Yale Secondary grad Jason Hignell and his Canadian teammates made a big splash last weekend at the 2014 Rugby League Commonwealth Championships in Scotland.
The Hignell-captained Canadian squad didn’t only knock off rugby superpowers England and South Africa, they did so playing a game with a completely different set of rules than they were used to.
Rugby union is the most popular form of the game and dominant in Canada. The Scotland tournament was the first time most of the Canadians, including Hignell, played rugby league.
There are a number of differences between league and union rugby. For one, the ball must be turned over to the other side after the offensive team’s ball carriers are tackled six times.
“We thought we’d get walked all over,” Hignell said.
But the Canadians had surprisingly little trouble adapting to league, which Hignell said is actually simpler than rugby union.
“To come from a rugby union background and do so well at the tournament, and to beat England and South Africa in our first two rugby league matches is unheard of,” said Hignell, who played with a broken bone in his hand – an injury suffered during Yale’s playoff drive.
The Canadians trounced England 24-4 in their first game and followed that victory with a 24-16 win over South Africa to qualify for the semifinals.
The Canadians eventually ran out of gas, falling 20-0 to Australia in the semifinal and then losing 20-4 to Wales in the third-place game.
But those defeats didn’t taint Hignell’s experience though.
“It’s every kid’s dream who plays rugby to play against England and South Africa and the Pacific Islands of the world,” he said “To have that opportunity when I’m 17 to put a Maple Leaf on, I still can’t believe what happened.”