A former Williams Lake resident is being inducted into the Rugby Canada Hall of Fame.
Leslie Cripps, who began her playing career in Williams Lake after graduating high school, is one of four athletes and one team being inducted into the 2020 class of national inductees.
Now living in London, England, Cripps made 47 international appearances representing Rugby Canada, and dutifully served as captain on 20 (2007-2010) occasions. A national team representative for a decade, Cripps represented Canada at the 2002, 2006, and 2010 Women’s Rugby World Cups.
“I’m very honoured — especially when I saw the other group of people who were announced at the same time,” Cripps told the Tribune.
Her former teammate, longtime friend and now coach of the Canadian Women’s Sevens Team, Mario Gallo, put the nomination together.
“I was totally shocked when she asked me,” Cripps said. “And it was really touching she’d take the time to do that.”
Cripps was first introduced to rugby at the Williams Lake Rugby Club in 1996 at the age of 18 by her former high school coaches Mike Levitt and Lorne Sherlock.
During the early years of her career Cripps played club rugby with the University of Victoria Valkaries, which became UVIC Vikes, then Velox and onto James Bay AA in Victoria, B.C.
She would go on to join Saracens in London, England in 2001, making an immediate impact and winning the “New Player of the Year” award. Over a long career with Sarries’ Cripps spent two seasons as captain and helped win the league title five times.
In 2000, she played for Canada’s U23 team against the U.S. and claimed her first cap for the senior side the following year when Canada took on its neighbours in Saranac Lake.
Cripps’ competitive relationship with U.S. came full circle during her final game on the international pitch when Canada played against the familiar rival in Surrey, England at the 2010 WRWC.
Her international honours include being involved in the world 15s team in 2003, playing the world champions, New Zealand, in two test matches. She also captained the Nomads — the select Barbarian side — in 2008 in a curtain raiser to the men’s South Africa versus New Zealand fixture, and a celebration of Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday.
Reflecting on her career, Cripps said she credits her success in the sport to the positive experience she had learning the game in Williams Lake.
“That was huge,” she said. “It was just how much fun I had, and the opportunity that was provided in Williams Lake that planted the seed.
“If Unc (Lorne Sherlock) and Mike (Levitt) hadn’t started that team that summer before going to UVIC, I wouldn’t have even thought of rugby. I’d never even seen a game before I played my own. Back then there was a great group of girls who were all athletic and Mike did a good job contacting lots of people he’d met being a high school coach.”
Over the years, Cripps has also come back to compete at multiple Stampede Rugby Tournaments, and has many friends from throughout the country who know of, or have accumulated Stampede tournament belt buckle titles over the years, speaking on its prominence.
In 2019, Cripps was also honoured with an induction into the BC Rugby Hall of Fame.
She currently works as an assistant special education needs co-ordinator and works with students at a comprehensive secondary school in London, England, where she lives with her wife, and four-year-old son.
Leslie’s dad, Wade Cripps, still lives in Williams Lake.
– With files from Rugby Canada