The last couple months of 2013 basically amounted to an epic rugby field trip for Abbotsford native Ryan March.
In October, the 20-year-old tighthead prop out of Abbotsford's Robert Bateman Secondary was summoned for his first stint with the Canadian senior men's national 15s team, and he got into a game vs. the United States during the Americas Rugby Championship tourney in Langford, B.C.
March performed well enough there to earn an invitation on a four-game tour which began on Nov. 3 in Toronto vs. the New Zealand Maori All Blacks. Canada lost 40-15, but the crowd of 22,566 was the largest in Canadian and North American rugby history.
From there, the tour continued to Europe for a trio of fixtures – the Canadians fell to Georgia and Portugal, and picked up a win vs. Romania.
March, the youngest front-row player on the squad, didn't make it off the bench in any of the four games on the tour, which means he's still looking for his first official International Rugby Board (IRB) cap. But the trip was nevertheless an incredible learning experience for the youngster, who will likely figure more prominently into Canada's plans as he gets older.
"It was a big stepping stone for me, and it wasn't one I was expecting this year," noted March, who had represented Canada at the U20 level back in June, helping the junior squad to a silver medal at the Junior World Trophy tourney in Chile.
"I was working hard, and I guess I got a little more recognized for my skills and talents, and I got a big shot in October and November. Now, they're going to start putting me on a (development) plan so that in another two or three years when they need me again, I'll be ready to sub or hopefully start."
March plays for the Abbotsford Rugby Football Club's top men's team, works in the plumbing department at Home Depot and more or less lives at the gym when he's not at work.
He stands 6'3" and weighs 245 pounds, but the national team staff want him to pack on an additional 10 to 12 pounds of muscle because he's a little small for a prop at the international level.
"It shouldn't be too hard for me – I enjoy going to the gym all the time, and it's already in my schedule," he said.
"For me, just being with the (national) team, my skills all-around have improved a lot. The coaches have shown me what I need to do better."