Canada's Cudmore mixes rugby with wine

Canada lock Jamie Cudmore of Squamish, B.C., is juggling like as a professional rugby player and the owner of a wine bar and a sports bar in France, where he still lives and plays.

A hard man on the rugby field, Jamie Cudmore is a restauranteur and bar owner off it.

The giant-sized Canadian lock, who has played for ASM Clermont Auvergne since 2005, has put down roots in France.

He has a well-appointed wine bar/restaurant, Vinomania, and a sports bar/nightclub, The Five — a reference to his uniform number and the fact five people are involved in the enterprise.

"You can try over 60 types of wine," Cudmore said proudly. "We've got wine from everywhere."

The 33-year-old from Squamish, B.C., hasn't forgotten the Canadian grape, showcasing some Niagara region wines.

Asked if he's ever pinched himself at the facts he's playing rugby professionally and running two businesses in France, Cudmore smiles and says: "Every day, every day."

"Considering I'm from humble beginnings in Squamish, kind of working away in the bush, building houses and stuff like that, playing a bit of rugby. Never in my wildest dreams, did I think I'd be able to make a living in France, playing a game and then the businesses.

"We just built a house there. I definitely have to pinch myself quite a lot."

On Tuesday, Cudmore will likely be administering pain to 13th-ranked Japan (0-3-0) at McLean Park in Napier as No. 11 Canada (1-1-0) looks for a win in its penultimate Pool A game at the Rugby World Cup. With Canada wrapping up round-robin play against the All Blacks, Japan represents a real chance to record a win and move into third place in the pool.

The chiselled Cudmore is a rugby enforcer. The six-foot-five 265-pounder wallops opponents with gusto whether they are carrying the ball or he is.

His enthusiasm has got the best of him more than a few times. Cudmore is no stranger to the rugby law and suspensions, not to mention injuries, club duties and personal commitments, have restricted his appearances for Canada.

The Churchill Cup this summer marked his first national team appearance since the 2007 World Cup.

"It was never a question of me not wanting to play [for Canada]," he noted.

As for his much-publicized disciplinary problems, Cudmore says that's just the way he plays. He never takes a backward step.

"Any forward, any second-row worth his salt has to do certain things that maybe run afoul of the law for sure. You're out there to dominate the opposition and if sometimes you go a bit overboard, well I'm not going to say sorry.

"I play my game fair. But I play it hard.

"I have had problems with discipline and [yellow] cards in the past. But I never look back on those things and think 'Oh Jeez, I shouldn't have done that.'

"Well it's too late, it's done. I'm looking forward and I just want to do my best for the team who I'm playing for [and right] now it's Canada and it's the highest honour you can get in this country."

Cudmore did not start taking rugby seriously until his late teens with the Vancouver club Capilanos. He knew the sport — his father had been quite a good player — but living in Squamish, Cudmore was more into skiing, snowmobiling and mountain sports.

He attracted attention on the rugby field and joined the developmental Pacific Pride program in Victoria. He won his first cap for Canada against the U.S. in 2002.

"From then on, every year things just kept ramping up," he said. "I got a chance to play professionally in Wales [with Llandovery and Llanelli].

"And then the World Cup in 2003. And then I had a chance to play in France and I've been there ever since."

The success of Cudmore's club — the team won the well-respected French Top 14 league last year and regularly competes in the Heineken Cup — means he plays more than 35 games a year.

His club regularly draws 17,000 to 19,000 a game at home. "Similar to a hockey game," he says.

His last club game was the end of May, in the Top 14 semifinals. If he was not committed to Canada, he would have been back in training camp July 11.

"We really only get about a month off, maybe five, six weeks if you're lucky. So there's not much down time."

And it's not like he gets to down tools in the off-season. Rugby players have to stay in shape.

"Nowadays you can't really completely switch off," he said. "There's no real off-season."

Plus rugby is a hard game. And Cudmore never takes the easy route.

"I've had shoulder reconstruction," he said. "I've had plates put in my head, broken about every finger, toes — all types of soft tissue injury.

"I had a hernia operation last year. Every year, there's some kind of operation."

When he's not playing rugby or looking after his businesses, Cudmore is chilling with the family.

His wife Jennifer, originally from Newfoundland, has been hard at work at school in France.

"She's tall, beautiful and smart," he said.

They have a daughter Maelle, who's closing in on two.

Fluent in French, Cudmore enjoys living in Clermont in south-central France — it's the home of Michelin tires — and says the family may stay there after rugby.

"Things are pointing that way," he said.

No stranger to New Zealand, Cudmore spent time there as a 19-year-old thanks to a rugby club exchange.

He sold his truck, TV and belongings and, helped by his club, bought a ticket and flew to the other side of the world.

"I showed up at six in the morning, I played rugby that very afternoon," Cudmore said. "And that was like just getting thrown in the deep end … I'd have to credit that as my steepest learning curve in rugby."

Rugby World Cup 2011