Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Team Canada’s Conor Keys hopes upcoming match vs Scotland in Ottawa will inspire more youth to try rugby, like it did for him 18 years ago

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By Keaton Hills

Conor Keys first signed up to play rugby the day after he watched Scotland defeat Canada at Ottawa’s Twin Elm Rugby Park in 2006. Keys was cheering for Scotland in that match since both his parents are from Scotland originally.

Now, 18 years later, Ottawa will once again host a contest between Canada and Scotland, on July 6 at TD Place stadium and this time Keys will be firmly on Canada’s side as he sports the maple leaf on-field.

Flanked by Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe and the Gryphons boys’ rugby team on Thursday at Glebe Collegiate Institute, Keys helped announce that all children/youth under age 18 will be able to get free tickets to the match alongside a paying adult.

The 27-year-old Sacred Heart Catholic High School grad looks at it as an opportunity for kids to get into rugby the same way he did once upon a time.

“I think the entertainment value is quite high and for the kids to be able to get in at no cost is incredible,” smiled the former Barrhaven Scottish/Ottawa Ospreys club player who’d been more focused on hockey before trying rugby.

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“They get to go watch it now and hopefully expose not only any of the school-age children but also their parents to get involved and watch rugby and get exposed to it. I think it’s a fantastic day out with the family.”

On top of the test match against Scotland, Canada’s men’s national test will also face Romania on July 12, while there are free community rugby festivals and events in the works to introduce kids to the sport alongside the games.

Last year when the Canadian women’s national team was in town, 3,000 rugby balls were donated to schools and community organizations in the area, and Ottawa blew away the women’s team’s attendance record with over 10,000 fans at TD Place.

With a crowd of over 10,000, Ottawa established a new attendance record for the Canadian women’s rugby 15s program on Saturday, July 8, 2023 at TD Place. Photo: @RugbyCanada Twitter

“The women’s series last year was incredible,” underlined Keys. “I was pretty sad to miss those games. I really wanted to make it back, but unfortunately my season wouldn’t let me.”

Keys’ absence can be forgiven. He was busy winning a North American pro league championship with Major League Rugby’s New England Free Jacks.

Read More: North American rugby growth another win in Conor Keys’ Major League Rugby championship season

Keys got to sneak home for Thursday’s event during a break of almost two weeks between games with the Free Jacks, who have started their season 6-3 to sit atop the eastern conference standings.

The international matches in Ottawa will take place during a break between the MLR regular season and playoffs, which begin the week of July 20. Many Team Canada members play in MLR, which should be beneficial as his world #21-ranked side takes on #6 Scotland and #20 Romania, Keys said.

“I think there’s an advantage of us coming from playing in-season and being in match shape,” explained the veteran of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. “We all play together for most of the year-round now, and to come in in match shape and be able to kind of play with each other again, but wearing the Canada jersey instead of the Free Jacks jersey, will be a bit of an advantage for us.”

Keys first got to represent Canada in his hometown in 2018 at Twin Elm, and he also played at TD Place once before in a test match against Spain in 2022. The second-row lock player said that game provided an incredible atmosphere, which he looks forward to experiencing again.

“Getting to play rugby in my hometown after being away for awhile is an incredible feeling,” he highlighted. “I can’t express how much it means to me.”

Conor Keys and Mark Sutcliffe alongside the Glebe Gryphons rugby team. Photo: Tim Austen Photography

Though there was no evidence of a sabotage effort, the Huskies at Keys’ alma mater Sacred Heart took down the reigning city-champion Gryphons in their senior boys’ rugby match the day after the announcement. The 3-2 Huskies’ 31-22 win allowed them to leapfrog Glebe (2-2) for third place in the league standings.

Glebe leads the local high school girls’ league, however, with a perfect 4-0 record.

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