If you’re sitting close enough, you can feel the blast of fire that shoots into the confined air of Vancouver’s BC Place.
To a wide-eyed 16-year-old sitting in the stands with dreams of one day suiting up alongside some of the very same Canadian players he’s watching run out to a boisterous crowd at one of the most popular stops on the World Rugby Sevens Series, the flames are memorable.
David Richard is the star-struck teen.
“I want to be there,” Richard thinks. “I want to have that feeling running out of the tunnel.”
Richard, 19, remembers that 2017 tournament in Vancouver fondly – especially Saturday.
Amidst a quarter-final bound performance from Canada, which featured a pair of wins and a one-point loss to New Zealand, Richard’s Ontario side – playing in the coinciding Canadian Rugby 7s U18 Championships – took the tournament title with the final being played in BC Place during a break in the World Series action. Richard tallied a team-leading five tries and 41 points over the tournament.
A neon sign hung over Richard, beaming with a bright future.
Three years later and Richard is on the precipice of crossing over from patron to participant at BC Place.
For Canadian Rugby Sevens fans who are well-versed in the known commodities on the men’s side – a feat not all that challenging considering eight of the 13 players who were part of the Canadian roster that rolled into Vancouver three years ago are also on this weekend’s squad in Los Angeles – Richard is a fresh-faced nod to the next generation.
He’s not even 20 years old and the 5-foot-11 speedy star from Milton, Ontario, who made his debut last season in Hong Kong against Kenya, already has four tries in 16 World Series matches.
“He’s got all the attributes of a great Sevens player,” Canada coach Henry Paul said in an interview prior to the start of the World Series. “A smart kid. (He’s) really quick (and) … he can definitely finish.”
With the first iteration of the LA Sevens on the docket, Richard is set to compete in his fifth tournament this year and, in doing so, has become a poster boy for a potential pipeline. In short order he went from Ontario’s provincial program to Canada’s Sevens program, with developmental stops spent with Canada’s U20 program and the Pacific Pride. His route is the one Rugby Canada would likely be keen to trumpet.
So when Richard got a text from Paul last November, which sparked a meeting that brought the sevens-loving sprinter into the national side full-time, it was a fast-tracked movement that put him back into the national team pool in an ever-competitive Olympic year.
It’s also a stick-tap (one hockey reference per story is required within Canada) to a burgeoning potential that could well flourish if rugby’s grassroots are made to succeed.
You see, Richard picked up a rugby ball much younger than most of today’s Canadian rugby stars. He was only 11 years old.
It was his sister, Kaitlyn Richard, who was his inspiration. Kaitlyn, who is four years older than David and went on to play with the University of Guelph, suggested her younger brother try rugby. He joined a U12 team with the Blues and soon enough the sport became his passion.
By the time he reached high school at Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School, he already had three years of rugby-playing experience and was something of a “can’t miss” prospect. At 15 years old, he made his first U16 provincial Sevens side. The next year, in 2016, he made Ontario’s U18 team for the first time, and the following year, he was lifting the national championship trophy on the turf inside BC Place. A little over a year later – hopefully you’re keeping up here because things move quick with this guy – he graduated high school in the spring of 2018 and, shortly thereafter, made his way to Victoria to join Canada’s Sevens program.
He made his World Series debut in the latter part of the 2018-19 season and then joined Canada’s U20 program, helping Canada beat the USA to earn a spot in the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2019. A short stint with the Pride, in which he still trained with the Sevens team twice a week, put him in line to get that text from Henry Paul.
“He’s always loved the game of Sevens,” says fellow Ontario-born Canadian star-in-the-making and Victoria-based roommate Brock Webster. “It’s always been a passion of his. So, yeah, he was excited to get the call to go full-time with the Sevens team.”
Richard was selected as the 13th man for the season-opening tournament in Dubai. But just before the tournament began, Adam Zaruba went down with an injury, opening the door for Richard.
“It was obviously sad for him because of the injury, but I was just like, ‘it’s go time,’” Richard says. “I just tried to stay calm and just go out and do my job.”
He didn’t score in Dubai, but a week later in South Africa, he showed fans the dangerous speed he possesses, scoring a tidy try against Australia. Taking a pass from Jake Thiel after a quick tap off a penalty, he sprinted down the wing and dotted down for the first of what is likely many in his career.
“I just pinned the ears back and ran it in.”
Fittingly, Webster describes Richard with one word: “Electric.”
“It’s from his pace to the way he moves the ball,” Webster says. “He loves the game of Sevens and you can see that in how he plays.”
In Hamilton, he scored a game-tying try in the 14th minute against France, and then in Sydney, he started in a game against England and squared off against the Dan Norton.
“I’ve watched him for so many years and now I’m playing against him,” Richard says. “That was surreal. I’m just thinking, I just need to get up in his face and not let him beat me outside.”
Norton didn’t score in the game.
Of course Webster, who has been with the Pride and the U20 team in recent weeks as he works his way back from an injury, was watching from their shared home in Victoria.
“As excited as he is, I’m just as excited for him,” says Webster, who also made his World Series debut last season. “To see his successes this year, I’ve been thrilled for him. Having my roommate on tour is pretty unreal. I don’t miss a game, that’s for sure.”
This weekend, Richard is in Los Angeles with Canada (currently tied for 9th in the series standings) situated in a decently desirable pool that features South Africa (2nd), Ireland (tied with Canada for 9th) and Kenya (11th).
Next is home to Vancouver (March 7-8), where those fiery entrances await the yet-to-be-named Canadian roster.
Beyond that, there is, of course, that ever-present Olympic dream.
“Obviously it’s in the back of my mind for sure,” Richard says. “That’s the end goal this year. But right now, it’s about the here and now. I’m just doing what I can to do enough to make the next tournament. I’m taking it day-by-day and hopefully in the end it’ll add up to something.”
He’ll barely be 20 years old by the summer, but who knows what could happen between now and then.
So far the sum of his efforts have been equaled by few.