Despite a rich history dating back to 1895, the Vancouver Island Crimson Tide hasn't played a formal rugby match in about four years.
That's about to change. The rep team's rebirth started last Saturday with a camp at the Cowichan Rugby Football Club's pitch, attended by 34 hopefuls from across the Island.
"We're happy with the turnout," said John Lyall, manager of the U20 Crimson Tide. "It's the first week, and there are a lot of students in the middle of exams."
The camp featured representation from nearly every club in the Vancouver Island Rugby Union, including Cowichan, Comox, Alberni, Castaway Wanderers, James Bay, Velox and the University of Victoria. The batch included about 10 under-20 players, some destined for the U20 side, but some who could challenge for the senior squad.
"Some of them are pretty raw, but there's certainly some potential there for sure," said Lyall.
Among those at the first tryout were Dustin Dobravsky, formerly of Shawnigan Lake School, now playing for the University of Victoria, who has some international sevens experience, and Robin MacDowell, a longtime Cowichan player who has many caps with the national sevens team. Those are exactly the kind of players the Crimson Tide is looking for.
"It is a rep team," said Lyall. "It's not a closed door, but we are looking for rep experience."
The senior men are coached by Ken Goodland and Roger Robinson of Castaway Wanderers, while Winston Stanley is handling the U20 side. Brad Skene of the CRFC and Cowichan Secondary School is leading the Crimson Tide women.
The men's teams will train again in January, with another Cowichan date on Jan. 19. The women's team will start training in January, with all their sessions at the Cowichan pitch.
In previous years, rep teams have played in the summer, but this year, competition will take place at the same time as the BC Rugby regular season.
"One of the reasons is that we want to offer all players at the club level an opportunity to play elite rugby," Lyall related.
The senior Tide will compete with the Vancouver Wave and Fraser Valley Venom for the McKechnie Cup, a storied prize which hasn't been contested since the Rugby Canada Super League ceased competition in 2009. The women will play the same teams for the Hellerud-Brown Trophy, while the U20s will battle for the Dunbar Keg.
All three teams will be in action on Jan. 26 when the Island sides play host to the Vancouver Wave at Westhills Stadium in Langford. On Feb. 2, they will all visit the Fraser Valley Venom in Langford.
Regardless of how the short tournaments go, Lyall is thrilled to have the Crimson Tide back in action.
"To see it reinstated and get some Island pride back is great," he said.