By all accounts, it was a phenomenal weekend at the Ottoman Drive pitch as the Williams Lake Rustlers made a triumphant return to men’s rugby action Saturday in the lakecity.
“It was absolutely amazing,” said Rustlers head coach Braden McCallum of the resumption of play after an almost two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We had all kinds of spectators that came up to support us and it had the feel of a Stampede weekend.”
Visiting teams were the Terrace Northmen, the Prince Rupert Seamen and Prince George Gnats for a series of games — part of the BC Rugby Northern/Interior regular season.
The Rustlers opened the day Saturday with a decisive 39-7 thumping of the Seamen.
“As a coach I could tell a lot of the players were a bit nervous — most of them hadn’t played a game in almost two years — and you could see some pre-game jitters, even out of some of the veteran players, but once we got out there it was just like riding a bike and the guys played incredibly,” McCallum said.
Overall, McCallum said he was extremely pleased with the team’s cohesiveness and structure on the day.
“I was thoroughly impressed to see the quality and level of rugby we were able to put on the field after being away from the game for so long,” he said.
Next, the Rustlers took on the Northmen in their second game — again emerging victorious in a 38-12 decision.
“I think it’s been three or four years since we beat Terrace that convincingly,” McCallum said of the contest, which remained close at the half, 19-12, before the Rustlers ran away with it in the second.
“It was our second game, their second game and they played back to back, so I think they got a bit tired come the second half, but our guys really stepped it up,” he said. “Our scrums were excellent and we were able to score off of our scrum, which was really, really nice to see.”
Joining the Rustlers for the weekend were additional athletes from Kamloops, along with several newcomers to the team making their men’s rugby debut, who McCallum said were excellent.
Standouts for the Rustlers during the weekend were Cam Graham, Wes Black and Jordan Pritchard.
“The connection between Jordan at 10 (stand off) and Cam at 12 (inside centre) was extremely dangerous to defend in the backs, and Wes dominated in the forwards, turning over defensive set pieces and making their forwards over commit in tackles,” noted Rustlers’ player and forwards coach Brendon Pritchard.
The team is now looking forward to facing the Gnats on Aug. 21 in Prince George. Two weeks later, they’ll head north to once again face Terrace and Prince Rupert.
To close out the season the Rustlers will host the Gnats at a to-be-determined date in Williams Lake.
“It was so good to see the number of players we had, considering our season is so much later in the summer than it usually is,” he said, noting games normally take place in May and June.
“If we can keep with the showing we had of players we’re going to have an excellent season.”
McCallum and the Rustlers players, meanwhile, thanked Terrace and Prince Rupert for travelling to the lakecity for competition.
“Rugby in Williams Lake is looking in mid-season form, even after having two years off,” he said.