Thu, Feb 19, 2009 - Page 18 News List

Ex-Canada rugby star set for Australian Rules debut

AP , SYDNEY

Canada’s Mike Pyke, left, runs with the ball during the Rugby World Cup match between Fiji and Canada in November 2007 in Cardiff, Wales.

PHOTO: AP

Ex-Canada rugby union international Mike Pyke is set to make his debut for the Sydney Swans in an Australian Rules selection being billed as one of the most left field in the history of the football league.

Pyke, who is 2m tall and weighs 104kg, was added to the Swans’ rookie list late last year after the club saw video clips of his exploits on the rugby pitch.

The highlights reel included his long-range intercept try against New Zealand at Hamilton in 2007, when he sprinted 80m for a score that stunned the famous All Blacks.

The 24-year-old from Victoria, British Columbia, was selected yesterday to play in ruck for the Swans in a preseason Australian Football League (AFL) match on Sunday against Port Adelaide at Canberra. The final team is due to be announced today, with Pyke expected to be named.

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 told local media. “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.”

A friend and Canadian expat living in Melbourne thought Pyke was a natural for the AFL and contacted Melbourne-based player agent Top Dog management, which researched Pyke and collated the highlight video to send to the Swans.

Pyke has played professional rugby in Scotland and France. While with the Edinburgh Gunners, he worked with 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 spokesman Michael Quinlan said Pyke’s background as a professional rugby player gave him an advantage coming into the AFL compared with some imports from amateur backgrounds.

He said Pyke’s selection for the pre-season 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.”

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