Nick Warnock (right) hauls down a Merchant Taylors’ School player Tuesday at the Ottoman Drive rugby fields.

Nick Warnock (right) hauls down a Merchant Taylors’ School player Tuesday at the Ottoman Drive rugby fields.

Rugby tour ignites fire within youth program

A whirlwind rugby tour of Williams Lake wrapped up Thursday morning for 44 English high school players.

A whirlwind rugby tour of Williams Lake wrapped up Thursday morning for 44 English high school players.

Merchants Taylor’s School, located in Crosby, England — just north of Liverpool — visited for a pair of friendlies with members of the Lake City Falcons and the Williams Lake Junior Rustlers. They also had an opportunity to learn about the community during their four-day stay.

“Our rugby community was able to exercise an opportunity to grow our game, grow our awareness and make some new friends and colleagues in the broad international rugby community,” said Rodger Stewart, Williams Lake Rustlers member, coach and one of the tour organizers.

On Tuesday they visited Mt. Polley Mine, then on Wednesday toured to Farwell Canyon and had some fun at Bell-E-Acres.

“I was proud to announce Canada won the golfing event, and also the go-karting,” Stewart joked, adding getting lakecity rugby players the chance to play against that calibre of team can only lead to good things.

“Whenever our lads play against a team of that skill level and experience they get an opportunity to understand what the game can be and what they can aspire to. It gives them an early sense of what it is they would see if they moved on to the higher echelons of rugby in Canada.”

Jason Ryll, who co-coaches the Falcons and Junior Rustlers with Todd Pritchard, said it was a great learning experience for his players.

“Their skill level is unmatched compared to our high school program,” Ryll said. “These guys have been playing for six, seven years together as a team and that’s going to bring with it its own advantages. If we had the opportunnity to play together over six years I think we’d be near that level. They played simple, clean rugby and it was just great to play against.”

Rugby teams wanting to travel and play in Williams Lake from abroad isn’t something new, however. Stewart said each year, through the Williams Lake Rustlers Rugby Football Club, multiple teams contact the association querying about visiting Williams Lake.

Ryll said it’s great exposure for the community and added it’s an example of possible future opportunities to tap in to.

“I see it as a long term opportunity, perhaps, to grow rugby in the Interior and an opportunity for us to possibly capitalize on it,” he said.

“I’d like to see us build on our rugby reputation and develop some kind of rugby academy or training facility of some kind where we could host and facilitate players and teams from other places and not have to burden the community — some kind of facility where players could come and stay, and that goes toward being able to build the skills of our own local players.”

While here the 44 Merchant Taylors’ School athletes billeted with local players’ families.

“I have to say we have a deep appreciation for those in the community that offered their households to billet,” Stewart said. “We had a lot of positive comments about the lads in the home environment and in the broad community.”

The visit, however, has left local players wanting to do something similar of their own. Prior to arriving in Williams Lake Merchant Taylors’ School played games in Calgary, and will now travel to Vancouver, before going to Seattle, and then Toronto, to wrap up their tour.

“This tour and hosting experience has lit a fire within our own players who want to do something similar,” Ryll said.

“It’s an achievable goal if you look at the amount of support the volunteers put in, and the dedication our lads are willing to do for fundraising. There’s definite interest and that’s going to be a goal for next year.”

For a slideshow with more photos of the friendly matches from Tuesday visit www.wltribune.com/sports.