Tyler Ardron is Captain Canada.
He’s Canada’s only Super Rugby-playing star suiting up with the Chiefs. At the Rugby World Cup, he captained Canada into battle against both Siya Kolisi’s South African champion team as well as Kieran Read with the legendary All Blacks. And now, he’s a Barbarian.
After returning from Japan and before leaving to join the Barbarians, Ardron made a stop at the Aedelhard offices in Vancouver to get fitted for a suit. We were very excited to have the opportunity to sit down with Canada’s world-renowned No. 8 and chat about the wild ride he’s been on as well as the one that’s just getting started.
How would you describe this year’s Rugby World Cup experience?
“It was a great experience and interesting for sure. It was pretty cool getting to play against South Africa and Italy and then, of course, the All Blacks – against so many of the guys I play with back in New Zealand. But, it was also obviously really disappointing to have that Namibia game cancelled. Our whole summer and preparation was really built to testing ourselves against a team that is that closely ranked to us, but unfortunately, we’ll never know how it would have gone.”
And what did you take out of the whole experience?
“I learned a lot personally. We didn’t have an overly experienced group. Building a good leadership group was something we really worked towards. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but when it paid off and we had fun, we had more success. Unfortunately we didn’t get the results, but I think we had a lot of improvement as rugby players.”
Before the game against the All Blacks, New Zealand coach, Steve Hansen, singled you out saying “…I think he’s established himself as good as anyone in Super Rugby.” What did that mean to you?
“That was really nice. It was unexpected. I’ve never met him. I had a good chat with him after the game and had a beer with them. I spent a bit of time talking to Steve. He’s a really good guy. Who knows where the rugby world will lead us. I know he’s staying in the game and so am I, so hopefully one day we could actually link up. It was really nice to have accolades like that from such a well-accomplished and highly-respected guy.”
The whole idea of having a post-game beer with the opposition is so normal in rugby, but what’s it like doing it at the highest level, playing at the Rugby World Cup?
“It’s what makes the game so amazing. After that (All Blacks) game, Kieren Read and I swapped jerseys and we had a good catch-up. After the Springboks game, Siya Kolisi and I got to do a decent lap of the stadium and meet some Canadian and South African fans. Obviously we play against each other and we have each other on the card next year, so it was cool to chat. Then to see him with that World Cup at the end – it makes it more personal and keeps the respect in the game. It’s a pretty physical sport and can get pretty brutal, but knowing that you’re going to have a beer after probably keeps you in check on the field as much as anything. It’s what makes the game and what drew me to it and what makes me love it.”
Then there was that moment that went viral with Josh Larsen apologizing to South Africa after getting a red card. What did that mean for you guys?
“I think it speaks to Canadians. We’re pretty standup people. We’re trying to grow ourselves as a rugby country, but we’re well-respected for not only being physical and relentless in the games, but also for the kind of people we are. That was huge to see that. None of us knew that he had done that until we all saw it come out. That was obviously a pretty cool moment. It’s just cool that the world got to see it.”
After the game against Namibia was cancelled because of the typhoon, your team went out and helped some local residents deal with flooding in the streets and in their homes. What was that like?
“We really wanted to get into the community and help. When the boys have a task, we work really hard at it. I presented an idea to our leadership group and everyone was into it. Our liaison reached out to the community and came back with an opportunity. It was such a cool thing to do. We didn’t want it to be just a photo shoot to make us look good or anything and in reality, we got sucked in. We were covered in mud and were digging mud out or getting into some houses and helping get furniture out of flooded homes. At the end of the day, it was really rewarding.”
“And then the next day, a few of us – Connor Trainor, Jeff Hassler, Kyle Baillie and myself – stayed behind and ran a youth rugby clinic in that town. The Canada House had set it up and the Canadian connection in Kamaishi is really strong. It’s a pretty special place and I’d love to go back.”
Upon your return, you’ve now been selected to play with the Barbarians in their fall tour. What does that mean to you?
“It’s been a goal of mine for so long. Obviously playing for Canada is the highest honour I can get, but knowing that I can go out and have a good chance to potentially beat a team like Wales is pretty incredible. Probably in my rugby career, that’s not going to be a reality with Rugby Canada, so being able to play at that level and really test myself against the best with the best is going to be really cool. And then just to learn from these guys is going to be neat. Eddie Jones is coaching for the first couple weeks. With that win against the All Blacks, he’s obviously doing things right and I can’t wait to work with him. Then, I’ll get to meet Gats (the now former Wales coach Warren Gatland will lead the Barbarians against the Welsh) in a relatively informal setting and then he’s going to be my Chiefs coach. So, that’s going to be amazing.”
“It’s such an honour and it’s such an amazing opportunity. I play my best when I have fun and that’s what the team is about. We’re going to get to know each other and go out and have a good time. And hopefully on the weekend, we can put out a hell of a performance.”
The gentlemanly camaraderie of the Barbarians is directly aligned with what Aedelhard is all about. Why do you think this culture of respect is so deeply-rooted in rugby?
“Having that beer after the game with the other team is really what keeps things in check – more than having just one ref for 30 guys on the field. It’s a huge part of the game and it’s what makes people shocked about the game and what makes people love it. As soon as you’ve done it, you can’t go back to any other sport. Even when watching other sports and you see players yelling at the referee, it’s hard to watch when you know how good a sport can be when you really respect each other and you have the camaraderie after the game.”
Now that the World Cup is over. What does the future look like for Rugby Canada?
“The future is going to be challenging. We’ve been to every World Cup and I think that has to do with the South American teams not being as strong. But now you look at Uruguay and you look at Brazil and I think we have a new challenge to face in getting ourselves to the World Cup. But I think one key is the MLR. If we can make sure everyone is playing in that or using that as a stepping stone to get to a top-level professional league, then we’ll be in a good place. The thing is if you take a guy who hasn’t been training much and you put him in a full training environment, your body breaks down. You can’t go from a low level to an international level. Your body will just break. I think if we can train at a full-time level, then when we come together with Canada, we’re just making small tweaks.”
“In terms of the rest of it. I’ve been pretty open about saying that Rugby Canada is not in a good place. It’s a shame that it has gone this way but it needs to be fixed. There’s no point looking back and thinking ‘why did we do that or why didn’t we do that?’ Things need to change and it’s going to take a lot of us who care about rugby in Canada to do that. Anything I can do, I’ll be there to help. There are a lot of guys who care and we’re going to try to get it going in the right direction towards not only getting into the next World Cup, but hopefully in a more competitive spot when we get there.”
Ardron and the Barbarians will compete in a three-match Autumn Tour, taking on Fiji (Nov. 16 at Twickenham Stadium in London), Brazil (Nov. 20 in Sao Paolo) and Wales (Nov. 30 at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff).