Alexis Creek’s Jake Ilnicki broke through on the international rugby stage earlier this month when he made his debut with Team Canada at the 2015 World Rugby Cup in England.
The 23-year-old prop suited up for Canada’s last match of the tournament against Romania on Oct. 6, a 17-15 loss at Leicester City Stadium.
“I was really grateful and really excited to step on the field after working so hard throughout the year,” Ilnicki said.
“It was unreal. The buzz, the overall atmosphere. Everybody was in a rugby mode and wanted to get pictures with us as we were walking down the street, which isn’t something we’re used to with rugby being less popular in Canada.”
Canada, who entered the tournament as a massive underdog on the international stage, didn’t win a game in four outings at the tournament facing Ireland (50-7), Italy (23-18), France (41-18) and Romania (17-15).
lnicki, however, had some hometown support arrive in the form of family and friends, including his mom, Leanna Ilnicki and former high school rugby coach, Todd Pritchard.
“Having them there definitely made the whole experience more special,” he said. “My mom was there for the whole time and my brother, Riley, the last two weeks. Todd, one of my coaches growing up — it was really cool to have him there.”
Ilnicki is currently living in Victoria playing for the Castaway Wanderers RFC in B.C.’s Premier League.
After originally being placed on Team Canada’s injury reserve following the team’s roster selection, Ilnicki travelled to Australia to play in the National Rugby Championship tournament.
“I went down there at the end of July, managed to play one game for them after hopping off the plane. Then I got the call up after an injury and I was flown over on a Thursday and had to play Saturday [at the Rugby World Cup] against Fiji in a warmup match.”
He added he was honoured to play in the tournament, and said it speaks to the level of rugby talent coming out of Williams Lake such as Canada Women’s Sevens player, Kayla Moleschi.
“The people in Williams Lake are really committed to rugby, and they have a strong drive,” he said. “The people who get out of Williams Lake and play at that provincial or national level, once you get a taste I think you kind of want to get a bit more and players coming up through that system see where commitment can get you.”
He noted he was greatly appreciative of all the support he received through social media during the Rugby World Cup.
“It really meant a lot to me,” he said.
“I was getting constant messages through Facebook, through my mom, about how proud people were. The level of support meant a lot to me and I’m just grateful and thankful.”