When Williams Lake’s Nathan Stewart dons his rugby cleats this weekend it will be with a heavy heart and a chip on his shoulder.
Nathan will suit up with the Team B.C. All-Stars in Langford Friday to face Team Canada in a Rugby World Cup warm-up match.
Nathan’s dad, Rodger Stewart — longtime Williams Lake Rustlers Rugby Football Club member and president who held a passion and enthusiasm for the game second to none — recently passed away during an old boys rugby trip in Alaska after a sudden heart attack.
Alexis Creek’s Jake Ilnicki, Nathan’s friend and former teammate, is a member of Canada’s national 15-a-side team. If he plays during the exhibition, Nathan said it would be a comforting and welcome experience.
“I’m hoping he plays, but Rugby Canada hasn’t announced its roster yet,” Stewart said. “I haven’t played against Jake or with Jake in a really long time, and it would be pretty nice to run against him with everything that’s happened with my dad because Jake was really close with him. It’ll be about a month since my dad passed away when that game happens.”
As for the match, itself, Nathan said the B.C. All-Stars will be holding nothing back.
“It’ll be full on, full tilt, 80 minutes of hard-hitting rugby,” he said. “There are definitely some guys on the B.C. team who, I think, kind of feel like they should be there [on Canada], myself included. This is kind of a statement game to put our hand up and say: ‘Maybe next time you should take a closer look at us.'”
Nathan and his Team B.C. comrades will enter a two-day camp prior to the fixture for a chance to play together briefly and run through team systems before kickoff.
“I’ve played with or against everyone on the team,” said Stewart, who is currently a member of the Victoria-based Castaway Wanderers men’s team and also starred in the BC Bears home victory over the Prairie WolfPack in Kelowna this summer.
B.C. All-Stars head coach and rugby development manager Aaron Takel, meanwhile, said the players are excited to get back on the field to represent B.C.
“Especially those who were part of the squad that overcame a big deficit against the WolfPack to win the Best in the West series this summer,” he said. “Some players have a point to prove, some of them feel that they have been knocking on the door for selection with the national team programs. This is their chance to take on the person currently occupying that position in the Canada camp.”
The match will be the final opportunity for rugby fans to see the national men’s 15-a-side team play on Vancouver Island before their RWC journey begins, and a large crowd is expected to pack the stands for the contest at Westhills Stadium in Langford.
Canada is set to close out its 2019 RWC warm-up series against the U.S. on Sept. 7 at BC Place in Vancouver.
Streaming for the game at Westhills Stadium on Aug. 30 will be available at bcrugby.com/live.