Cooper Coats has come full circle.
Coats will play for Canada in an international rugby 15's match on Saturday afternoon against Belgium at Halifax's Wanderers Grounds. Coats, the lone Nova Scotian on Canada's team, had his first rugby practice just down the road.
He will play for Canada for the first time in his hometown.
"Representing Canada in any match is an incredible honour, but being able to do it just a stone's throw away from my high school where my career started is quite special," said Coats, who attended Citadel High.
Coats writes the letters NS on his wrist tape before every game so everyone knows where he's from.
"I'm definitely proud to be Nova Scotian and I bring that around the world with me anywhere I go."
Coats didn't start playing rugby until his senior year of high school.
He was a prolific soccer player. But his International Baccalaureate program required another sport. He decided to give rugby a try.
He captained Citadel High to a provincial championship in 2014.
Chris Sutton, his coach at Citadel High, said rugby came easy to Coats and it was evident from the practice.
"Myself and the other coaches watched from the sidelines as he went through a couple drills and we kind of just looked at each other and smiled," Sutton said. "We said this kid has something, he's going to go far."
Sutton said many of soccer's fundamentals — running and kicking among them — translate well to rugby.
Journey toward the national team
Within six months of starting his rugby career, Coats donned the Maple Leaf patch playing for Canada's under-18 team in Romania.
"That trip fuelled my hunger to make it back on the national team," Coats said.
He played varsity soccer for Acadia University, fulfilling a dream.
He continued playing rugby during the summer. He was offered a contract with Rugby Canada during the summer after his second year of university, but he opted to stay in school to finish his degree.
Coats moved out to British Columbia to join the national team after graduation. He has made a name for himself by travelling the world with the national rugby 7's team.
Ambassador for Nova Scotia rugby
Coats gave one of his Canada jerseys to Citadel High. Sutton framed it outside the gym which has created more interest in rugby at the school.
"I've had kids want to come out and play rugby at Citadel because of that jersey, because of what Cooper did," Sutton said.
Coats has attended a couple of training sessions since being back in Nova Scotia. He said the growth in youth rugby is incredible.
"When I first started out, there were a couple kids around but they were all sons and daughters of players themselves," Coats said.
"But this week we went to a training session and there were upwards of 50 kids of all ages showing up to learn how to play rugby from their coaches and some of the national team players."
Coats hopes that the opening of the new rugby clubhouse at Graves-Oakley Memorial Park field in Spryfield will help increase the popularity of the game in the province.
Nova Scotia rugby fans will have another opportunity to watch live international rugby later this summer. The Canadian national women's team plays Wales Aug. 27 at the Wanderers Grounds.
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