Rugby legend back with Velox for final Saanich season

Velox Valhallians will move to Colwood for 2015/16 season

One of Canada’s greats is crossing the B.C. Rugby Union sidelines this weekend.

Winston Stanley has returned to the Velox Valhallians and will lead the club’s top men’s rugby team. The first game is Saturday against the UVic Vikes, sparking the 2014 Barnard Cup premier men’s Island championship.

Kickoff is Saturday at 2:45 p.m. at UVic’s Wallace Field.

Stanley, an Oak Bay High grad, initially joined Velox following his retirement from pro rugby in 2003, which included 66 caps for Canada and two Rugby World Cup appearances. He was also part of the Leicester Tigers team that won the 2001 Heineken Cup European club championship, a rare feat for a Canadian.

His experience is a welcome respite to Velox, which is without the national players it boasted during Stanley’s time as player-coach from 2004 to 2008.

“It’s nearly 10 years to the day since I started coaching Velox the first time,” Stanley said. “The game’s changed a bit, but not too drastically. Really, coaching is about getting guys to buy in to your message. The players still want to win, to compete and to enjoy themselves.”

Stanley’s is also a familiar face during a time of transition as Velox RFC is set to relocate to Colwood permanently following the 2014-15 winter season. Mike Holmes and Mary Wyatt, prominent Velox players from the 1990s, have also come on as president and vice-president.

“Holmes and Wyatt approached me with what I feel like is a great vision for the club. This is a really good opportunity to build and grow a local team, another premiership team, hopefully in a year or two. And there’s some challenges to that. I look forward to the chance to run this program and to steer it in a positive direction,” Stanley said.

Coach and squad have run a month’s worth of practices so far and it’s certainly a younger roster than the one Stanley came through with following his international career.

During Stanley’s time away from Velox he’s watched his daughters grow to ages six and seven, and built and led a strong single-A boys rugby program at Glenlyon Norfolk School to city championships.

Last year marked Stanley’s first stint back in the BCRU as he coached the first division UVic Norsemen. While the Norsemen are the Vikes’ second team, they’re also one of Canada’s top feeder programs, as the Vikes run a factory up to 100 players deep under respected coaches Doug Tate and Rick Farrally.

“Coaching with Tate was tremendous, he has a great mind I respect a whole lot,” Stanley said.

Meanwhile, it’s been an oscillating six years since Stanley was last with the Valhallians, and competed for the B.C. championship in 2007.

Velox came close to reaching the B.C. premier final again in 2009, but lost in extra time of the semifinal round to the Bays.

Then came relegation to B.C.’s first division, a tier below, which is where the club stands now.

It’s made it hard to recruit the promising talents who move here each season, committed to earning notice by the big cheese of Langford-based Rugby Canada.

As it stands, Velox will begin the Barnard Cup Island championship playing against the premier sides of the Castaway Wanderers, James Bay and Vikes, before jumping into the Cowichan Cup first division Island schedule.

If Velox can win the Island championship, it will earn a spot in the B.C. semifinal and chance at promotion to the top flight Canadian Direct Insurance Premier League along side CW, JBAA and UVic.

“Our focus will be to win the Island’s first division, make the B.C. playoffs, and get a chance to be promoted. We need to be at the next level,” Stanley said.

reporter@saanichnews.com