National rugby team hopes to build with Carpenter

Former McMaster Marauder Aaron Carpenter has been named captain of the Canadian men’s national rugby team for the upcoming summer series against the United States, Italy and Georgia.

Carpenter, 29, from Brantford, has been capped 42 times for the national side and said it was a huge honour to be named captain. ”I never expected it, but I am very happy,” said Carpenter. “Coach Crowley sat me down a few weeks ago and asked me if I would be comfortable being captain, and of course I said yes.”

The backrower made his international debut in 2005 against the United States in Tokyo and has gone on to become a regular feature in the national squad. After attending McMaster University where he won three Ontario University Athletics rugby championships, Carpenter played for the Brantford Harlequins before heading to England with the Coventry Rugby Football Club.

In 2010 he joined English second division side Plymouth Albion, and after an eventful season featuring three different directors of rugby, Carpenter helped his club to an 11th place finish in the 2011-12 RFU Championship.

“It was a very difficult season, but you can only play the hand you are dealt. I have a two-year contract, so I am hoping next year we can turn it around,” said Carpenter. “We should be pushing up into mid table and even for promotion, so hopefully some stability can help us next season.”

Carpenter says his leadership style is that of a quiet, ‘do-as-I-do’ leader. “I am not the greatest at pre-match speeches, but I am happy to do them when they are needed to fire the team up,” said Carpenter.

This summer the Canadian team will be hoping to build on its strong performance at last year’s World Cup in New Zealand. “We took heaps away from the World Cup, going toe-to-toe against sides like France helped us realize we can compete with the big teams,” said Carpenter.

“At the World Cup we made strides towards professionalism, which isn’t about making money but about treating rugby as our full time jobs.”

The skilful No. 8 has started in 37 of his 42 international caps and has crossed for eight tries. Earlier this year he was the recipient of the Frank Tomlin Memorial Award for Brantford, Ontario’s sportsperson of the year, placing him in elite company of past winners such as Wayne Gretzky. He was also named Plymouth Albion’s 2010-11 ‘Player of the Year’ by the Plymouth Herald.

The former national team rookie of the year will be leading a side featuring a number of debutants this summer, which promises the Test-match starved Canadian rugby community the rare chance to see their national side in action.

The Italy test in Toronto will be particularly special for the Ontario raised Carpenter, who credits his high school coaches and the support of his wife and family in helping him become a professional rugby player. “I am from Brantford and went to university in Hamilton, so I should have plenty of family members and friends in the crowd,” said Carpenter. “It’s a rare opportunity to play a home Test in Canada, and to captain the side will be even more special. Hopefully the strong Italian community in Toronto will turn up and ensure it’s a big crowd.”