When your belly begins to hang over your belt and a couple flights of stairs taxes your cardio, rugby is probably no longer your ideal sport. In contrast to that theory, we mustered an odd-sod band of middle-aged ruggers to drive from Williams Lake to Vancouver. It was June of 1999. Our primary destination was Swangard Stadium, where Canada would play a rugby match with England. We’d made arrangements for a game of our own, with another old boys team, the Evergreens. The plan was to play the Saturday morning old boys’ game at Brockton Oval then drive across town to Swangard, in time for the big international.
We left Williams Lake at dusk on Friday and convoyed down the big hill, off the interior plateau and across the desert country. We wound through the Fraser Canyon then hit the traffic of the Lower Mainland. The rich fragrance of the valley, and finally the salt whiffs of the ocean, stirred every old boy’s enthusiasm. Our cavalcade of pickups found its way to the bright lights of the city and the festivity of our arrival was celebrated well into the night.
At Brockton Oval, nine the next morning, a fog lingered over the grass and our pregame warm up was far less exuberant than the previous night’s social. A kit bag of jerseys, some of which matched, came out of the back of a truck. They were damp from the rainstorm in Boston Bar and a couple of the boys put them on over their collared shirts to ward off the chill. There was no sign of the other team. We stood in a circle, tossed a lone ball and some of us stretched gingerly for our toes.
One of the boys pointed to the other side of the field. “Look at that.” We stared. A team of tall athletic men in pristine kit began a well-rehearsed drill with multiple balls sailing from hand to hand.
I felt the balance of camaraderie and the instincts of self-preservation come into play. Love of the game and loyalty were undermined by a cold trickle of fear. The man next to me took a feeble kick at the ball and went down with a sudden hamstring pull. One of the boys headed for the car park and called, “Forgot my boots at the hotel!”
I mustered my waning courage and walked across the battleground to meet our foe. As I drew closer the more imposing they appeared.
I introduced myself, and our team. “Williams Lake Rustlers,” I managed. “Evergreens?” I spoke to the man’s chest. He was a giant.
“Sorry, mate,” he said and offered me a fry-pan hand to shake. “This bunch, just having our morning stretch. We’re England.”
“It’s England!” I hollered back to our lot. Venue mix up. There was jubilant relief. Our boys thumped each other on the back and said it would have been a good match. Too bad. In the giddiness of the moment I suggested to the big Brit hat we have a quick game, 20 minutes each way.
“We’ve got Canada, two o’clock,” he smiled and declined my offer.
We found the Evergreens, played a fumbling but spirited match, then got down to the serious business of beer and sandwiches. England went on to defeat Canada and our squad returned safely back to the Cariboo.
The Williams Lake Tribune, in the true spirit of a small town newspaper, ran our story. England had declined our challenge, so the traditional default score was the result. Five nil. Headline: “Rustlers Old Boys Defeat England.”