NEWS
08/03/2011 04:50 EDT | Updated 10/03/2011 05:12 EDT

New-Zealand-born rugby player Jeremy Kyne happy to play for Canada at World Cup

TORONTO - Love brought Jeremy Kyne to Canada. The relationship didn't stick but his affection for Canada has only got stronger.

So much so that the New Zealand-born forward returns home next month wearing Canadian colours at the Rugby World Cup.

A knock to his knee will keep him out of Canada's Test match against the U.S. Eagles on Saturday at Toronto's BMO Field. But no one will be cheering on the Canadian team more than the big Kiwi.

"I love living in Canada and I love being part of the Canadian rugby setup," Kyne said Wednesday at a media availability under grey skies at BMO Field.

"It's just like a big family."

Back in 2003, Kyne was in Australia when he fell for a Canadian woman in Brisbane. They travelled around Australia and then spent time in New Zealand before deciding it made sense to live in Canada. She was a native of Lloydminster so they settled in Edmonton, which he continues to call home.

Growing up in Wellington, Kyne was surrounded by rugby and was good at it. But the intensity of the training regimen was taking a toll — workouts in the morning and evening, squeezed around a job. He needed a change.

"I had become kind of sick of it," he explained.

His original Canadian girlfriend — their relationship lasted five years — offered him a chance to see a different side of the world and rugby. And while he has looked back at his decision to quit New Zealand rugby, he still sees plenty of positives in his Canadian adventure.

"The opportunity to come to Canada and to play rugby for a club side out of Edmonton was too good to give up. It was an opportunity to travel and see a little bit of the world, something I hadn't done before, so I took that opportunity," he added.

Barring injury, the 28-year-old Kyne is likely destined for a backup role at the Rugby World Cup. Canada is extremely well stocked in the back row and he beat out some name players just to get into the 30-man squad.

"To be honest leading up to World Cup selection, I wasn't too confident of my chances," he said. "But I'm glad to be here and looking forward to making the most of my opportunities."

Playing first for the Edmonton Druids and then the Prairie Wolf Pack, Kyne made his mark at the 2010 Canadian Rugby Championship.

Canadian coach Kieran Crowley saw Kyne as a player who was in the same mould as starting No. 8 Aaron Carpenter.

"Very physical and very rugged," Crowley said of Kyne.

He was included in the Canada Selects side that toured Argentina, where there were pluses and minuses.

"In our view he was unfit, overweight," Crowley said bluntly. "He still played well.

"He got told that. He went away, dropped a heap of kilos, got a hell of a lot fitter."

He was sent to North Wales, where Canada contributes talent to a development side, and did well. That won him a cap for Canada last November against Belgium — an injured hamstring hampered him the rest of the tour — and eventually a ticket to the World Cup.

"It's a credit to him that he's worked so hard at it," Crowley said.

Kyne, listed at six foot three and 245 pounds, is eligible to play for Canada because of the time he has spent living here.

There will be plenty of friends and family on hand at the World Cup. His mother purchased tickets without even waiting for Crowley's final team selection.

Kyne says no one back home has given him the gears about wearing the Maple Leaf.

"You know what, I think that my friends and family are actually really proud," he said. "When I left New Zealand back in 2001, I guess my parents may not have been too happy that I was potentially throwing a rugby career away. But they were also understanding that there are other things in life other than just rugby.

"For me personally, upon reflection looking back, I wish that I had maybe stuck at it. But this is a chance for me to kind of make the most of my opportunities."

Asked to describe Kyne, fly half Ander Monro smiles.

"He's a real thinker," he explains, adding: "Coffee club with Kyne is always a good time, because there's about 30, 40 minutes of in-depth, really picking things to bits. He really likes the fine details of a lot of things."

And on the pitch?

"He's a rugby player," Monro continues. "He grew up playing the sport in New Zealand. I think he really understands a lot of the little subtleties and nuances of the game.

"A bit like me, not the best physical specimen on earth. Put him on a good strength and conditioning program and the guy's just shedding the pounds and looking fit."

Kyne says he would like to stay with the game in Canada after his playing career is over, perhaps in coaching.