Former Canadian international Adam Kleeberger, who won 38 caps for his country and drew worldwide attention as one of Canada’s “beardos,” is looking to help others follow his rugby footsteps.
The 34-year-old former flanker from White Rock, B.C., has been appointed lead development strength and conditioning coach at the Rugby Canada Academy.
Based out of Belmont High School near the Canadian Rugby Centre of Excellence in Langford, B.C., Kleeberger is leading a high-performance program for up-and-coming high school athletes.
The first class includes nine girls and three boys aged 15 to 17-18 (grades 10 through 12), selected for the inaugural program through various talent identification sessions and provincial union recommendations. They will work with Kleeberger and other Rugby Canada high performance staff.
The participating athletes, who can take part in several sports, will attend classes at Belmont.
Kleeberger and his team work with the athletes in the morning, from 8 a.m. to around noon. Then they do their class work in the afternoons.
“The hope is that through this first year we’ll have built a bit of an understanding of how we can do things and improve for next year,” Kleeberger said in an interview. ”The program is open to anybody across the country.”
The first year, however, they opted to go with mostly local athletes to keep things simple at the beginning. He believes the program will grow, possibly to 20 next year.
Three of the girls are from outside B.C. and have received developmental carding to help defray out-of-province school costs. The program itself is free to those accepted.
It’s up to the national team coaches to decide where the carded girls play, likely with the developmental Maple Leafs side. Most of the others will play for school and club sides.
He hopes to take applications next year as well as recommendations, reviewing the talent available to open up the selection procedure.
Kleeberger retired from elite rugby in the summer of 2015. He played professionally for the Rotherham Titans and London Scottish in England and with Auckland in New Zealand.
Kleeberger, who has a degree in kinesiology, has most recently worked as strength and conditioning coach at the Canadian Sports Institute at the Pacific Institute of Sports Excellence in Victoria where he has assisted rowing and mountain biking teams.
He is contracted to Rugby Canada to run its academy.
Kleeberger made the most of his skills but paid a price for his physical approach to the game and willingness to sacrifice for the cause.
At the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, he memorably hurled his body at 262-pound All Blacks prop Tony Woodcock in a bid to prevent the behemoth from crossing the try-line. The violent collision left both face down unconscious on the pitch. They finally got up but had to leave the game.
During his career, he had two shoulder reconstructions and suffered ongoing back pain from disc and nerve issues.
Kleeberger played in two Rugby World Cups and won notoriety as of Canada’s “beardos” at the 2011 tournament. Kleeberger and fellow forwards Hubert Buydens and Jebb Sinclair went into the tournament with mountain men beards, drawing attention from around the globe.
Rick Mercer shaved off Kleeberger’s beard after the tournament on TV to raise funds for cancer research and earthquake relief aid for Christchurch, New Zealand.
Kleeberger debuted for Canada in November 2005, against France in Nantes. He also represented his country at the under-19 and under-21 levels and played sevens for Canada at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press