Williams Lake rugby player Jake Ilnicki hopes to continue to climb the Rugby Canada ladder.
Currently in his second full season of play at the University of Victoria as a member of the Vikings, the six-foot-one, 20-year-old prop was recently picked to play for the Canadian national team’s under-20 squad.
Last summer Ilnicki was in New Zealand playing for the College Rifles Rugby Football Club premiere team.
“The team I was playing for over there, the College Rifles, we went undefeated all season,” Ilnicki said of the experience playing overseas, noting the team won the Auckland city championship.
“It was a lot of fun, and I made some good buddies and had just a great time.”
Ilnicki said the opportunity to play for Canada’s under 20 team came up, possibly, as a result of his play in New Zealand for the College Rifles.
“I guess the coaches caught wind of me and another Canadian that were over there and found out where we were playing there,” he said.
“It just shows a lot after we come back from a great season over there and just went through everything and were picked from that.”
Early March Canada took on Romania in Langford, B.C. for a two-game series — the team’s first real competition since beginning to play together.
They lost two to Romania — the first game by six points and the second, a 23-6 defeat.
“It was really tough,” Ilnicki said of the matches.
“There have been about 15 of us training out in Langford since January and for those two games they flew in nine other players and we all had to try to mesh together in a couple of days.
“It might have been a good thing because we’ve been working really hard since those games.”
Coming up May 26 Canada’s U20 team takes on the U.S., followed by another match June 9 against Georgia.
“That one [against the U.S.] will be a big one,” Ilnicki said.
“After that, on June 18, we head down to Salt Lake City, Utah for the World Trophy Tournament.”
There, Canada will meet Zimbabwe, Japan and Georgia in its pool.
Following that, if they place high enough, Canada could have a shot at the Junior World Cup of Rugby.
“That’s where we’d play all the top nations, which would definitely be very cool. This year it’s in South Africa, and then next year it’s going to be in France.”
Currently Ilnicki is finishing a year of school at UVIC with hopes of being accepted into the physical education program. Following that, he plans to travel once again to play rugby.
“Hopefully I can just keep improving and hopefully an opportunity might arise overseas again,” he said.
“My plans right now are to travel to South Africa and go play rugby there.
“I have a few connections and I think we might go over there next year if nothing else comes up because there is some really good rugby over there.”