Story by Jeff Gard/jgsportsmedia.com
Cobourg’s Noah Flesch was one of 41 rugby players from 15 regions recently selected for the new Ontario Blues – Junior Arrows Academy.
The program is a partnership between Rugby Ontario, the sport’s governing body in the province, and the Toronto Arrows Rugby Football Club, which is Canada’s first professional rugby union team and competes in Major League Rugby.
According to a release, the Academy will provide the selected athletes an opportunity to train and learn from top-level provincial, national and professional coaches in an environment designed to prepare them for the next steps in rugby.
“I’m probably most looking forward to the overall learning,” said Flesch, a 17-year-old student at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School. “I know we have a lot of good coaches out there that have a lot to share with us and a lot of information to give us so I’m just hoping I can take in as much as I can and hopefully use that to go on to the next level.”
Flesch began playing rugby at age 11 with the Ajax Wanderers, but later joined the Cobourg Saxons junior program when they had a team in his age bracket. He went on to also play high school rugby for the St. Mary Thunder and earned a spot on the provincial team last year as well.
As far as he’s concerned, there’s always more to learn and believes the Academy program will be a great opportunity to improve his game.
“Probably keeping my depth,” is something Flesch said he needs to work on. “It’s a big challenge because if you’re too flat then the defence comes up quick and you don’t have time to move the ball, so probably I guess getting into my right position and getting in the right formation.”
Normally playing the back row, Flesch said openside flanker, blindside flanker and sometimes eight-man are his regular positions.
“I’m willing to play any position that coaches or anyone needs me to play, but usually I play flank,” he said.
Flesch earned his Academy spot after participating in 10 training sessions and going through an interview process.
He knew he had to find a way to stand out.
“I want to say work ethic, but I know a lot of the kids there have a pretty strong work ethic,” Flesh remarked. “I think mainly it was mostly mental…getting over tasks and challenges that were difficult and advancing forward after maybe not doing one of them effectively and just keep going forward and keep persevering.”
Flesch has aspirations to play professional rugby in the future, potentially teaming up with his older brother, Mason, who has previously competed for the under-20 Canadian team and plays for the Pacific Pride out west.
“(Mason’s) goals I’m sure are to play for the national team and probably even beyond that and play for Super Rugby,” Flesch said. “I want to play with him and play professionally.”
Following in the footsteps of his brother at St. Mary, Flesch believed he had a reputation to uphold. The coaches knew he was Mason’s brother when he arrived in Grade 9.
“I had to live up to the name a little bit, but it was nice,” he said.
He enjoyed being a leader for his Grade 10 junior year and tried to pass on knowledge he had to younger players.
A big highlight was joining the St. Mary Thunder senior team as a junior-aged player at the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) tournament and winning the provincial championship.
“I got injured and then played OFSAA for the senior team,” Flesch said. “Even though I hadn’t really played the whole season, I still managed to play on the senior team at OFSAA and we won gold so that was pretty awesome.
“We had a pretty good team already because we had won the year before so we won back-to-back. The times that I got to play in the game, I was trying to be as focused as I could, trying not to make mistakes, trying to show people that ‘Hey I might be younger and smaller, but I can play with you guys.”
Flesch has competed in numerous sports over the years, including wrestling, baseball, basketball, badminton, soccer and hockey, but rugby stands out.
“Everyone who plays has a competitive nature and everyone wants to work hard and get better,” he said. “Having to play defence and offence and switch roles and not having to just be good at one thing, having to be good at everything, it’s fun. It’s a good challenge.”