Sandcastle Cup battle back on the pitch

The Sandcastle Cup senior boys rugby game – lasted played in 2012 – is a tradition that pits Semiahmoo and Earl Marriott against one another. - File photo
The Sandcastle Cup senior boys rugby game – lasted played in 2012 – is a tradition that pits Semiahmoo and Earl Marriott against one another.
— image credit: File photo

After a one-year hiatus due to scheduling conflicts, one of the Semiahmoo Peninsula’s biggest high school sports rivalries is set to be renewed.

Thursday afternoon at South Surrey Athletic Park, the Sandcastle Cup – the annual senior boys rugby grudge match between Semiahmoo Totems and Earl Marriott Mariners – will be back up for grabs.

The trophy is more than two decades old, and in recent years has been firmly in the grasp of the Earl Marriott Mariners, who’ve won each year since 2009. In 2012 – the last time the cup was up for grabs – EMS won handily, 67-7. In 2011, the Mariners also won in convincing fashion, 28-0.

But despite the recent run of success for the Mariners, no one at the 16 Avenue school is taking this year’s game lightly. In fact, their attitude towards the traditional tilt is quite the opposite.

“We’ve won it for a few years now, but before that, Semi won it for something like 19, 20 years in a row,” said EMS coach Adam Roberts, who won the game as a player with Semiahmoo in the late 1990s.

“When you think about it, the Sandcastle Cup is still more Semi’s than it is ours.”

No game was held last year between the two sides, because Marriott spent time in late-April and early May in Japan – competing in the 2013 Sanix World Rugby Youth Invitational. Upon their return to the Lower Mainland, it was was the Totems who had a full plate, schedule-wise; in order to qualify for provincials – which they did – they had to travel to Kelowna late in the season for a play-in game.

But this year, schedules were back in sync so the Sandcastle game could be staged.

“No doubt, we really missed not having the game last year,” said Mariners captain Nick Wright. “It’s a big deal for us, and it means a lot. It’s too bad we weren’t able to make it work last year because we all wanted to play.”

Wright has seen more Sandcastle Cup contests than probably any player who will hit the pitch today; his dad, Don, was an EMS coach in the early 2000s, and often would bring his son along to watch.

“I’ve seen every game since I was about four,” Wright said.

Like his coach, Wright wasn’t putting too much stock in past results, either – “Past years don’t matter, it’s always different,” he said – and expects this battle to be a tough one.

“Semi is strong, they’re always strong,” he said. “They have some really good players over there. We all know each other from Bayside (club rugby) or school – it’s a small community, and it’s always fun when you know the faces across the field from you.

“Nobody wants to lose to their friends.”

This year, Semi is playing in the senior boys Tier 1 division – Earl Marriott, as well as Elgin Park, play in the elite league – and head coach Tom Wilson admits his team is in “a development year.”

“We have a lot of rookies, guys who are new to the sport,” he said. “But we also have a core group of guys who’ve been (playing for years).”

Among that core are the team’s co-captains, Liam Wilson and Matt Gallagher. It’s players like those two that give Roberts pause, no matter who is playing in what tier this season.

“Matt Gallagher is one of the best scrumhalfs in Canada,” Roberts said. “He’s very dangerous and we have to watch out for him.”

As well, the raucous atmosphere that surrounds the contest each year – students from each school routinely paint themselves in school colours and cheer from the slope just west of the field – can help swing momentum either way, Roberts added.

“The first 20 minutes of these games is always just a dogfight,” he said. “And all you have to do is get up for one game, and for one game, anything can happen.”

The game kicks off at 3 p.m.

“Hopefully, it’s a good, entertaining game,” Wilson said.

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