This past year and these past months have borne witness to populations around the world making sacrifices in order to preserve the sanctity of life in our communities. One of those sacrifices made on the home-front has been the closure of rugby clubs and rugby activities across Canada. There have been many hopeful discussions over the past months as to when we will be able to return to the field and some speculation as to the landscape of rugby in Ontario once we are able to play and celebrate playing.
One question in particular has been making the rounds on the periphery of our community and that is: Which club in Ontario will be the strongest once government mandated return to play has been sanctioned. The equation to come to an accurate conclusion on this question is rife with quadratics, lambdas, and parabolic expressions, but the answer is clear: The Burlington Centaurs will emerge as the strongest club in Ontario and perhaps Canada.
This conclusion is obvious for many different reasons; however, three points stand clear as the main components for a Centaur reign of supremacy once return to play is allowed. Allow me to elucidate on these main points and create a framework for other teams in Ontario seeking a successful return to use in the future.
The success of the Centaurs and their inevitable success in the coming season (whenever it comes) stems from an impervious corps d’espirit. Indeed, the level of integration of camaraderie that exists in the ranks of the Centaurs is heretofore seen in a rugby club in Canada. This is not an overnight strategy and unfortunately for most of the big clubs in Ontario the solution is not as simple as making a purchase to acquire it.
The problem is that most Clubs confuse loyalty and camaraderie. You see, loyalty can be purchased and molded from one individual to the next whereas camaraderie is ingrained knowledge that can only be instilled through years of communal sacrifice. The Centaurs are experts at this. There is no price to be paid to know a teammate is rushing to defend you at the breakdown if you are a Centaur. You know it will happen because there is always someone and has always been someone there for decades. There is no bargaining pre-game, there are no cash incentives, no express-passes, no pay-as-you-go meritocracy, no salt-to-gold scale to measure a players worth to the club; there are none of these things if you are a Centaur. The price is hard training, the currency is paid hand over fist in blood and sweat, and the reward for this type of club economy is the knowledge that every one on the field is meant to be there and even better than that they are playing for you and you for them.
The result of this is a core group of players that play an active role in the health of the club. This is not just a core group that exists just within our men’s team—a distinction that must sadly be made in the current state of rugby affairs in Ontario—but, also within our women’s team, the seconds, the thirds, the juniors, and even our bar staff. The core of the club is not the 1st XV as it is in the other clubs in proximity, the core of the Centaurs is found in the individuals who actively choose to make our club stronger. With their presence, their wisdom, their time, or the adoration that they invest into the club they are validated by knowing that they are a Centaur and as a result have created an unbreakable core that is decentralized and defused among all the individuals who call themselves a Centaur.
Finally, the Centaurs can thank their governing body and fellow clubs for years of marginalization that in turn has created an underdog spirit, which having been well and properly fostered is quickly developing into a product borne of hard-knocks. The Centaurs have not received government handouts, there is no alumni of self-interested referees, and no fund to support the purchases of imported players who are given starting positions without passing muster.
The path less travelled, is where the Centaurs find themselves as they use clear reasoning and ethical standards to navigate the rugby topography of Ontario. Rather than abusing an already morally gray system of grants available to rugby clubs in Canada the Centaurs have relied on their club base and burgeoning juniors’ program to supplement the club. Despite the growing concern of poorly trained and overly biased referee community the Centaurs have sought to adhere to an international standard or rugby, rather than the insular standard that most clubs have been bullied into.
There is a focus on cultural exchange for imported players who decide to play for the Centaurs, not the sticky and morally onerous practice of purchasing a player to simply play on the Men’s first team. Induction into the Centaurs is more akin to being inducted into a family along with the knowledge that players are people, not cattle, to be treated with respect. Never is a newcomer assaulted with a jersey and then shoved out onto the field moments after they enter the country, a practice which seems to dominate the MLR right now. Instead, players who come to the Centaurs from abroad or a few blocks away are invited to join the team on the same terms as everyone else and given the means to succeed not only at rugby, but at life in Canada.
Rugby will come again, friends. It has gone away in Ontario for some time, but that does not mean that sport has remained stagnant. The old bonds that tied teams together in the past have been weathered and eroded in the past year and months, and where other teams have suffered the Centaurs have found ways to strengthen those bonds.
Rugby will come again and the Centaurs are ready.
Written by Louis Hinshelwood