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Guelph Rugby Club readies for full season of action

'We're actually hoping that people have been cooped up and they're looking for something new and exciting and come out and give rugby a try,' says Guelph Rugby Football Club president

Guelph Rugby Football Club is anxious for its teams to hit the field for the 2022 season.

The Redcoats seniors will be making their first on-field appearance since winning titles at the completion of the 2019 season. COVID kept them off the field in the past two years.

The Junior Gryphons youth squads did get on the field last year in reduced action and are to return with full schedules and an expanded program.

“We're offering everything now from U6 right through to U18,” GRFC president Gary Robinson said of the club’s Junior Gryphons program.

“From U6 to 12 it's co-ed and non-contact. Then they start introducing modified contact at 12 and then it's again a modified game at U14 which then splits into gender. U16 and 18 are the full game. It's kind of a nice progression.”

The modified games are to reduce contact as much as possible and let the players learn how to both tackle and be tackled.

“It's a tackle, but there's no contested rucks after it,” Robinson said. “The contact is very measured. If someone stops sort of in their tracks, it's considered a tackle so it's not like you have to get the person to the ground. It's modified a little bit to sort of meet kids where they're at and comfort level and all that.”

The Junior Gryphons did get some action in last year, but it certainly wasn’t a normal year of rugby for them.

Despite the reduced junior play and no senior play, GRFC was pretty happy with its membership totals.

“Our numbers were actually decent,” Robinson said. “They weren't as high as they usually would've been, but the parents were great getting the kids out when they could so we had decent numbers. We were able to run teams at all the age groups and we'd like to see that expand again this year and get back to where we were pre-COVID numbers and beyond.”

This year will be the club’s 10th year of operation, although the last two were lost years in a sense. It was formed in 2013 and had 80 members between its men’s, women’s, U18 boys’ and U18 girls’ programs. In 2019, the club boasted a membership of 269.

“We'd love to see numbers go back to pre-COVID,” Robinson said. “We're actually hoping that people have been cooped up and they're looking for something new and exciting and come out and give rugby a try. We've got some fantastic coaching at all the levels. We've got highly qualified and experienced coaches that can really teach the game. We'll get them started young so that when we feed them into the men's and women's teams, they’re playing at the top level.”

And they’ll have a firm grasp of the club’s main goals of teaching respect and teamwork.

The men’s team is to compete in the Rugby Ontario’s Marshall Division after capturing the title in the top division of the Niagara Rugby Union men’s league in 2019.

“Teams can decline the invitation if they feel they're not ready, but we felt that we had a strong player base, lots of numbers, lots of quality players and a great relationship with the university in getting players from there a lot of time and a lot of our guys are out of university, as well,” said Adam Maahs, head coach of the Redcoats senior men’s squad. “We're ready for the challenge which has unfortunately been delayed by a couple of years, but we're excited to get after it this coming summer. Hopefully it's worth the wait.”

Maahs expects the competition to be stiff this year.

“The teams in the Marshall typically have greater membership (than the teams in the NRU) so they'll have more depth and with that you get bigger, stronger, faster athletes on the field on a more regular basis so we have to step up to that challenge,” he said.

“With a young team, our speed and skill is sort of our team trademark and we just have to combat potentially some bigger bodies. It's just a challenge for the coaching staff to develop the skills and accuracy necessary to overcome that.”

The men’s team will have first and second squads, something that’s the norm in ORU leagues. The schedule will have the competing clubs battle in both the firsts and seconds on the same day.

“It's a good opportunity for all skill levels,” Maahs said. “Everyone who shows up plays in seconds, even if I have to switch the entire team at halftime which has happened on occasion when we get 45 people available on a weekend. It's a good development area. There's a mix of people just graduating from U18, people like myself who played firsts at some point in time and are taking a step back in regards to elite play.

"We'll have two teams and we'd love to expand in the future. A lot of clubs have three teams so growing membership is important for that which is why we're always looking for new members.”

The Redcoats women completed their 2019 season as champions of the Ontario Women’s League in only their second season in the league. They had run away with the NRU title in 2017 and reached the OWL final in 2018 after getting promoted, which was always their goal.

Right now it’s a little unknown who’ll be playing for the squad this season.

“We are largely reliant on the university players that decide to stick around Guelph in the summertime so those naturally recycle each year when players graduate and move back home or move away for different job opportunities,” said the team’s Carleigh Johnston.

“We typically see quite a bit of turnover and then we have some of those recent graduates that stick around and play year after year, three or four years after they finish at university so we have some of those core players that we definitely will still have this year that are really some key players on our team from a leadership perspective, but also are very talented players.

“A lot of locals who were on our junior teams will be coming up to the senior level, too. We're pretty excited to see what it'll look like this year and try to defend the championship.”

The Redcoats squads usually play home games on weekends at Exhibition Park and that’s expected to remain the same this year. Practices are usually at Eastview Park where many of the Junior Gryphons squads play although other parks are expected to be used this year with the expansion of the junior program.

The Junior Gryphons should also get a boost with the return of high school rugby this spring following a two-year absence.

The club is currently in its registration phase with a special early bird rate until the end of the month. Registration details can be found on the club’s website at