Alex Marshall laughs when he recalls Pat Parfrey kidding him in public about playing golf before switching full time to rugby.
“Pat gets up in front of about 200 people and says, ‘This guy used to be a golfer’ and everyone laughs,” said Marshall about the province’s unofficial father of rugby.
But the fact is, Marshall once passed up a rugby trip to Ireland to travel to Florida for a golf training camp.
A 6-foot-2, 250-pound prop, Marshall was good enough to be considered for Newfoundland’s Canada Games golf and rugby teams, but has opted to put most of his time an effort into rugby where he as a very promising future.
The 20-year-old St. John’s native and Ryan Monahan of Conception Bay South are playing for Canada at the World Junior Rugby Trophy competition this week in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Canada opened with a 31-17 loss to the Republic of Georgia. It’s next game is Friday against Japan.
Going with rugby, Marshall says, turned out to be a good choice.
“I don’t play a lot of golf anymore which is too bad, but there’s no time for it out here.”
The “out here” Marshall is referring to is British Columbia.
Both Marshall and Monahan train in B.C., at the Canadian Rugby Centre of Excellence in Langford, about 15 kilometres from where the two Newfoundlanders are staying while on the west coast.
t about moving away at that time, perhaps to Florida, but felt he was too young.
“I was also going through some stuff in my life that I won’t get into,” he says, “but I wasn’t in a position to move at that time and then I started to play rugby.”
Marshall, who played for Gonzaga high school’s rugby team, and Monahan, a 19-year-old second row, who came up through the Holy Spirit high school rugby system, are the only two Newfoundlanders on the national junior team.
Marshall, who has been on Rugby Canada’s radar for the last few years, tried out for the U-20 team last year but an injury during training cam cost him a spot on the roster.
Rugby Canada coach Mike Shelley gave Marshall a call in December and invited him to train with the team in January and he’s been in B.C. since then.
“I was confident of making the team before I was hurt, and I was really happy to get the call this time and to get the chance to play for Canada,” said Marshall.
Marshall said moving to British Columbia is the best way of being recognized for national teams.
“Rugby is an eight- or nine-month season out here,” said Marshall in a telephone interview from Victoria before he headed off to Utah. “You can play pretty much 11 months out of the year here, really.”
He said the change to the west coast came pretty quickly.
“I had three weeks to pick up and move for six months. It was quite challenging for the first couple of months, with switching schools and everything. To be honest, it was really difficult, but you do it for a reason. You do what it takes if making the national team is what you want.”
Marshall says he wants to go as far as he can with rugby.
“If it means playing for Canada, great. If I ever get the chance to play professionally, I’d go for it. If it means just playing for Newfoundland the rest of my career, I’d be happy with that.”
Monahan attended a camp in Montreal last year for U-19s and a ‘long squad’ was picked from that camp to try out for the following year’s U-20 squad. He got a call around Easter to play with the Canadian Maple Leafs against the Ontario Blues and was invited back to train with the U20 team.
The Baymen RFC player transfered from Memorial University to the University of Victoria and Monahan expects he’ll have to follow that same path. He appears to be willing to do anything and go anywhere to stick with Canada.
“This is the highest level of rugby I’ve ever played in,” Monahan said referring to the World Trophy competition, “and I’m really excited about it.
“Newfoundlanders don’t get much of a look for national teams as players from Ontario and B.C. do, so it’s outstanding to have both of us on the same team.”
Both Monahan and Marshall are very impressed with the B.C. training facility.
The players’ schedule at the centre, which includes activities four days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., begins with an early one-hour team meeting followed by two hours of practice before lunch. After lunch, the team follows 90-minute weight training program followed by another hour and a half on the artificial turf field.
“It’s kind of like what you’d expect if you were with a professional team,” said Marshall.
The training facility centralizes the Canadian men’s and women’s teams as they prepare for future international tours and events such as the World Cup in 15s and Summer Olympics in sevens.
The Centre of Excellence, a world-class national training centre, was officially opened in January. It includes two modern, state-of-the-art stadiums/training turf fields which caters to Rugby Canada’s high performance operations, including the men's and women’s 7s and 15s national rugby teams.
The facility’s web site states the COE provides, “a high performance environment where our athletes can come and focus solely on attaining world class levels of technical, tactical and physiological gains.”
Aside from the centre used for strength and conditioning, there’s a custom medical clinic, high-tech scrummaging zone, 3,000 square-feet of offices and 3,000 square-feet of equipment storage and laundry facilities.
When completed the facility will also include an apartment complex to house 50 to 60 athletes.
“It’s very impressive,” said Marshall. “There’s never been an undertaking like this in Rugby Canada history.”
Canada is in tough in the B division of the Junior World Trophy event with European champion Georgia, two-time runners-up Japan and African champions Zimbabwe. The top two teams advance. The A division includes United States, Chile, Russia and Tonga.
The Canadians finished fifth in 2011. The reward up for grabs for the first and second place teams overall is promotion to the elite Junior World Championship next year.