Niagara Thunder kick off rugby season with fundraiser

Nearly 100 enthusiastic rugby supporters gathered for an entertaining evening at the annual Niagara Thunder organizations Legends of Rugby spring fundraiser which featured guest speaker Mike James, one of Canada’s legendary international players. James recently returned to his home base in Vancouver after retiring from playing professionally in France for the past 11 years.

The Vancouver-born James, started rugby at age of 16 in 1989. As a second row forward, he was first capped for Canada in 1994 against the United States. Since then he has played some 60 games for Canada. He played in four World Cups, joining a small group international players to have done so and captained Canada on numerous occasions.

James turned professional in 1996 signing up for USAP Perpignan, a French Premier division team . In 2000, he signed with Stade Francais in Paris and played there until retirement this year. During his tenure, Stade Francais were French Champions in 2003, 2004, and this season. James has played over 50 European games and 300 professional games in France.

James, accompanied by his wife Leah, told the audience that the characteristics needed to play professional rugby include discipline, tenacity and teamwork, which are great life skills and will be valuable in the next stage of his life. Although he will miss the thrills of playing in the French professional league, he is looking forward to his new career as a mortgage broker, spending more time with his family (three children) and some part-time rugby coaching at his old club.

Thunder will use profits from the event towards the costs of the team and its Rugby Canada Super League Junior division entry, the Niagara Lightning, an under 20-age team which compete for the second year in the national competition.

On May 10 the Thunder and Lightning teams will travel to Montreal to play their first 2008 RCSL games against the Quebec Caribou and Junior Caribou respectively. Thunder were finalists in last years national championship and the Lightning were runners-up in the eastern conference.

Additional information about the teams can be found at