The seeds of Canada's future in international rugby sevens were being sowed at the Cowichan Secondary School field last weekend.
The Dog River Howlers junior side -- Canada's nominal U18 national team -- and the B.C. U17 provincial team got together for a camp on the weekend, wrapping up with a series of games on Sunday afternoon.
The camp was presided over by Robin MacDowell, a former Cowichan Piggie and member of the Canadian senior sevens squad, as well as a player with the senior Dog River Howlers and coach of the junior program.
MacDowell envisions a strengthened national sevens program ahead of the sport's inclusion in the Olympics, which is scheduled for the Rio de Janeiro games.
"Obviously, with sevens in the Olympics for 2016, there are lots of opportunities coming for sevens," he said.
With that in mind, MacDowell started the junior program in conjunction with the website BC Rugby News. While most rugby players focus on the better-known version with 15 players, MacDowell is hoping to open more eyes to sevens, particularly those of players who might not have a future in XVs, but are perfectly suited to the quicker, more wide-open sevens.
Born and raised in the Cowichan Valley, MacDowell spent seven years trying out for the senior national sevens team, driving over the Malahat eight times a year, he estimates, and getting cut every time until he was finally selected at the age of 26.
Despite being a talented player, MacDowell was never a huge guy, and he knew he would have a hard time making the national XVs team, which is why he focused on sevens.
Several years ago, he took gifted local product Thomas Kay under his wing, hoping to give him some opportunities in sevens. When an illness forced Thomas to give up the sport, MacDowell began working with his younger brother, Patrick. In addition to playing with the junior national XVs program, Patrick Kay has also taken the field with the senior Howlers as a 16-year-old in Cuba, last March.
"Through working with him, I've developed a greater group of players," said MacDowell.
While the younger Kay is a singular talent, MacDowell believes there could be "40 or 50 Patricks" on Vancouver Island.
"I'm trying to expose talented players who are off the radar of the national, provincial and regional programs," he said.
He referred to the G.P. Vanier team from Courtenay that won last year's high school provincial sevens championship.
"No one is even taking a look at them," he said.
Late next week, both the junior Howlers and the provincial U17 team will head to Las Vegas for the USA Sevens Rugby Tournament. The Howlers will be the first junior national sevens program to represent Canada. Four of the players will be from B.C., including two from the Cowichan Valley: Patrick Kay and Jordan Bowcott of Chemainus. Bowcott had previously captained a developmental team coached by MacDowell, so it was a no-brainer to bring him on board.
"When the opportunity came up to coach this team, he was the first guy I called to see if he would go for it," MacDowell recalled.
Other local products at the camp last weekend included Kieran Lauridsen and Tyson Stoochnoff. Lauridsen was there to fill out the BC U17 lineup, but impressed the coaches enough with his work ethic to earn a roster spot for Las Vegas.
"He is someone I have a lot of time for," said MacDowell. "There isn't anyone who works harder than him."
Stoochnoff played for the junior Howlers on the weekend and MacDowell will certainly keep an eye on him in the near future.
"The talent is out there," said the coach. "Obviously the Valley is so rich in athletes, I hope a young man like him sticks with it."