Alexis Creek’s Jake Ilnicki and the Canadian men’s 15-a-side rugby team have qualified for the 2019 Men’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Ilnicki, 26, and the Canadians came out in Marsais, France, Friday versus Hong Kong a tenacious bunch in its final World Cup qualifier at the repechage tournament, battling through monsoon-like conditions and the offensive efforts of Hong Kong in a 27-10 victory to punch their ticket to the 2019 World Cup.
The win capped off a three-game repechage success for the Canadians, which also included wins over Kenya and Germany throughout the month of November.
“It’s a couple big wins, and it’s been a pretty good month for us,” Ilnicki said from his current residence in Leeds, England, where he plays for the Yorkshire Carnegie of the Rugby Football Union.
“It was very stressful, and we played some very high-pressure games, but everyone’s just happy. It’s been a long year with all the boys and a lot of things haven’t gone our way, so we wanted to come out of the tournament on top.”
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Friday versus Hong Kong, Ray Barkwill opened up the scoring for Canada followed by DTH van der Merwe, who chased down a blocked kick and dotted down for a try. Gordon McRorie made both conversions to put Canada up 14-3 at the half.
McRorie came back from a yellow card in the first to add six points in penalty kicks for Canada, widening its lead to 20-10.
van der Merwe then scored his second of the match in beautiful fashion, beating three defenders to touch down for a try in the corner. Adding on the conversion from McRorie, Canada officially booked its ticket to Japan in the 27-10 triumph.
Ilnicki said he was fortunate to have the opportunity to play for Canada during the 2015 World Cup, and added it’s a dream come true to be able to represent his country once again on the world’s biggest rugby stage.
“It’s definitely something special not a lot of players get the chance to do,” Ilnicki said. “I had such an amazing time at my first World Cup and getting the chance to go back is going to e the biggest tournament I’ll get to play in.”
Ilnicki is now back in Leeds playing for his premiership team, however, said he’s looking forward to getting the ball rolling once again with the Canadian side once training resumes in Langford, B.C., during the summer of 2019.
“Everything’s kind of coming into place still for how our schedule will look,” he said. “We still have the Americas Rugby Championship in February and leading into the summer we’ll start getting together around June — then it will be World Cup preparation until the end of September and the road to the World Cup from there.”
Ilnicki said he thinks the Canadian side is as strong as it’s been since making his debut in November of 2013.
“This past year has really tested our depth and there’s been a lot of adversity overcome for some guys,” he said. “I think once you find you’ve hit rock bottom and kind of claw your way back it helps build a lot of character on the team — especially this past month — we built a lot of momentum and long-term I think it’s going to pay off, big time.”
Allen Vansen, CEO of Rugby Canada, said Rugby Canada is incredibly pleased the men’s team has qualified for the 2019 Men’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.
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“First and foremost, we want to extend a huge congratulations to the players, coaches and staff who have been working tirelessly to achieve this important result. All of Canada has been behind this team, and we could not be more pleased for this dedicated group to have achieved this result.”
Rugby Canada’s men’s 15s team will now join defending Rugby World Cup champions New Zealand in pool B alongside South Africa, Italy and Namibia for the 2019 Men’s Rugby World Cup being held in Japan net fall.
Inlicki, meanwhile, is looking forward to the Christmas season where his family from Alexis Creek will be travelling to spend the holidays with him.
“I just want to thank everyone back home for their support,” Ilnicki said. “As soon as the final whistle went [versus Hong Kong] I was getting so many messages from people all over Williams Lake and out west saying congratulations.”