Riley Ilnicki looks to off-load the ball during the Stampede Rugby semifinal against the Capilano Rugby Football Club

Riley Ilnicki looks to off-load the ball during the Stampede Rugby semifinal against the Capilano Rugby Football Club

Stampede Rugby features top talent

Spectators at this year’s 34th annual Williams Lake Rustlers and Hustlers Stampede Rugby Tournament were in for a treat.

Spectators at this year’s 34th annual Williams Lake Rustlers and Hustlers Stampede Rugby Tournament were in for a treat as some of Canada’s top-level national athletes participated.

Rodger Stewart, Williams Lake Rustlers member and one of the tournament organizers, said it was some of the best rugby this city has been privy to.

“The level of rugby really ramped up in this particular tournament,” Stewart said. “We haven’t seen this type of rugby played at this level at this tournament before. We’ve seen flashes, but those were really top-notch games in the quarterfinal, both semifinals and the final game was spectacular.”

Both homegrown talents, Williams Lake’s Kayla Moleschi and Alexis Creek’s Jake Ilnicki, who play for the Canadian women’s and men’s teams, respectively, bolstered the Hustlers’ and Rustlers’ lineups.

A friend of Rustlers captain Nathan Stewart and Jake, St. Albert’s Andrew Tiedemann, a player for Team Canada, decided to host his stag during Stampede weekend. Subsequently, many Team Canada players arrived at the Ottoman Drive rugby fields to enter a team in the tournament.

“We had a very significant representation from the national men’s team,” Stewart said. “It was cool to see them playing up here and to support our tournament and to also celebrate Andrew’s life in rugby.”

Team Canada eventually rumbled away with the tournament championship, but not before the Rustlers proved they were of a similar calibre, falling 32-21 in the men’s final.

On the women’s side the Hustlers, after winning the tournament for the past four years, lost to Abbotsford, 25-5.

Prior to that the Hustlers defeated Simon Fraser University, 20-0, in the semifinal to setup the championship tilt.

The Rustlers, meanwhile, shutout Vancouver’s Meraloma Rugby Football Club 17-0 in the quarterfinal, before edging the Capilano Rugby Football Club 21-19 in the semifinal.

“Excellent games all through the weekend,” Stewart said. “In the (men’s) final the display of skills, knowledge and ability and to see the tenacity of the Rustlers playing against that skill level and to see the guys push the game in the second half and threatening them, that was really something to see.

“In the women’s final it was just a matter of Abbotsford being able to take full advantage of the breaks they were given.”

Following the tournament Ilnicki made a presentation to the Rustlers during the awards ceremony on behalf of the Canadian Men’s National team in thanks to the Williams Lake community for supporting his rugby development.

“The Rustlers now proudly possess a national team jersey, as worn by Jake in the recent game against Japan, to display in the Ottoman Drive clubhouse facilities,” Stewart said.

On the ladies’ side the most valuable player went to Abbotsford’s Mackenzie Fowler, who used her speed relentlessly to punch holes in the Hustlers’ defence during the final.

For the men it was Williams Lake’s Doug Fraser getting the MVP nod.

“He had such a significant impact both defensively and offensively with the ball,” Stewart said. “You could see his ability to run through spaces in the defensive alignment and to set up attack lines through. Defensively, he is an absolute perfect tactician.”

Other teams in the tournament included the Pacific Warriors (Grand Prairie) — who performed the haka prior to each match — the Young Bucks, the Britannia Lions and the Flatliners (Richmond/Langley), captained by former Williams Lake Rustler Greg Palin.

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