Riske Creek’s Jake Ilnicki is soaking it all in right now.
The 21-year-old rugby standout and Williams Lake secondary graduate is in Toronto this week preparing to suit up for the Canadian men’s 15s squad this Sunday, Nov. 3, against the New Zealand Maori All Blacks in front of 16,000 spectators and a nationally televised audience at BMO Field.
The match against New Zealand kicks off a four-game tour that will take the Canadian side to Georgia, Romania and Portugal for international rugby competition.
For Ilnicki the tour represents the results of many years of hard work.
He’s climbed the ranks from Williams Lake, to the University of Victoria Vikings, to the New Zealand College Rifles Rugby Football Club, to the under-20 Canadian national team in April of 2012. Ilnicki’s current club then brought him back to New Zealand as a member of the Auckland Colts. Most recently Ilnicki played three games as a member of Canada’s Americas Rugby Championship (ARC) club featuring teams from the U.S., Argentina and Uruguay.
“This means a lot to me,” Ilincki said. “I guess all my hard work’s kind of shown and now I’ve just got to get out there on the field and put it all out there into the game. I’ve been training hard and I’m just excited to get out there on the field playing with some of the top players in the world.”
Ilnicki, who will occupy the tighthead prop position for the Canadians, said the opportunity to play with some of the best in the world will be an amazing experience.
“That’s probably the coolest part — playing with some of these guys I’ve watched on the big screen for all these years,” he said. “Just being around these guys and learning from them is great and to get onto the field and actually represent Canada on the senior men’s level is going to be pretty cool.”
The invite to the Canadian selection camp was extended to him from his former Team Canada under-20 coach.
“He’s kind of a key selector for the [Canadian] men’s team,” Ilnicki said. “I kept in contact with him pretty well while I was in New Zealand and they were kind of keeping an eye on me while I was over there I guess. Making that Auckland team is a pretty big step for my rugby and I guess they kind of looked at that.”
The match with the All Blacks will be broadcast on TSN beginning at 10 a.m.
Following that Ilnicki and the Canadians head for Tbilisi, Georgia, for a game Nov. 9, before travelling to Bucharest, Romania for another contest on Nov. 16.
Team Canada will wrap up its tour in Lisbon, Portugal on Nov. 23.
“Those games will affect our rankings if we do well enough in some of those games internationally,” he said, adding Canada is beginning to make a name for itself on the world rugby stage.
“Canada’s really kind of making that step to become one of the top tier two nations and I think it’s kind of just shown, especially with our junior teams, that we’ve been able to compete and there are a lot of guys there who are getting older and moving into the senior men’s role now so definitely these guys are learning from the best.
“I think we’ve shown we can compete with the tier two nations and hopefully we can show what we can do this weekend and take a crack at one of the tier one nations like New Zealand.”