Just three weeks in to their club rugby season, Williams Lake Jr. Rustlers head coach Natasha Johnson is blown away by the improvement she’s seen in her players.
The team of roughly 25 girls, which was split into seven-a-side development, U16 and U19 squads, held their home tournament for the eight-week season at the Rustlers rugby fields on Ottoman drive Saturday hosting combined Kamloops and Kelowna sides, Salmon Arm and Prince George in multiple games throughout the day.
Each team played between two to three games making for a full day of rugby at the Ottoman rugby pitch.
“Our developmental girls shined,” Johnson said. “I told them all they’re graduating into the U16 level after because they are not developmental anymore. That’s exciting to see our brand new players doing amazing work.”
Johnson said a highlight for the U16 Jr. Rustlers, meanwhile, was narrowly upending the combined Kamloops/Kelowna team in their final game of the day, however, noted the U19 side fell just short of accomplishing the same feat in their division.
Johnson, who has played at the provincial and collegiate national levels after graduating from Lake City Secondary School, said it was a fun weekend for her, personally, because of knowing so many of the players and coaches involved.
“It was nice to see everyone out and see other girls I’ve coached and to watch our girls play against them,” she said.
“For our girls I’ve seen a huge difference [in their play]. They’re reading the field better, and they’re working together more. I don’t know if it’s because they’re travelling up to the field together and hanging out together more, but it’s showing on the field.
“They’re really playing for each other and I’ve never seen so much heart from that group of girls as I did on the weekend. They’re enjoying the sport and enjoying each other.”
After the games, the Rustlers, who were amazing hosts, Johnson said, hosted a pig roast meal for players.
Also during the day, players cheered as Rustler Masiu Fine, whose daughter, Ane, plays for the Jr. Rustlers, led a Haka — a ceremonial Maori dance often performed during rugby events by the New Zealand All Blacks rugby union team.
“The vibe at the field was so cool and all the feedback I got was so positive,” Johnson said. “It’s super exciting. Lots of community members were up there watching, too, which was nice to see.”
The Jr. Rustlers will have this coming weekend off to rest, before stringing together a team for a trip to the Lower Mainland for the next series of games, followed by a tournament in Kamloops Thanksgiving weekend where Celtic Engineering of Williams Lake is donating its team travel bus for the trip.