The third season of high performance regional rugby in Canada, now known as the Canadian Rugby Championship, has had its 2011 fixtures list approved.
In what will be an expanded season to allow for more meaningful games, each team will play five matches, plus pre-season exhibition contests, before an end of season champion will be awarded based on season play. The season will consist of ten games, up from seven in 2010.
The format, mirroring the current Six Nations or Tri-Nations formats, will see teams in the west home for three games and on the road for two, while the teams in the east will have the reverse schedule.
High Performance Manager for Rugby Canada, Les Gilson, is very pleased with the expanded format.
"This expansion is very important to the development of our Men’s National team," explains Gilson, who coached the Ontario Blues in 2010 before taking on his current role with Rugby Canada. "From a high performance stand point our players lack the quality and quantity of high performance games.
"With the expansion of the CRC the players will have a better stepping stone from club to International rugby."
The other aspect that has been enhanced this season, is to better take into account the needs of players who have to take significant time off from work in order to fit travel and games into an already busy playing schedule. To that end some teams will embark on two game swings playing on a Saturday and then again on a Tuesday, incorporating travel savings and days off for players.
"We thought it was important to get more games overall," commented CRC Tournament Manager Myles Spencer. "The addition of those three games satisfies the need to expand the competition while maximizing available resources."
All teams will benefit from the expanded schedule. Each team will play a home and away series against a division team and one out-of-division team and a single match (home or away) against the remaining out-of-division team.
"We consider division teams as the two teams within the same region (i.e. eastern Canada / western Canada)," explained Spencer.
The defending champions The Rock open the season on the road to British Columbia on July 30th. BC, are looking to rebound from a winless 2010 campaign, and will be pushing hard for improvement this season.
On the same day the 2010 runners-up, the Prairie Wolf Pack, host the Ontario Blues at Calgary Rugby Park.
Three days later (Tuesday, August 2nd) the Rock will play the Wolf Pack in Calgary, while the Blues move to the west coast to play British Columbia.
The third round of games begin on August 13th with the Wolf Pack on the road to British Columbia. A week later (August 20th) the third round wraps as the Ontario Blues travel to St. John's to play the Rock while on the same weekend - the fourth round technically gets underway with BC playing the Prairie Wolf Pack in Calgary, which is also the site of the 2011 Rugby Canada National Championships.
On the 27th of August BC has the return fixture vs the Rock at Swilers RFC in St. John's. That weekend also sees the Blues home to the Prairie Wolf Pack.
The season wraps up with the Blues at home to the Rock in what could be a tournament deciding match.
Blues Manager Mark Winokur says the new format will be exciting.
“Overall, being able to increase the number of games by 30% while staying on budget is a great step forward for the entire league,” said Winokur.
New coach for the Blues Rob Doyle says while the schedule presents some challenges, there is a nice build to the season.
“This schedule is a huge challenge for us with our opening road trip, but it gives us a defined target to aim at and getting a second crack at teams is everything we could ask for," he said.
2011 Canadian Rugby Championship Schedule
Sat. July 30th
The Rock @ British Columbia (Venue TBC)
Ontario Blues @ Prairie Wolf Pack (Calgary Rugby Park)
Tue. August 2nd
The Rock @ Prairie Wolf Pack (Calgary Rugby Park
Ontario Blues @ British Columbia (Venue TBC)
Sat August 13th
Prairie Wolf Pack @ British Columbia (Venue TBC)
Sat August 20th
Ontario Blues @ The Rock (Swilers RFC)
British Columbia @ Prairie Wolf Pack (Calgary Rugby Park)
Sat August 27th
British Columbia @ The Rock (Swilers RFC)
Prairie Wolf Pack @ Ontario Blues (Venue TBC)
Saturday September 3rd
The Rock @ Ontario Blues (Venue TBC)