TORONTO — Canada had the beardos at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Now four years later, Canadian forward Evan Olmstead is bringing his own brand of manic hair to the tournament.
The six-foot-five 247-pounder comes complete with beard. But the 24-year-old lock also has a wild head of hair that can be controlled via man-bun for formal occasions like the Toronto fundraising dinner where Canada’s World Cup roster was announced.
“It’s usually pretty loose and flowy,” said the Aussie-raised Vancouver-born big man. “It’s a bit of a handful in games sometimes, trying to keep it out of your eyes. I’ve been experimenting with lots of different techniques for that.
“But it’s something fun. I like having it. I know lots of people tell me I look horrible with it but I think I look better. So I’m keeping it.”
Forwards Hubert Buydens, Jebb Sinclair and Adam Kleeberger turned heads four years ago with their mountain men looks in New Zealand. Kleeberger retired earlier this summer but Buydens, still hairy, and Sinclair, clean-shaven, are back with Canada.
Hooker Ray Barkwill has become the third beardo this time, joining Buydens and Olmstead.
In addition to big hair, Olmstead brings a hard-edged physicality to the pitch.
Canadian coach Kieran Crowley called Olmstead “the biggest mover” in the forwards in the leadup to the World Cup. Criticized in the past for being out of shape, Olmstead has shed pounds and moved up the depth chart.
“He brings a real edge to the game,” said Crowley. “The teams we’re playing we need that physicality.”
Canada, ranked 18th in the world, opens Saturday against No. 6 Ireland in Cardiff.
The Canadian men will need all the help they can get at the tournament. They are 0-5-1 against the Irish and a combined 5-20-1 against Pool D opposition: Ireland, No. 7 France, No. 14 Italy and No. 17 Romania.
Olmstead was born in Canada but moved to Australia, when he was three. His father John elected to move the family Down Under to join a friend who had a startup company in Sydney.
It was supposed to last two years but the family ended up staying.
Olmstead comes from sporting genes.
His father, who passed away in 2008 at 52, was once offered a contract by junior hockey’s Edmonton Oil Kings and went on to become a rugby player of some renown himself. A past president of the Capilano Rugby Football Club in North Vancouver, he is honoured when the Capilanos play UBC in the annual John Olmstead Memorial Cup game.
Evan’s great-uncle is Hockey Hall of Famer Bert Olmstead, who played for Chicago, Montreal and Toronto from 1948 to 1962.
Evan Olmstead, who has spent much of his career at flanker, had interest from Australian age-grade selectors but played for Canada at the 2011 World Rugby Under-20 Trophy in Georgia.
Crowley said Canadian selectors have had their eye on him ever since, constantly at him to get bigger and fitter. Olmstead subsequently bulked up to 255 pounds.
“I was carrying quite a bit around the belly and then in Fiji (at the World Rugby Pacific Challenge in March) I got yelled at by pretty much everyone. The strength and conditioning coach nearly had a heart attack when I turned up.”
“It’s gone now though, you can be assured,” he said of the excess pounds. “They’ve seen to that pretty quickly.”
He excelled in the training camp before this summer’s Pacific Nations Cup, earning his first senior cap against Samoa on July 29 in Toronto. He enters the World Cup with five caps.
Olmstead has played the last two Canadian Rugby Championship seasons with the Prairie Wolf Pack, commuting between Canada and Australia depending on the rugby season. Back home in Australia, where his mother, sister and girlfriend live, he plays for Parramatta Two Blues and hopes to earn a pro contract with his play at the World Cup.
“I’ll play wherever I can get an opportunity,” he said.
A trained accountant, he quit his job as a logistics analyst for a medical devices company earlier this year to focus on rugby.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press