For the first time in six years, the Earl Marriott Mariners won’t head to senior boys rugby provincials as Fraser Valley champions.
The Mariners – winners of five straight AAA Valley banners heading into this season – lost the Valley championship game Wednesday night at Abbotsford’s Rotary Stadium, 24-15 to their longtime rivals from Robert Bateman Secondary.
Despite being multiple-time champions, Marriott went into the game underdogs – they were sixth in B.C. AAA rankings, while Bateman was third, and in the end, the higher-ranked squad pulled off the win, though it took a second-half comeback to do it.
Marriott led 15-5 at halftime, thanks to tries from Isaac Maslin and Cali Martinez, and a penalty kick and conversion from Liam Morrison, but couldn’t sustain momentum in the second half, as the Abby side scored 19 unanswered points.
“It was an awesome game to watch, it really was,” said EMS coach Adam Roberts.
“But it was just a tale of two halves. We kicked their ass in the first half, and they kicked ours in the second.
“Bateman has three very high-end players, and they just carried them to the win.”
The difference between halves, Roberts added, was that Bateman’s kicking game improved, which kept the Mariners from mounting any kind of offensive attack.
“Their kicking game was sensational. Every time we made a mistake in their zone, they’d boot us back deep into our end and we’d have to start over.”
For Bateman, the Valley title was the school’s first at the AAA level, though they’ve won at the AA before.
“We started getting some opportunities and scored, and our defence stepped up to stop their attack,” said Bateman’s Gavin Rowell, who had two converts in the win.
Though he’s as competitive as anyone, Roberts said he feels more disappointed for his players, who in the last month have seen two long-held school streaks end – the team’s five-year reign as Sandcastle Cup champions, and now, the Fraser Valley run.
The defeats have been tough to swallow, he admitted.
“Losing is always difficult, no matter what, and it’s always tough to get past,” he said. “But kids are resilient – we’ll shake this off.”
Rather than dwell on the negative, Roberts said he hoped his team’s quota of “big losses” had been filled, and the tide would turn by provincials, which begin Saturday at three sites – Vancouver, Vancouver Island and Kamloops – across the province.
“The guys just need to learn to win. They haven’t had that big win yet, and if they get one, maybe that’s the difference,” he said.
The team’s new goal is to finish provincials as the highest-placing public school, Roberts added.
“That’s within our reach, for sure,” he said.
Last year, EMS placed fourth overall, losing to Shawnigan Lake in semifinals.
– with files from Dan Kinvig