A Terrace Northmen rugby player hit a new league of rugby recently, playing in Dubai with the reserve team for Rugby Canada.
Jared Stephens, originally from Terrace, was one of 12 players on the Maple Leafs reserve team, including NFL player Tevaughan Campbell who just switched from football to rugby.
The Maple Leafs went 2-4 in the senior men’s invitational tournament, competing with top-level national and international club teams.
“The tourney was unreal,” said Stephens, adding that he was competing in sevens rugby for the first time, so it was definitely a learning curve.
“15s and sevens are two different beasts,” he said, explaining how the sevens field is so much more wide open, so it’s faster, with quicker scoring and more cardio.
“It was a bit of an adjustment for me, playing at such a high level in a variation of rugby I’m not used to,” he said, “but the learning curve was steep.”
The Maple Leafs took a few games to find their stride, losing their first four — 7-29 to the Samurai International RFC, 5-33 to South Africa Academy, 19-22 to Monaco IMPIS, and 7-26 to Germany’s national team.
But things started coming together in their last two games.
The Maple Leafs defeated Germany’s development team 26-12, and ended with a 17-7 triumph over Zambia’s national team. By the end, they found their style, said Stephens.
“We played like, hard-nosed, gritty, keeping the ball — which is definitely our style. We weren’t a flashy, super fast, super athletic team, I think our strength was kind of holding the ball and controlling the rate of play, and I felt like we definitely did that in our last game.”
The Maple Leafs are based in Victoria, and have a flexible roster, but coach McGrath said he’s interested in keeping Stephens on the team.
“The tournament in Dubai was excellent,” said the national team coach Damian McGrath. “Although we didn’t win it was great exposure to top level rugby which so many of our development players really need.”
McGrath said Jared found it a big step up in standard, but quickly adapted.
“I was very impressed with him and will look to include him in Vancouver at the big invitational tournament.”
The reserve squad is booked for tournaments in Vancouver, Hong Kong, and Las Vegas, and has a South American tour, but the roster is flexible.
Stephens was recruited for the team by the coach McGrath back in October, when he was playing in Nanaimo.
Originally from Terrace, Stephens works as a firefighter here during the summers and competes with the Terrace Northmen. But for the last two years he’s worked in Nanaimo during the winters and hit the field with the Nanaimo Hornets, a 15s team in the premier division.
That’s where McGrath scouted him.
The Hornets were playing in Victoria for back-to-back weekends, facing James Bay one weekend and the Castaway Wanderers RFC next. McGrath attended both and approached Stephens afterward to ask him to join the Maple Leafs.
“Jared stood out in the consecutive weekends I watched,” said McGrath in an email last week. “I watched him play on losing teams, but he was outstanding in attack and defence.”
Stephens said he was surprised.
“Sevens Rugby is not something I ever thought I’d be doing,” he said. “I’ve just been focusing on 15s… I didn’t even know [McGrath] was at the games.”
He says his aim looking forward is simply to be the best he can be, and stay poised for what ever opportunities might come his way.
“As long as I’m doing whatever I can to get better… take it seriously… [be] prepared, then you never know who is going to be watching, and you never know what opportunities are going to come up,” he said.
“As long as you worry about being the best teammate, and just being the best player that you can be, then people are watching so things are going to work out,” he said.