Shep! – TASC Exclusive.
By Karen Gasbarino
Our conversation with Cap’n Dan went over so well that we thought we would continue to introduce Your Toronto Arrows to you. Our conversations with the boys are TASC exclusives! Look for more in the future, including some behind the scenes with Arrows “Team Behind the Team” folks!
Well Arrows Supporters, there’s one last regular season match this coming Sunday with new derby rivals RUNY. It is a race for 2nd to 5th right now in the MLR standings, with Arrows sitting 3rd. This does not entirely insure their berth in the semis but it’s looking pretty good for our boys.
However, Rugby United New York intends to put a big wrench in our plans to go for the Shield in year one. It’s also their first year and they are playing great rugby as well. I wanted to find out what our unflappable, infallible lock Mike Sheppard thinks about the season, their chances at the semi-finals, and his hopes for Rugby World Cup.
30 year old Mike Sheppard hails from Brampton, Ontario, so is pretty much a hometown boy. When it comes to Canada’s only Professional Rugby Union team, being only a half hour away might allow for a hometown feeling. Mike also went to McMaster, where many other players and some of the coaching staff hail from.
Considering the cheers Sheppard gets each week, it seems he has a lot of folks coming out to support him. Then again, all Arrows supporters are lauding the force that he is on the pitch. Week in and week out, Sheppard is playing 80 minutes – where the 79th minute is equally as impactful as the first. His tackle rate and work over the ball in the ruck and in the scrum is beyond impressive. It makes one wonder how he hasn’t had a decade in the Canada squad.
So many questions to ask Sheppard, so little time!
How long have you been playing rugby and what was your first team?
I’ve been playing for 17 years now, my first team was the Bramalea Broncos when I was in grade 9. Our colours were also blue and white, it’s nice to finally be back in those home colours.
Do you feel you are playing for your hometown?
It’s every athletes dream to play for their hometown. There’s nothing quite like being in front of a home crowd and knowing that there are so many friends and family in the stands, and you make new fans and friends every single week.
Are you playing with guys you played with before at McMaster and other teams aside from the Canada squad?
Not anymore haha. Most have moved on by the time they hit 30, guess I’m just stubborn.
Speaking of Canada, can you tell me about your international duty? How many appearances have you made for Canada?
I’ve been capped 5 times in my career, all coming within the last 6 months. It’s been a really rewarding experience to say the least. Been working the past 17 years toward this and there have been many times where I had almost given up, but it’s nice to have since been rewarded for all the years of effort.
What was your most memorable moment with Canada?
Winning the repachage back in November to secure a spot in the upcoming World Cup is by far my best memory… So far.
Do you think the MLR and your signing with the Arrows has helped yourself and other players to get noticed by scouts?
I’m not too sure to tell you the truth, my phone certainly hasn’t been ringing off the hook.
As an extension of that question, do you think that the MLR is helping to make both Canada and the US better teams and better prepared to take on the tier one nations?
Absolutely. The more high-competition games domestic players can get involved in the better for their respective nations. The only way to get better is to play the game – simple.
As long as we are on the subject, is it your hope to make it to Japan with the Canada squad? Your supporters certainly hope so, with your record and workrate and 8 appearances in a row on the MLR team of the week [Shep OWNS the 4 spot on the MLR team of the week….9 appearances with 8 in a row!]
That is the goal. I’m just hoping to stay healthy and continue my rate of play. We have a lot of talented players in our country and I’m just hoping I can be competitive enough to earn my spot in the starting 15.
How was it being away from home for 8 matches on the trot? Did the team culture gel and change?
It was all new to us this year, we could’ve started 8 at home and it would’ve been odd as well. We were all getting used to new personalities and being with each other for an extended period of time, so like any new relationship it takes time. But certainly in the past 2 months with all players back full time from international duty we’ve had a great amount of cohesion.
How has it made a difference being home?
Being at home is a huge advantage. No time change, you can stick to your regular diet, and as stated before, the fans such as yourself just give you that extra bit to play for. It’s surreal. [Karen smiles….this is what it’s all about, thanks Sheppy!]
Who do you think the “ones to watch” in the Arrows are?
We have a ton of talented young players, especially at hooker we’re so fortunate to have Andrew Quatrin, Steve NG, and Jack McRogers. Three guys who are always working the hardest during practice and before to improve their lineout throws and overall quality of play. It’s insane how much depth we have on our squad.
What do you think Arrows chances are for a big finish?
I know what our chances are. You’ll see June 16th.
What are your post-season plans?
Start with a beer and a swim and go from there.
Finally, a question we are going to ask all of you…..how do you feel about your supporters? Has it made a difference having an active (if not growing) supporters group present every week?
I love our supporters. We are nothing without the support of Toronto and the GTA. Our ever growing fanbase will be the best in this league and I cannot thank you all enough for being there at every game for us.