While discussing the twists and turns of his superlative rugby career, Victoria’s Mark Wyatt pauses and muses, “I’m pretty lucky to be in Canada.” Considering his contributions as one of Canada’s great players from 1982-91, Canada’s also pretty lucky to have Wyatt. Few realize Canadian rugby almost lost him on several occasions.

Born in Bermuda, Wyatt’s family had tickets booked for Australia to start a new life Down Under. They happened to stop over in Victoria on one of those gorgeous spring days when the BC capital bursts with colour. That’s all it took for the Wyatts to give up Sydney, New South Wales for Sidney, BC. Australia’s loss would ultimately be Canadian rugby’s great gain.

Wyatt played multiple sports growing up, particularly soccer, but by Grade 12 he’d been convinced to focus exclusively on rugby by his Oak Bay High School coach Gary Johnston, who later coached Canada’s national team. Wyatt helped Oak Bay to the BC High School provincial title in 1980.

His kicking ultimately set him apart on the world stage and Wyatt credits shagging footballs for CFL great Dave Cutler as a youth and critical influence from Canadian international Don Burgess. Burgess, who invented rugby’s kicking tee, had Wyatt test his styrofoam prototypes until perfecting his design. Wyatt became the first player in the world to use artificial tees in international matches, something every kicker in rugby does today.

While playing for University of Victoria under coach Bruce Howe, also Canada’s national coach, Wyatt was invited to his first national team camp in 1982 only to fill the practice roster. Wyatt shocked everyone by playing well enough to earn selection for a tour of Japan and soon found himself starting after injuries wiped out the number one fullback. He remained a national fixture for a decade after that, accumulating 29 international appearances for Canada and scoring 262 points.

In that time, he represented Canada at two Rugby World Cups, in 1987 and 1991. In the latter, he captained Canada to a best-ever quarterfinal finish, taking New Zealand’s venerable All-Blacks to the brink and earning Canadian rugby worldwide respect. One of Wyatt’s best individual performances occurred in a 1991 international versus Scotland, leading Canada to a 24-19 victory and scoring all eight penalties—a Guinness World Record. Earlier, he led Canada’s national sevens side to a best-ever semi-final finish at the Hong Kong Sevens.

Along the way, Wyatt’s exceptional play earned selection to two World Select XV sides in 1988: an Australian Bicentennial match in Sydney and versus the North of England in Newcastle. The following year, he became one of the first Canadians to play professionally overseas, joining French club Saint-Gaudens. In 1990, he toured with the prestigious Barbarians British invitational side in Wales.

Wyatt helped form the Velox Valhallians club side and currently serves as president of Victoria’s Westshore RFC.

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