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Club at forefront of sevens game

When Burnaby's Rain De Guzman recently helped showcase the game of rugby 7s at Empire Field, it might have been his crowning moment in the game.

When Burnaby's Rain De Guzman recently helped showcase the game of rugby 7s at Empire Field, it might have been his crowning moment in the game.

De Guzman and fellow Burnaby Lake rugby clubmate Joe Dolesau were invited to play alongside the great Waisale Serevi of Fiji on the Dog River Howlers 7s rugby team in an exhibition match between halves of a CFL football game between the B.C. Lions and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

While playing before more than 18,000 spectators at Empire Field might be a career highlight for the two rugby players, better things are certainly ahead for the Burnaby Lake Rugby Club.

The Lakers have embraced the seven-a-side game of rugby in a big way since B.C. Rugby launched its Super sevens summer program last season.

In 2009, Burnaby club executives Simon Smolden and then-president Jeff McKay launched the Lighthouse sevens program, which has been a model of success in its debut.

"Burnaby was super progressive in trying to get a program in order," said 25-year-old De Guzman, a Moscrop Secondary grad. "It's a different kind of feeling all together. I still remember my coach, Andrew Vagnarelli, organizing a sevens tournament when I was in Grade 9 and it was an opportunity to play up with the Grade 12s, and we did well."

Both the open men's and women's sevens teams were quick out of the gate last season, winning their respective summer series titles.

The Burnaby open women's team is well on its way to duplicating last summer's feat with wins in their first two competitions this season.

The success in the summer also carried over to the 15-player game, where Burnaby Lake has struggled in the past outside of the powerful premier women's program.

"What it gave us the opportunity to do was to develop some young players," added Smolden, the club's past president.

The effects at the club have been almost immediate.

The women regained their provincial stature as the top premier division side, while the Division 1 XV won the club's firstever B.C. men's title.

Burnaby Lake also placed all its club teams into the playoffs this season.

"It's a perfect avenue to introduce and develop young adults to handling, fitness and one-on-one tackling," Smolden said.

Another reason was the adoption of rugby sevens as an Olympic sport that will make its debut at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

De Guzman calls the opportunity to play in the Olympics "super exciting", while adding Burnaby Lake is well positioned to benefit from it.

"If we keep working at the game, we might produce an Olympian one day," said De Guzman.

Although 2016 may be too late for the club's premier scrum half, it's otherwise perfect timing for younger club members to make their names in sevens.

The sevens game of Rugby Union originated in Scotland in the 1800s and

has become a widely popular summer pastime in parts of Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas, and especially the South Pacific, where Fiji has been the men's World Cup champion on two separate occasions.

Burnaby Lake is fortunate to have a lot of expert coaches from Fiji and Tonga, spearheading the coaching of the club's sevens program.

Burnaby is the only club to field both an elite and development team in the senior men's division. The club also has a youth sevens team.

It's all part of the club's design in making Burnaby a centre for rugby excellence, said Smolden. And it just keeps getting better.

Former junior players continue to return to the education system, further strengthening the all-important pipeline between high school and club rugby in Burnaby.

Currently three Burnaby Lake juniors Gabe Raymond, Fuku Vikilani and Brian

Murphy were named to the under-18 B.C. squad in anticipatioin of the upcoming Youth Commonwealth Games.

As well, 10 Laker clubmen are presently trying out for spots on the B.C. Bears provincial senior representative side.

In international news, Burnaby's Pat Riordan was named team captain and starting front row for Canada's national men's rugby team for the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, which runs from Sept. 9 to Oct. 23.

Riordan won his first representative cap for Canada as a hook in 2003 and has earned 37 caps over a nine-year span.

Canada will play in a tough pool with Tonga, France, Japan and the host Kiwis.

In women's rugby news, Burnaby Lake's Julia Sugawara was recognized with a special award for giving back to the female game.

The Burnaby back and national team player became the third annual recipient of the Colette McAuley Award.

tberridge@royalcityrecord.com