Sports

Earl Marriott Mariners earn invite to Japan

The success of the Earl Marriott Mariners senior boys rugby team (left, in stripes) has earned the squad an invite to the World Rugby Youth Invitational in Japan. - File photo
The success of the Earl Marriott Mariners senior boys rugby team (left, in stripes) has earned the squad an invite to the World Rugby Youth Invitational in Japan.
— image credit: File photo

After originally not planning a rugby trip this season due to a lack of senior players, the Earl Marriott Mariners’ senior boys side is now headed to a tournament so big, head coach Adam Roberts calls it “the World Series” of rugby.

Last month, the Mariners accepted an invitation from Rugby Canada to represent the country at the Sanix World Rugby Youth Invitational, which runs April 29-May 6 in Fukuoka, Japan. The tournament features high-school teams from some of the world’s top rugby powers, from New Zealand, Tonga, France and England, among others.

“It’s just the coolest thing,” said an enthusiastic Roberts.

“It’s a massive tournament. For (high school) rugby people, this is like Mecca.”

There is no application process; teams are invited by their country’s governing bodies based on their performance over the last five years.

In that time period, EMS has had a slew of provincial championship appearances and has been one of B.C.’s top senior boys teams.

And for Rugby Canada to recognize us like this, it really means a lot.

“I didn’t really think we were on their radar, on the map, but it’s really great to see this program recognized in this way,” Roberts said.

And, in a curious but lucky twist of fate, the trip to Japan is one they were able to accept only because they had no already committed to an international tour elsewhere already. Normally, Roberts takes his senior squad on a spring-break rugby tour overseas; in the past they’ve travelled to the United Kingdom and in 2011 when to Fiji, Samoa and New Zealand.

“Yeah, it’s funny how things work out. No tour this year, but if there was, we would’ve had to say no (to Japan),” Roberts said.

The longtime rugby coach, who also coaches sevens rugby at Western Washington University in Bellingham, said he’s thrilled to be able to give his Grade 12 players an international trip, after all.

“It was tough. I was absolutely gutted that some of these guys – guys who’d worked so hard and been in the program right from the start – weren’t going to get to go on a tour,” he said, mentioning by name Grade 12 captain Kai Duchnycz and fellow seniors Lucas Isola and Colin Stonier.

“But now the guys are just really fired up and ready to go.”

The tournament nod, Roberts points out, should also be a point of pride for the school’s graduated players, many of whom helped boost Marriott into Rugby Canada’s view.

“It should mean a lot to guys who’ve moved on – we have them to thank for a lot of this. Guys like Keaton Styles, who plays for Canada now, and Steve Bouchard, and Quinton Willms,” Roberts said.

“They all played a huge part.”

The high-school rugby season doesn’t begin until the spring, and in the meantime, the team will be fundraising for its trip. The team will have all expenses paid once they arrive for the event, but still must pay for plane tickets.

“It’s pretty expensive to get that many people to Japan,” Roberts said. “But it’s going to be worth it. There’s nothing bigger.”

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