Earl Marriott Mariners’ Ryan Renkers tries to stay on his feet as he’s tackled by a pair of Yale Lion defenders during a senior boys triple-A rugby game last week at EMS. Yale won the game 50-26. (Nick Greenizan photo)

Earl Marriott Mariners’ Ryan Renkers tries to stay on his feet as he’s tackled by a pair of Yale Lion defenders during a senior boys triple-A rugby game last week at EMS. Yale won the game 50-26. (Nick Greenizan photo)

Elgin Park Orcas, Earl Marriott Mariners building towards rugby playoff run

South Surrey senior boys rugby sides both ranked in provincial top-10

When the Elgin Park Orcas and Earl Marriott Mariners lined up across the pitch from each other in a senior boys rugby tilt at Elgin Park Secondary Wednesday afternoon, the game was more than just two rivals squaring off.

While local bragging rights were indeed on the line, the game was also a fight between a pair of B.C. top-10 teams, both battling for position as the Fraser Valley playoffs loom just a few weeks away.

The most recent rankings have EMS ranked No. 7 at the AAA level, while the Orcas sit at No. 10. Elgin Park also was ranked No. 10 for a time last year, and ended up winning a AAA Tier 2 provincial title, while the Mariners were thrust into the new quad-A tier for provincials.

Both teams had 1-1 win-loss records in league play heading into Wednesday’s tilt – won 46-20 by EMS – though EMS head coach Adam Roberts did admit his team has struggled against high-level competition this year, both in the Fraser Valley and in non-conference games. Last Thursday at home, the Mariners dropped a 50-26 to the Yale Lions, and have also lost games to Brentwood and Oak Bay, both strong teams.

“We’ve had some character games. Nobody is pulling away or quitting,” Roberts said.

Roberts hoped the early-season adversity – not to mention intense rivalry matches such as Wednesday’s game against Elgin Park – would spark his team and benefit them in the long run as the schedule moves into the final stretch.

“If you keep fighting and keep punching, eventually you’ll hit them on the nose,” he said.

Elgin Park, meanwhile, has stayed afloat despite injuries to who head coach Mike Jamieson called “a few key guys.”

Three national-level players – Tommy Blackburn, Ronan Clark and Ewan Cave – have all been sidelined with injuries through the early part of the schedule, though Jamieson hoped he’d have a full roster intact for playoffs

In their absence, he praised “a strong group of Grade 11s” plus Grade 12 Carter Macdonald, who plays No. 8.

“It’s a tough road for us to topple the bigger horses with (those players out)… but Carter has been probably the most impressive leader and rugby player that I’ve seen in all my time at Elgin Park,” Jamieson said.

The Mariners, too, have been without a Canadian national teamer of their own, as Reid Davis missed three weeks of the high-school season while playing for Canada’s under-18 side in France. Last Thursday’s loss to Yale was his first of the year in Mariners’ colours.

“I thought the game against Yale was our best game of the season. (Davis) is one of our leaders, and when you’re missing one of your big bodies like that, it changes the complexion of your attack,” Roberts said. “Now that he’s back, I think the guys are just that much more confident with him in the lineup.”

Despite the adversity both teams have faced in the opening month of the season,

Jamieson predicted both teams would be strong contenders at provincials.

A top-five or top-six finish at Fraser Valley championships will be required in order to qualify for the B.C. championships.

“I don’t foresee that being an issue for us. We’ve got a pretty strong team, but we can’t really afford anymore injuries,” Jamieson said. “Essentially every game we play now for the next six weeks will be a high-level, competitive game, and win or lose, our guys are going to get fantastic experience and grow from that.”