Story by Jeff Gard/jgsportsmedia.com
Cobourg’s Mason Flesch has joined the Toronto Arrows, which are currently based out of the Atlanta area to start the Major League Rugby season.
His progression to professional rugby began at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School in Cobourg, which included an OFSAA provincial championship win in 2018.
Flesch still considers learning and playing the sport with the St. Mary Thunder to be an invaluable experience, especially since he was his own toughest opponent at times.
“Winning OFSAA was a great way to end my high school career,” Flesch said. “My high school career wasn’t the prettiest, I wasn’t putting myself in the best spot to say the least. Rugby helped me so much.”
Rugby tours to other countries are a big part of the experience for Thunder players, who get to play exhibition games while also enjoying the educational opportunity of exploring the sights.
Flesch noted that while the team got to take in some of the Rugby World Cup during their 2015 trip to England, he almost didn’t get to go on the trip. He credits St. Mary coach Greg Conway for setting him in the right direction.
“I believe a month before, I was messing around and getting in trouble before we left on tour and coach Conway sat me down and said ‘if anything else happens after this you won’t be attending the tour,’” Flesch recalled. “After that moment I don’t think I had any more issues at school. I owe a lot to the sport and the people that have helped me get here. It very may well have saved my life. I reflect on it a lot and see how much I’ve grown since then, as a rugby player and a person.”
Flesch went on to play for the Canadian under-20 team. He was new and not in the best physical condition, he said, so his playing time was limited.
That changed with the Pacific Pride rugby club in BC under the guidance of coach Jamie Cudmore and strength and conditioning coach Michael Deasy.
“Pride is a huge step for Rugby Canada where they can take players from all over the country purely for physical development and knowledge of the game,” Flesch said. “The work is hard, but it’s not easy for a reason, always getting new personal bests and pushing the bar higher and higher. It’s a wonderful training environment that put me in the position I am now.”
Not long before the Toronto Arrows departed for Atlanta, Flesch got the call to join the team to replace an injured player.
According to a news release from the Arrows, Flesch was one of the players invited to Rugby Canada’s high-performance camp this past November in Langley, B.C., that included training alongside 13 Arrows players.
“Mason is a very big body who’s fast and athletic and he gives us range and pace in the back row,” Arrows Chief Operating Officer and General Manager Mark Winokur stated in the release. “He stood out in the November camp and is an Ontario guy through and through, having come through the Ontario Blues age-grade program. We think he has a big future.”
Toronto dropped its opening game 21-14 to Rugby ATL this past Saturday in Atlanta and will face the Utah Warriors this coming weekend. Upcoming games in April will be broadcast on TSN.
Flesch is working hard to learn the team’s systems and make the most of his opportunity with the Arrows.
“Ultimately I came in to cover an injured player, injuries heal and I know I have a limited time to make my mark in the squad,” he said, adding the need to set up away from Toronto is an added challenge for the players but they are making the most of it. “The entire management team for the Arrows are very on top of things and they’ve made it possible for us to be here, especially in a state where there are basically zero regulations for COVID. We are very tight in our own bubble so we don’t risk any unnecessary contacts.”
During his first day with the Arrows, Flesch didn’t train with the club. He just watched the field session.
“Seeing the talent on the pitch was such a good feeling, knowing that I have the opportunity to train at that level and knowing I will only get better with each session I’m in,” he said. “The coaching staff is also on another level. Our attack coach Pete Smith is full of knowledge and he knows exactly what it should look like, and (consultant) Rob Howley is pure class with knowledge, experience and his ability to teach those skills at such a high level.”
Flesch has aspirations to earn a permanent spot with the Arrows and eventually play internationally as well.
His younger brother Noah was featured in a story on this website last year when he was selected to join the Ontario Blues-Junior Arrows Academy.
“(Noah)’’s been working very, very hard,” Flesch said of his younger brother. “He takes care of himself better than anyone I know, he eats clean and works hard in the gym. I have a feeling he will dominate the Junior Arrows and I would love to see him move onto Pride in the coming years. He’s got a lot to learn when it comes to being a professional on and off field and that would be a good environment for him to start his journey.