Rugby Gnats prepare for May 6 icebreaker

Canada's national men's sevens team made rugby history Sunday in Singapore with a 26-19 win in the final over the United States at the world championship.

The victory capped a day of upsets when the Canadians beat powerhouses New Zealand and England in playoff games on the way to their first-ever title.

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On Saturday, May 6 at Kelly Road secondary school, the Prince George Gnats men's rugby club will be making a bit of its own history, albeit on a much smaller scale. For the first time since September 2009 the Gnats are hosting a tournament.

The icebreaker event will pit the Terrace Northmen, Williams Lake Rustlers, Penticton Harlequins and Prince Rupert Seamen against the Gnats in a round-robin tournament. Games will consist of two 20-minute halves. Each team will play three games.

The Northmen are coming off a spectacular season in which they won their first Central Interior Rugby Union title, then went down to Penticton and captured the Saratoga Cup independent club provincial championship.

"Terrace is super-strong, they have a really strong high school program and they beat up Williams Lake and us last year," said Gnats fly halfback Troy McKenzie.

Prince Rupert is returning to the CIRU this season after a lengthy absence.

The CIRU season starts in mid-May with the four teams each playing a six-game schedule.

The Gnats open at Williams Lake, May 13 and play their home opener June 13 at Kelly Road field against Prince Rupert. The Gnats host Williams Lake (June 17) and Terrace (July 15) and will travel to Terrace (June 24) and Prince Rupert (July 8).

The Gnats have a pool of about 30 players to choose from, which varies according to the availability of university and college students, some of whom leave the city in the spring. The team has been practicing indoors through the winter months at the UNBC campus at the Charles Jago Northern Sport Centre.

"It's kind of hot and cold, you have to really go after these guys to get them out, especially as we get closer to the season," said McKenzie, the Gnats 46-year-old captain.

McKenzie didn't get to watch it but was elated about Canada's big win in the world sevens tournament. That follows on the success of the women's national squad, which won bronze in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"It's amazing, it's too bad it wasn't televised," said McKenzie. "Sevens is such an exciting, great sport and the only way to watch it was to find an international site and stream it. The women's team is so exceptionally strong and for the men to do that well now too, it's exciting."

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