It wasn’t the result they were looking for, but Williams Lake Rustlers Rugby Football Club head coach Braden McCallum couldn’t be prouder of the effort both his men’s team, and their counterparts, the Williams Lake Hustlers, put in during the Williams Lake Stampede Rugby Tournament.
“We were so, so close,” McCallum said after both the Rustlers and the Hustlers finished in second place at the Ottoman Drive tournament that saw eight women’s teams and six men’s from around the province compete for a prestigious Stampede Rugby belt buckle.
The Rustlers, after holding a lead for 45 minutes in the final, fell victim to fatigue versus the Romas (the Rowing Club and the Meralomas of the Lower Mainland), and were defeated 34-22.
“They [the Romas] brought up 50 guys,” McCallum said. “They’re both premier teams so they’ve got excellent, excellent players that play at the highest level of club rugby you can play in Canada.
“The real turning point in the game was when they took a penalty and we kicked for touch but didn’t find it. Our wingers and backs didn’t chase the ball as they typically do so the other team grabbed the ball and ran it back almost 60 yards.”
The Romas, with a full bench of fresh players, made a nine-man substitution shortly after.
“They just kept taking quick taps and we defended, and defended and defended but got absolutely gassed. That said, I couldn’t have asked for anything more as a coach other than the win.”
Earlier in the day Saturday, the Rustlers defeated Abbotsford, 28-25, in the semifinal.
McCallum praised the play of former Williams Lake resident Cole Levitt, who was named the tournament MVP following the final.
“He really helped push us with great pace, great line speed and great ball handling,” he said. “He’s just an all-around incredible player and he raises the level of the players around him.”
On the women’s side the Hustlers, not to be outdone, used a combination of experience and youth to their advantage throughout the tournament.
On finals day Saturday they downed the Wonder Women 22-15, then Capilano 14-10, to earn a berth in the final where they settled for second against a tough Abbotsford squad.
“It was a real mix of new, young talent like the Pfleiderer twins [Emma and Laura], Skye Forcier and then some of the veterans like Sheridan Davis and Krystle Carpenter,” McCallum said.
“They played really, really well together. The younger girls helped anchor the side and they deserved to be in the final.
“The Hustlers and the whole club should be very, very proud.”