It’s a good thing Eagle Keys was one crazy old bird. The career path of one of this country’s great rugby players may have been very different otherwise.

Hans de Goede, born in Amsterdam and raised in Victoria, was a stand-out all-round athlete fresh out of Victoria High School, when Keys, the BC Lions head coach, invited de Goede to training camp. After a week in camp, de Goede told the coaches he had to return to Vancouver Island to play in a championship rugby game for James Bay.

When Keys overheard this, he grabbed de Goede by the shoulder pads, shaking him wildly and yelling in his face, “You’re crazy! You’re crazy!”

De Goede’s reply was to the point: “You’re the one who’s yelling! You’re crazy and I’m outta here!”

Although de Goede had played three years of football for the Victoria Dolphins, the game never captured his imagination like rugby, where the hulking de Goede got the chance to run with the ball, much to the chagrin of his opponents. Keys’ nutty tirade only made his decision to focus on rugby easier and one that he never regretted.

Introduced to rugby by coach Ed Bryan at Central Junior High School, de Goede took to the game immediately with his rare blend of size, strength, speed, and ball skills. At Vic High, de Goede fell under the influence of coach Tillman Briggs. It was Briggs, who bled James Bay Athletic Association blue, who directed de Goede to the club that he would play 20 years for and proudly remain associated with to this day. Briggs’ choice was simple: James Bay or James Bay.

De Goede chose wisely going on to win eight Rounsfell Cup provincial championships—including seven in a row—with JBAA and served five years as club captain.

Besides club commitments, the loyalties of top Canadian rugby players in the 1970s were split three other ways—regional, provincial, and national. The game was still strictly amateur demanding a huge commitment from players who were forced to take large amounts of time off work unpaid. Scrambling to make ends meet, de Goede actually fought in a number of “So You Think You’re Tough?” boxing tournaments, doing quite well and bringing home some extra cash. It may have been a struggle, but the honour of representing your province or country on the pitch was worth it.

From 1972-1987, de Goede was regularly chosen to play for Crimson Tide, the Vancouver Island regional select team. Over this period, he captained the side on 25 occasions and played in 14 McKechnie Cup finals.

Over the same period, de Goede was a regular team member of British Columbia’s provincial side in a period when the West Coast produced the majority of the country’s top players. He captained BC for five years playing some of the top national and regional sides from all over the world such as Scotland, Queensland, and Wales. His stature alone as an international player of the highest order attracted many top opponents to play BC.

Representing Canada internationally against the top national sides of the rugby world, de Goede was capped 24 times at a time when international matches were far less frequent than today. He captained Canada at the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987.

In addition, he played 60 games for venerable Cardiff RFC in rugby-mad Wales, against such imposing opposition as the famed New Zealand All-Blacks. Taking the field for Cardiff beside some of the world’s best international rugby players left de Goede an anomaly of his time—a lone Canadian amongst a sea of top Europeans, South Africans, Australians, and Kiwis. Many Canadian players have since followed him to play professionally in Europe.

The best illustration of de Goede’s international reputation comes from his two selections for World XV matches: in 1976 versus Cardiff in Cardiff RFC’s centenary year and in 1981 versus Wales in the Welsh RU centenary year.

With one of the most impressive Canadian rugby careers ever, old Eagle may have been disappointed then, but no doubt today be impressed with the direction de Goede’s career took—straight as the crow flies, right to the top.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.