x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Former Canada rugby player set for Aussie Rules debut

In what is being regard as one of the most extraordinary Australian Rules selections ever, an ex-Canada rugby union international is set to make his debut for the Sydney Swans.

Canada's Mike Pyke, left, runs with the ball during the Rugby World Cup match between Fiji and Canada back in 2007. Pyke is set for his AFL debut.
Canada's Mike Pyke, left, runs with the ball during the Rugby World Cup match between Fiji and Canada back in 2007. Pyke is set for his AFL debut.

SYDNEY // In what is being regard as one of the most extraordinary Australian Rules selections ever, Mike Pyke, an ex-Canada rugby union international, is set to make his debut for the Sydney Swans. Pyke, who is 2m tall and weighs 104kgs, was added to the Swans' rookie list late last year after the club saw video clips of his exploits on the rugby union pitch. The highlights reel included his long-range intercept try against New Zealand at Hamilton in 2007, when he sprinted 80m from inside his own 22 for a score that stunned the famous All Blacks.

Pyke from Victoria, British Columbia was selected on Wednesday to play in ruck for the Swans in a preseason Australian Football League match on Sunday against Port Adelaide at Canberra, the Australian capital. The final team was to be announced on Thursday, with Pyke, 24, expected to be named. The Swans coach Paul Roos said Pyke had adapted well to the 18-a-side code, which is a full contact, primarily kicking game played with an oval-shaped ball and on an oval field.

Ruck is a position for tall players, who attempt to knock the ball to teammates when it is tossed or bounced up to restart play. "He's at the stage now where he just needs to play," Roos said. "He'll make some mistakes and he'll go to the wrong places and those sorts of things but in terms of his development; he rucked... in our scratch match and did really well. "He was competitive but now he's got to learn the game and you can only do that by playing. It's a big challenge for him but I'm sure he's looking forward to it."

A friend and Canadian expatriate living in Melbourne thought Pyke was a natural for the AFL and contacted Melbourne-based player agents Top Dog management, who researched Pyke and collated the highlight video to send to the Swans. The same firm negotiated a place at the Swans for the former Irish Gaelic football player Tadhg Kennelly. There has been a series of Irishmen who have adapted from Gaelic football to make the grade in the Australian Football League - and the two countries regularly meet to contest a hybrid game in an international series - but a North American rugby convert is unprecedented.

Pyke has played professional rugby in Scotland and France. While with the Edinburgh Gunners, he worked with the former Sydney Swans ruckman Michael Byrne, who was a kicking coach in Scotland. "It's all happened quite quickly so I'm just really excited about it all," Pyke said in an interview last year after a trial with the Swans. Pyke played 17 times for Canada, including matches at the 2007 World Cup against Fiji, Japan and Australia. He had a try against Fiji controversially disallowed by a video referee in a decision that turned the match against his team.

Top Dog's spokesman Michael Quinlan said Pyke's background as a professional sportsman gave him an advantage coming into the AFL compared with some imports from amateur backgrounds. He said Pyke's selection for the preseason match was no gimmick. "They don't play players who aren't deserving of a spot," Quinlan said. "Mike has ticked a lot of boxes. He's got great talent. He's big, he's strong and he's fast."

*AP