No matter how hard they try, the Earl Marriott Mariners just can’t get past the semifinals at B.C. High School Rugby Championships.
And they have the now-five-time defending champion Shawnigan Lake Stags to thank.
On Thursday at Abbotsford’s Rotary Stadium, the Mariners met the Vancouver Island-based private school in provincial semifinals for the third time since 2009, and lost 45-7.
Shawnigan Lake went on to win the title game Saturday – 17-12 over the St. George’s Saints – while the Mariners were bounced into the third-place game, which they lost 17-11 to Abbotsford’s Yale Lions.
And though the Mariners, who were the tournament’s No. 3 seed, still finished in fourth for the third time in five years, head coach Adam Roberts was already looking ahead to next year, when he hopes his club will finally get the better of the powerhouse Stags.
“We lose to Shawnigan in semis every friggin’ time,” he said.
“This game, it just got away from us. Shawnigan is a great team – they’re so well-trained, so physically (imposing), but we’ll keep pushing and eventually we’ll get over that hump.”
For the Mariners, the highlight of the tournament came Wednesday in quarter-finals, when the team pulled off a last-second victory over Abbotsford’s Robert Bateman Timberwolves on a drop-goal by Tomasi Vataiki.
Marriott won the game 13-12 when Vataiki, a fullback, booted a perfect drop-goal through the uprights from about 15 yards out to give his team the improbable win as time expired.
“It was pure pandemonium. It was nuts – just nuts,” said Roberts, adding that in every practice, his team practices a drop-goal set play for such a situation, rare as it is.
“We’ve had so many battles with those guys over the years, and I know their guys were just gutted. I felt bad for those kids – it was another great game.”
Vataiki wasn’t even Marriott’s top choice to make the kick, but regular kicker Colin Stonier was injured in the final minute, leaving Vataiki to play the hero’s role.
It was a gut-wrenching result for Bateman, who had lost the 2012 Fraser Valley championship to EMS. Earlier this season, they had defeated Marriott 32-31 in a game that, ironically, was also won on the last play of the game.
“We’d asked the boys to put everything out there, and when they left the game not to have any excuses,” said Bateman coach Dave Chambers said. “The guys did that.
“Earl Marriott won with probably the hardest play to execute in rugby. That play has won World Cups, and it’s also lost championships because people have made mistakes. It’s not a lucky play – it’s a play where everything has to go right.”
Unfortunately for the Mariners, they couldn’t carry the momentum into semifinals, and in Saturday’s third-place game against Yale, they stumbled in the game’s final moments.
Earl Marriott led 11-10 with 3:37 left in the game when Yale scored a late try, and added a convert to go up by seven. And though EMS made a late push for the equalizing marker, it was not to be.
“It was a tough way to finish – especially for the Grade 12s,” Roberts said. “There was just no magic left in the tank.”
And while Marriott ran out of luck on the tournament’s final two days, they’re South Surrey rivals from Semiahmoo did the opposite.
After getting bounced to the consolation bracket after Day 1 – losing 67-0 to the No. 1-seeded Saints – the 16th seed Totems won their final three games to finish ninth.
“It was great,” said Semiahmoo coach Tom Wilson. “We sort of knew the first game was going to be tough. But after that, our guys really stepped it up.”
On Day 2, Semi knocked off No. 9 Carson Graham – “They’ve been our rivals for a long, long time,” Wilson explained – 22-20, and followed that with wins over Lord Byng and Argyle.
The Peninsula’s other entry into provincials, the Elgin Park Orcas, finished 15th – exactly where they were seeded to start the tourney.
On the final day, they won the 15th/16th-place game, 30-22 over Sardis Secondary.
– with files from Dan Kinvig