A group of English rugby players said Williams Lake’s hospitality was unmatched after spending a few days in the lakecity late last month.
Students, coaches and representatives from Adams’ Grammar School in Newport, Shropshire, England arrived July 25 for a series of matches against Williams Lake rugby clubs and received a first-hand taste of small-town living in the Cariboo.
The school was in the midst of a cross-province tour playing against rugby clubs in B.C., Alberta, and the U.S. Williams Lake is the smallest community the group visited in its trip.
Chris Taylor, who coaches the Adams’ Grammar School rugby squad, said everyone had a phenomenal time in Williams Lake.
“It’s been an excellent experience,” he said. “The boys were hosted well and all had a superb time and loved all the hosts and effort they put into everything they gave the boys. It’s greatly appreciated by us.
“It’s a beautiful area and we’re very fortunate. It’s been brilliant.”
The athletes arrived in Calgary, played two games there, then travelled to Banff, Kamloops, Williams Lake, Vancouver and Seattle on their trip.
Rodger Stewart, a member of the Williams Lake Rustlers, organized the Williams Lake portion of the group’s tour through his contacts at Rugby BC.
He said everything went very smoothly, including two games against local rugby clubs.
“They really enjoyed their time here,” Stewart said. “These tours aren’t all about sports — they’re about understanding the community and the economy and the background of the people you’re going to visit and this was a real advantage for us here to have them exposed and engaged within a resource-based economy in a community like ours.”
Adams’ Grammar School fielded two teams for the friendly matches with Williams Lake. The first, Adams’ Grammar School’s second squad, met a combined team made up of Williams Lake secondary and Columneetza secondary student athletes.
The next had the Williams Lake Junior Rustlers meet Adams’ Grammar School’s first team.
In between games the two local high school girls’ teams played an exhibition. All games were played at the Ottoman Drive Rugby Fields.
“They enjoyed the games,” Stewart said. “They were probably some of the most physical games they would be involved in anywhere on their tour. We should have been able to score on them but they had probably one of the most disciplined and organized defensive alignments I’ve seen from any team at any level. It didn’t allow us to be able to take much advantage of any ball we were able to take from them.”
Stewart said the opportunity for local players to compete against that calibre of team is second to none.
“This is critical in the development of any rugby athletes in our community to be able to both witness and play in games of this nature,” he said. “When you play against quality teams like this … it starts our youth and our rugby athletes thinking about what it is they might be able to do and broadens their perspective of what rugby is. It really helps to cement rugby in our community when we can bring in teams like this.”
Earlier in the day the group visited the Xat’sull Heritage site to learn some of the area’s historical significance. Friday, the group had more opportunity to learn about the area when they visited Tolko Industries and the Lakeview mill. The players, coaches and reps were given further insight into how a resource-based community in B.C.’s interior operates.
“That was a considerable eye-opener for the lads,” Stewart said. “Their perspective on forestry is very, very much different than what it means to us and our economy.”
Tolko representatives Kevin Sytsma and Tom Hoffman led the presentation, along with Stewart, putting the local forestry industry into an economic perspective.
“Then we went down to the sawmill and that really blew them away,” he said. “They started to develop an appreciation of what these things meant.”
On Friday, July 26 the group also visited the Cariboo Fire Centre for a presentation.
“We’ve got a real debt of gratitude going out to Tolko, the Cariboo Fire Centre and to the Xat’sull Heritage Village, and to two ladies — Karen Brown and Jackie Shaw — who helped lead the meal preparation at the pitch for the games.
“Everyone had a great time. They enjoyed the games.”