By Mark Janzen
At this point, you have to believe Brock Webster knows the ins, outs, and secrets to packing a suitcase.
Over the last year, the burgeoning Canadian rugby star has experienced a whirlwind journey of airports and rugby, followed by and airports and rugby … and airports and rugby.
Plying his athletic trade within both Canada’s 7s and 15s setups, Webster, 18, has lived the life of a travelling rugby road show. Hailing from Uxbridge, Ont. and having graduated from Uxbridge Secondary School last spring – a ceremony he didn’t make it to because he was… well, playing rugby abroad – Webster can claim over this past 12 months to have donned his rugby boots on four continents, eight countries, and in no fewer than 12 cities.
“It’s been crazy,” says the 6-foot and 175-pound flyhalf. “It’s been a lot, but I love it.”
“It’s been quite the roller coaster, but to be honest, it’s been a dream come true.”
As this is being written, Webster is of course abroad, playing on another continent, as he and his Canadian teammates compete at the World Rugby U20 Trophy in São Jose dos Campos, Brazil. With a 1-2 record in pool play, the next chance to see Webster – who has played all but nine minutes through Canada’s first three matches – will be in the fifth-place contest on Sunday.
For those keeping score, this trip to Brazil marks his third flight to South America in the last 10 months.
Of course, all the travel is for a good reason.
Webster is a youngster on the rise, and short of a senior cap with Canada’s 15s side, he’s been named to pretty much every roster on offer over the last year. Quickly (or at least we’ll try):
He’s played with Canada “A” at the World Rugby Americas Pacific Challenge, Canada’s U18 Sevens team at the Auckland School Sevens, the Maple Leafs in the two-legged South American Rugby Sevens, Canada’s senior Sevens team on two stops of the World Rugby Sevens Series, and now with Canada’s U20 team in their preparatory trip to Europe, their qualifying series with the USA, and the Trophy. Sorry, that’s Webster’s issue.
In reality, the issue remains at the cheeky feet and in the deft hands of Webster himself.
“He’s a very talented young man,” says Canada’s U20 coach Jeff Williams. “He’s cool, calm and collected. He’s very skillful, but what I like is that he can analyze a situation and make a good decision. He’s a playmaker and he can beat defenders. And often he can make something happen out of nothing.”
Henry Paul, who is the interim coach for Canada’s men’s Sevens program and was part of the coaching staff that brought Webster to Uruguay with the Canada “A” team, agreed. “He’s an organizer and a distributer and he has a really high work rate.
“The kid has a big future.”
Growing up in Uxbridge, Webster first found his way onto a rugby pitch in Grade 5. With his Dad helping coach the high school team, a young Brock began what would seem to be a continuous journey of meeting his heroes and then playing alongside them. As an 11-year-old, he was tossing the ball around with players who were at least four years older than him. At the time, Trenton Cooper, who played with Canada’s U20 team and also toured with the Maple Leafs, and Robert Freckleton, who at one point played with Canada’s U18 team, were the heroes.
Seven years later, and as an emerging talent in Ontario, Webster earned a chance to spend last summer (2018) with the Crusaders International High Performance Unit in Christchurch, New Zealand. Alongside Tyler Duguid, Webster was one of two Canadians to be a recipient of the For the Love of the Game Scholarship, giving the duo the chance to train and play in the rugby hotbed.
“It was very eye-opening in the sense of how they do rugby down there,” Webster says, looking back on his time training within the camp of the now three-time defending Super Rugby champion Crusaders.
Webster was billeted with a local family. It was normal to have rugby on TV. Richie McCaw bought his groceries at the market just down the road. “It’s kind of like in New Zealand everyone’s Grandma knows more about rugby than we do,” Webster says with a laugh.
At the training facility, Ryan Crotty coached one of their sessions, Richie Mo’unga once came over to greet the boys, and Webster got a social media-worthy photo alongside Kieran Read.
“They’re just normal guys living their dreams,” says Webster, who played with the New Brighton Rugby Club while in New Zealand. “But the thing I learned was just about making rugby a habit like it is out there. If you really want to pursue something like this, you have to make it a habit.
Upon his return home, he helped his Oshawa Vikings U19 side win a provincial title before moving to Victoria to join Canada’s men’s Sevens program.
But before the Sevens season even began, he made his way to Uruguay for the Americas Pacific Challenge, alongside Canadian legends like Phil Mack and Ray Barkwill.
It was a hero moment within a hero moment.
Returning to the Sevens environment, Webster was on the pitch with the likes of Nathan Hirayama, Justin Douglas and Connor Braid.
“I’ve looked up to some of those boys for a long time,” Webster says. “The first few days of training with them was very surreal. I was thinking, ‘do I even belong in this group?’
“But it’s been amazing and I am just trying to learn things from the experience they have and implement those things into my game.”
A trip back to New Zealand for the Auckland School Sevens followed by a South American tour with the Maple Leafs ultimately set the stage for his World Rugby Sevens Series debut in Sydney. His first-ever appearance was against Kenya, but his second entrance provided a memory he’s quick to explain.
With time ticking down in the late stages of a game against the USA, former Canada Sevens coach Damian McGrath called Webster’s name from the bench. Brock popped up.
“What position, coach?”
“Yeah, you’re going to go in on the wing here. So you’re going to be marked up against Carlin Isles.”
McGrath was matter-of-fact.
“So, just test the speed out and see how it works and have a go.”
As simple as it sounded, the task required Webster taking on the fastest player on the circuit.
“Okay,” Webster recalls. “Here we go.”
In a sense, Webster had arrived.
Since then, he’s continued to train with the Sevens teams, but it’s been yet another change of pace for the jinky flyhalf, as he’s quickly become one of the leaders with Canada’s U20 side.
In Canada’s two-match total points qualifying series with the USA at Shawinigan Lake School, Webster put on a show.
Less than 10 minutes into the opener, Webster sent a brilliant long looping pass to the wing, setting the stage for the first try of the contest. Late in the game, it was a well-communicated grubber that sent a hard-charging Gabe Casey through the USA defence and in for try.
In the second game, Webster’s show-and-go from half saw him cruise through the American defence before a nifty offload sent Casey in for the opening try.
And that’s just the highlight reel.
“He has a great way about him in terms of how he speaks to the players,” Williams says. “He loves to have a go. Although he’s not a huge player, he definitely gets stuck in.”
He’s made a career of punching above his weight class.
While the U20 Trophy is at present, with Canada’s men’s Sevens team qualifying for the Olympics in 2020, there’s now a pervasive dream that will dance around his head.
“The Olympics is definitely a goal of mine,” he says, suggesting it could be next year or it could be 2024. “I’m doing the best I can and whatever happens, happens.”
And the kid doesn’t even turn 19 until August.