said, “A lot to a little.”
The Titans called it a game halfway through, he said, partly so both teams could get to BMO Field in time to see Canada play Scotland (Scotland won by a mere two points).
But the Beach Academy have been bested by other teams, all of whom play in the Toronto Rugby Union’s senior B division. Some of them are strong enough to play at the provincial level, said Guinness-King, but simply lack enough players to field the two full teams it requires.
For now, Guinness-King said the Beach Academy’s goal is to win their league so they get promoted to the A division next year.
Down the road, he said they want to see more Ontario clubs field under-25 teams of their own so that more junior players stay in the game. A few clubs have already put such teams together for exhibition matches, he added, and are talking about registering for next year.
“It’s gone like gangbusters so far,” he said. “Everyone loves it.”