He’s chased rugby balls the world over, but Surrey’s Gurvinder Kalar is aiming for glory with Burnaby Lake

rugby-Sikh-Surrey

Surrey’s Sikh rugby player Gurvinder Kalar. Patrick Johnston/Vancouver Desi

PATRICK JOHNSTON
VANCOUVER DESI

VANCOUVER – He switched clubs to get a taste of playoff rugby. He’s gotten that, and he’s going to get even more.

That’s the Gurvinder Kalar story. The 6’2″, 250 lbs forward moved to Burnaby Lake RFC this season and it’s a decision that’s paid off.

Burnaby Lake faces powerhouse James Bay for the second year in a row in the CDI Premier League final, looking to avenge last year’s 18-10 loss to the Bays. Burnaby’s never won the title, James Bay has won 23, but the addition of Kalar to an already powerful Burnaby Lake pack is one of many reason to favour the league leaders this Saturday at Klahanie Park in West Vancouver (4:00 p.m. kickoff, admission $15, or watch online at bcrugby.com).

James Bay defeated arch-rival Castaway Wanderers 16-13 in one semi final two weeks ago, while Burnaby Lake outclassed Capilano 30-17.

“I wasn’t ready to stop playing premier,” the 27-year-old Surrey native said. He’d been at Bayside, but with the South Surrey outfit relegated after a rough 2012-13 season, a move to a new club was in the offing. But which one? Given his day job running his own gym – he owns the Anytime Fitness location at 64th Avenue and Scott Road in Surrey – switching to Burnaby Lake made geographic sense.

But he knew it wouldn’t be an easy switch, in the playing sense. With the Blue and Whites champing at the bit to get back to the Rounsefell Cup final – they lost last year’s championship to James Bay – Kalar knew it wouldn’t be easy to win playing time. A year ago, they built their surprising success from a powerful forward pack; it was a safe bet to be the same this season.

“Coming in to a forward pack that was pretty dominant, I was on the fence, no one wants to move clubs and risk not having a spot,” he said. “But it’s as I hoped, the winning culture is so great.”

He’s had a pretty great season, playing in all 14 of Burnaby Lake’s CDI Premier League games. He even bagged four tries.

But for all the on-field success he’s had, Kalar is quick to mention the social parts of the game as the strongest motivation.

“It’s hard to put a finger on it of what exactly it is I love about the game, you can’t not love contact, but my best friends are pretty much from rugby, that’s definitely one of the things that draws me in,” he said.

“Growing up, I was always the big kid, I was never super-coordinated in terms of sports, I never thought of myself as a big kid, I played soccer before I got to Tamanawis Secondary in grade 8.

“But rugby suits me a bit more,” he said with a chuckle.

“I showed up at Tamanawis and I was one of the bigger kids. ‘You should give rugby a try,’ is what my first coaches, Mr. McCallum and Mr. McDonnell said to me. I had no idea what rugby was,” he said.

But the game stuck. At 16, he started to play club rugby for the Surrey Beavers.

“That’s where I really fell in love,” he said.

“Then I was being pushed into Japan Cup junior rep stuff. I thought, I’m not bad at this sport, let’s see what happens.

“I started to take it a bit more seriously, as best as I could. When I was about 18, I was playing first division for the Beavers pretty regularly.”

As a Sikh, Kalar is a rarity in men’s rugby in B.C. – though there are plenty who play in the high school ranks, he points out.

“If anything, I think it’s helped – it doesn’t hurt that I can play – I stick out, people remember you. ‘Hey you’re the brown guy with the beard,’ they say.”

With so many young players of South Asian descent playing, especially in Surrey, Kalar hopes he’s showing a path for them.

Kalar also points to the support of his parents.

“They had no idea what it was, but they know what it is now. My old man comes and watches now and then, he’ll be there this weekend,” he said. “My mom’s not a big fan of the contact sports, but she likes that I play.”

Rugby has taken him around the world, too. First there was a tour to Argentina with the Delta-based Brit Lions. Then there was a year spent playing Australian first grade rugby for the famed Brothers club in Brisbane.

“That’s where I first experienced a real culture of winning,” he said. “I surprised them, too; there was a cricket practice going on at a field behind us, I think they all thought ‘are you sure you’re at the right place?’ when I first showed up.”

But he showed his worth from the get-go. He started with the third grade team but was quickly brought up to the first team, once the club’s coaches realized that he was a tough-as-nails, highly physical forward. He’d learned to use his physical tools.

“It was huge, especially being Canadian, they don’t expect much from you,” he said.

He returned to B.C. and eventually made a move from the Surrey Beavers to Bayside, in pursuit of CDI Premier League rugby. He became a mainstay for the Sharks.

Adam Roberts, whose affiliations with Surrey rugby go back to his high school days in the late 90s, and is now a highly-regarded coach, got a call from the Dallas Reds, who were looking for players. Kalar put his hand up, and has now travelled to Texas twice, in 2012 and 2013, to play a few games for the club.

“The rugby’s not quite as good but the club is awesome, it’s great people,” he said. “I try and push people to go there.”

And then there’s been the rugby league experiment. The thirteen-a-side code is not that well known in Canada – B.C.’s competition is only three years old – but he’s already impressed enough to play for the Canadian Wolverines. He’s played for the national squad off and on since 2012.

As for this weekend’s big game?

“Should be alright, it’s pretty much the same as any other rugby weekend,” Kalar said calmly.

“It’s just a final.”

pjohnston@theprovince.com

Twitter: @risingaction

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