SPORTS

Veteran Derek Daypuck combines firefighting career with high-level rugby

10/10/2014 12:42 EDT | Updated 12/10/2014 05:59 EST
There has been much water under the bridge since Derek Daypuck pulled on the Canadian jersey at the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

The versatile back has forged another career away from the rugby field. But the 36-year-old Hamilton firefighter is back wearing the Maple Leaf at the IRB Americas Rugby Championship.

"For me this is a huge honour to get selected again and something that actually I didn't expect," he said. "But now that I'm here, I'm not just happy to be here. I want to help this team be successful and win an ARC for Canada."

The four-team tournament features 'A' squads from Canada, Argentina and the U.S., with Uruguay fielding its top team, more or less. Canada 'A' opens Saturday against Uruguay in Langford, B.C., after the U.S. Selects play the Argentine Jaguars.

Daypuck is one of nine capped players in the Canadian starting lineup Saturday. Three more capped players are on the bench.

The Uruguayans will be somewhat undermanned for the Canada match since the country's top players will be in Montevideo for the second leg of a World Cup qualifier against Russia. The Russians won the opening game 22-21 in Krasnoyarsk.

Uruguay, ranked 20th in the world, will be sending reinforcements to the ARC after the qualifier.

For Canadian coach Kieran Crowley, the ARC has been a valuable way to test talent from the Canadian Rugby Championship against international competition. The tournament has served as a bridge to the full national team and some players will likely earn selection to Canada's November Tests against Namibia, Samoa and Romania.

Daypuck, of course, has already reached the rugby heights with 17 caps, playing every position in the backline for Canada other than scrum half.

His last full cap was at the 2007 World Cup. He left Victoria, where he had been a carded athlete, for Ontario in 2009 to start a career outside of rugby.

"When I left here and went back to Ontario to get into fire school, I had no idea if I'd ever be able to get back into it or even if the opportunity would arise to play provincially," said Daypuck, who calls London, Ont., home.

The six-foot 210-pounder took the firefighter pre-service course at Lambton College before getting hired in Hamilton. Rugby was on the back burner as he pursued his career.

"I know it's important when your goals are very big to not chase too many of them," he said.

He had to take a year off from the sport during his probation as a firefighter. Then he worked his way back into the provincial scene with the Ontario Blues.

Daypuck, the team captain and inside centre, led the Blues to their fourth straight national title in September with a 45-5 road win over the Atlantic Rock. Daypuck was the second-leader scorer in the Canadian Rugby Championship this year.

He did not look further afield.

"I kind of took it on to make the team's goals my personal goals and try to spread that kind of mentality to the guys," he said.

The message was if they take care of the team, then their personal goals will likely fall into line automatically.

His call-up to the ARC has proved Daypuck right. Seven other Ontario Blues including 18-year-old Andrew Coe made the 26-man Canada 'A' squad as well.

Daypuck sees age as just a number. "Sometimes I feel like I'm 36 going on 20."

The Daypuck family runs a long-established dojo in London, Daypuck Sports Karate.

These days, Daypuck fits a lot into his schedule. When he's not working a 24-hour firefighting shift, he's playing rugby or coaching the women's team at the University of Western Ontario.

The last time he played in the ARC was in Argentina in 2011, before he got hired as a firefighter.

"Some very good beef," he recalled with a laugh.

Rugby has taken Daypuck around the globe. He recalls being away 23 weeks a year when he played for both the sevens and 15-man side, going through a couple of passports.

Prairie Wolf Pack flanker Kyle Gilmour will captain Canada 'A' at the ARC. Gilmour is one of 12 capped players on Crowley's roster.

Argentina 'A' won the 2013 ARC tournament, winning all three matches. Canada 'A' (1-2-0) was third behind the American entry (2-1-0).

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Canada

Tom Dolezel, London St. George's, London, Ont., Ray Barkwill, Niagara Wasps RFC, Niagara Falls, Ont.; Doug Wooldridge, Lindsay RFC, Lindsay, Ont.; Aaron Flagg, Abbotsford RFC, Abbotsford, B.C.; Kyle Baillie, Edmonton Druids, Charlottetown; Evan Olmstead, Parametta Two Blues, Calgary; Kyle Gilmour (capt.), St. Albert, St. Albert, Alta.; Seb Pearson, London St. George's, London, Ont.,; Jamie Mackenzie, UVIC Vikes, Oakville, Ont.; Gordon McRorie, Calgary Hornets, Calgary; Dan Moor, Balmy Beach RFC, Toronto; Derek Daypuck, London St. George's, London, Ont.; Nick Blevins, Calgary Hornets, Calgary; Sean Ferguson, UBC Thunderbirds, Vancouver; Pat Kay, UVIC Vikes, Duncan, B.C.

Replacements

Ryan Hamilton, Capilano RFC, Vancouver; Pete Houlihan, Edmonton Druids, Edmonton,; James Smith, Shoalhaven RFC, Calgary; Nanyak Dala, Castaway Wanderers, Regina; Admir Cejvanovic, Burnaby Lake RFC, Vancouver; Patrick Parfrey, Swilers RFC, St. Johns, N.L.; Guiseppe Du Toit, UVIC Vikes, Maple Ridge, B.C.; Clay Panga, Calgary Hornets, Calgary.

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