In the Silver State where gaudy is king, Coquitlam's Robin Lowenberger displayed a bit of flash on the pitch. The Dr. Charles Best Secondary student found himself immersed with a new group of teammates and a new kind of rugby challenge. When the dust settled at the Las Vegas 7 Invitational tournament, Lowenberger was pretty impressed. Those who watched the 17year-old fly half were equally impressed. "It was a blast," Lowenberger said of the tour with the Dog River Howlers under-18 men's team, which gets its name from the TV show Corner Gas. The 2004-to-2009 series was situated in the small rural - and fictional - community of Dog River, Sask. There is nothing fictional about the Regina-based rugby club, however.The team pulls players together from virtually all points of the nation for national and international tours. It's members include numerous national-level players.Lowenberger, who's played rugby for nearly seven years, approached it like any big event.
"I think I fit in quite well, we had guys from all over the country," he said. "I only knew one person, and I was really nervous about how I'd fit in."The Grade 12 student-athlete is well-versed in rugby, with his father having played for Barbados. He's also played the past few years with the United Rugby Club. Although he considers himself more of a lacrosse player, the physical nature of the grass game remains alluring.
"There's something about rugby that I've always liked, like you are always making tackles and hits." His selection to the Dog River program kind of came out of the blue. National team member and Dog River coach put on a clinic for Lowenberger's school team, took notice of the teen's skills and makeup, and saw the basis of a really talented player. "Robin fits that diamond-in-therough profile, as someone who is raw but extremely talented," noted Dog River coach and player Robin MacDowell in a phone interview from Regina. "He's mature beyond his years and exceptionally talented."
In Vegas, the u-18 recruits were exposed to a high calibre of rugby 7 action. After losing the first two games Dog River bested Pacific Northwest 22-17 in overtime, with Lowenberger setting up the winning try. In the consolation final, the U.S. All Americans pulled out a 10-0 victory. "The highlight for me was when we played the U.S. national and lost by 10 points," the teen recalled. "We measured up quite well considering we hadn't played together before. I was quite impressed." Slotted in at flyhalf, Lowenberger got to demonstrate his strong stride and established himself as someone who could generate a lot of offence. "He is what I call a 'one-off' in terms of talent and desire," said MacDowell. "I noticed something about him last spring when I was coaching a [B.C.] session and ID him for our club.
"He's got the game in his blood." Best rugby coach Jun Ishii concurs. At the high school level, Lowenberger established himself early as a player on the rise. In Grade 9, he played a couple of senior games at scrum-half. He also started for Best in the 2008 Valley Tier 2 championship final, showing no fear going against players two and three years older. "[Robin] is a gifted runner with a good combination of speed and strength," remarked Ishii. "It often takes two or three opponents to tackle him. Defensively, Robin is rock solid." Going into the Vegas tournament after prepping for the high school season proved to be a huge eye-opener. "At the tournament, if you're not going full speed you are going to get flattened," said Lowenberger. "At school you see guys with little to no experience- Speed is really important at my position. You have to hit the group and speed through. You can't be going at a jog or you'll get caught."
This new-found success presents an interesting option for the six-foot-one player. Although he considers lacrosse his first sport, Lowenberger is contemplating continuing his education at the University of Victoria, where rugby would play a big role. It is also where the national program is based. "That would be pretty high on my list," he noted of playing for Canada. "I put it up there with box lacrosse and playing at the nationals." MacDowell notes that with rugby's inclusion for the 2016 Olympics, the opportunity is there for the Coquitlam player.
"He's got a bright future in front of him."