A 33-year tradition will continue this weekend when the annual Stampede Rugby Tournament rolls into town.
Rodger Stewart, president of the Williams Lake Rustlers Rugby Football Club, said men’s and ladies’ teams from around the province, and two teams from Alberta, will be in Williams Lake at the rugby fields on Ottoman Drive for the tournament.
An additional 40 players will make up an old boys’ division, Stewart said.
On the women’s side, the Williams Lake Hustlers will be looking to win the tournament for the fourth consecutive year.
And in the men’s division, Stewart said the Rustlers will be fielding one of its strongest sides in years.
“The men’s side is probably more competitive than they have been in probably the last decade or so,” Rodger said. “There’s an expectation that they’re going to get deep into the playoff side on Sunday. I think their expectation is to try to get into the final but to at least be able to battle into the semis.”
But based on the teams and calibre of players travelling to compete at the tournament that might be easier said than done, Rodger added.
“When you get into the semis you’re dealing with some very high quality rugby,” Stewart said. “I was looking at the final the last three years and looking at the calibre of player on the field at that time and you realize of the 30 guys on the pitch at that time you’ve got a preponderance of first division and premier division players, generally from the Lower Mainland leagues that are playing.
“You kind of go: This is high-quality stuff to be played on a little pitch on the side of an Interior B.C. community. It’s pretty powerful material to be watching.”
This year Williams Lake has a few of those high-calibre players, and Stewart hopes that will help them play deep into the playoffs on Sunday.
He said in recent years a local core of players including Sky Freeman, Riley Ilnicki, Nathan Stewart, Brendon Pritchard and Jordan Pritchard have helped bolster the squad’s strength.
“Basically you’ve got those guys who are essentially recent high school grads that are now the core of the Williams Lake Rustlers — local boys that come back in here to help power the team.”
Nathan, for example, has spent the past two seasons playing with the University of Victoria Vikings’ rugby club and has recruited a couple of his buddies to the Rustlers for the summer.
“They’re bringing people with them like Beau Parker, Kane Wyatt and Doug Fraser, and we’ve got new talent like Andrew Faggiani from Quesnel, and what a powerhouse he’s turned out to be,” Rodger said.
“With the combined guys coming back from university and the people they’ve brought working with the hardcore locals here we’ve got the potential to make it into the semifinal and, hopefully, if we can pull it off, get into the final game for once.”
Rugby gets underway Saturday at 9 a.m. with the opening kickoff and continues throughout the day until about 5 p.m. Sunday morning round robin matchups will conclude, followed by quarterfinals and semifinals in all three divisions by around noon.
The final is scheduled to begin around 3 p.m. depending on the flow of the games over the two days and the final number of teams participating.
Rodger said anyone interested in watching some high-quality rugby or anyone wanting to know more about the sport is more than welcome to come check out the action.
“Anybody who’s curious about rugby is certainly welcome to come up and take in a few games,” he said.
“Hook up with any of the club members, ask questions if you’re curious about the game and curious about the club because there will be many people there who will be able to help build understandings.”
A concession will be running all weekend by the city’s high school rugby players with proceeds going to the high school junior rugby development fund.