After helping the Gallagher Chiefs to an impressive start to the Super Rugby season, Canada captain Tyler Ardron now finds himself in lockdown in New Zealand.

New Zealanders can only leave their home for certain reasons, like going to the supermarket or pharmacy. People have to establish their "bubble," the people they can interact/live with, and police will sometimes stop people driving.

"If you're not going straight from the store back home, you're in trouble basically," said Ardron.

While the 28-year-old from Lakefield, Ont., has his own flat in downtown Hamilton, he often spent time with a local family he is close to. With the country's lockdown in its most severe mode, he has moved in with the family full-time.

"They've got a nice little piece of land," he said. "We managed to get some good gym equipment, built a training area so I could stay in shape. And they've got three kids that are nine to 13 so it keeps us busy, for sure."

It's the latest chapter in a whirlwind year that has seen Ardron lead Canada at the Rugby World Cup in Japan and captain the famed Barbarians invitational side.

The lock/No. 8 is the first Canadian to play for a New Zealand-based Super Rugby side and only the third — following Christian Stewart and Jebb Sinclair — to play in the Southern Hemisphere's elite club competition.

Given the current situation, he's not sure where the future lies but says this probably could be his last season in New Zealand. Prior to the shutdown, he signed a deal with a European team.

"I'm excited to keep moving and travelling with my career right now," said Ardron, who declined to identify his next club because he had not completed the medical yet.

His destination is reportedly Castres Olympique in France.

Ardron signed with the Chiefs in 2017, making his debut the next year. He came to New Zealand from Wales, where he captained the Ospreys of the Guinness Pro 14 circuit.

Today he is one of the Chiefs' three player-leaders, so is in regular contact with the New Zealand Rugby Players Association about rugby's future. With teams in Argentina, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa, Super Rugby faces challenges in coming back any time soon due to travel and other restrictions.

One possible option, once restrictions are lifted, is playing against New Zealand opposition — behind closed doors for TV purposes with visiting teams chartering in and out the day of the game.

"The government, having rugby as their No 1 sport here, is pretty keen to use it as a bit of a recovery tool for the morale of the country," Ardron said. "But it's obviously just going to depend on the bigger picture."

Super Rugby players have only taken a 15 per cent pay freeze so far, with the hope they will get the money at a later date once play resumes.

The Chiefs, under new coach Warren Gatland, opened the 2020 season with three straight wins and were third in the New Zealand Conference with a 4-2-0 record when play was suspended March 19. And one of those losses, a 27-24 setback March 13 at the hands of the Hurricanes, came on an 84th-minute penalty after a 36-phase attack that lasted more than give minutes.

For Ardron and the Chiefs, the suspension of play is a bitter pill given their successful start.

"It was really exciting," he said. "It's tough to think the season could be over — well the season as we know it is over. It's just depending if we can get any different sort of competition within New Zealand up and going.

"I really felt this was the year to win it. We had the team. Obviously some new coaching staff coming in has helped. We definitely had the belief. I think we would have been the team to beat."

Ardron started four of the six games, a change from last season when he played the full 80 minutes in every match bar one. But Gatland, a celebrated coach whose resume includes Ireland, Wales and the British and Irish Lions, is keen on rotating his roster to rest players.

Ardron's four years with the Ospreys came while Gatland coached Wales, so the Canadian was familiar with his style of play. And he played under Gatland in Barbarian colours against Fiji, Brazil and Wales last November.

"I really got to know him then. You share a beer and get to know each other a bit better on a week like that. So I had a really good introduction and start with him but it's been even better having him here."

Ardron captained the Barbarians against Brazil, the first Canadian to serve as skipper of the famed invitational side that dates back to 1890.

"That was amazing — and pretty unexpected," said Ardron, who roomed with Rory Best.

The Irish hooker captained the Baa-Baas at Twickenham against Fiji. And Ardron found out after the game that the reason he had been paired with Best was that he was taking over the captaincy in Sao Paulo.

He did not forget his roots in doing so. While the Barbarians wear their trademark black-and-white hooped jersey, they are allowed to wear socks from a club of their own choosing. Ardron had a friend back home send him a set of socks from the Peterborough Pagans.

Players in New Zealand spend a half-day a week outside of rugby, as mandated by the Players Association. So Ardron has more than a few strings to his bow.

He has a degree in finance and economics and is a qualified yoga instructor. He also took a Toastmasters course and started learning the guitar. As a member of the Chiefs, he also had to master the haka — and songs in English, Fijian and Maori.

"I really can't see myself not coming back here often when I retire, if I don't end up living here," he said. "I've had such a good time and made so many good connections."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2020.


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