Earl Marriott ball-carrier Austin Fink is tackled by a pair of Semiahmoo players during the second half of Monday’s Sandcastle Cup

Earl Marriott ball-carrier Austin Fink is tackled by a pair of Semiahmoo players during the second half of Monday’s Sandcastle Cup

Mariners reclaim Sandcastle Cup

Earl Marriott defeats Semiahmoo one year after overtime loss

This year’s Sandcastle Cup rugby grudge match may have lacked the drama of last spring’s game – which took overtime to decide – but bragging rights changed hands nonetheless.

On Monday afternoon, with rain pelting down at South Surrey Athletic Park, the Earl Marriott Mariners defeated the Semiahmoo Totems 30-0 and reclaimed the trophy that eluded them last year, when Semi upset them in extra time.

“It’s brilliant. It’s truly an amazing feeling,” said Earl Marriott senior Liam Sullivan.

“Last year was crushing to lose it. We went into last year’s game, I think, with a bit of elated sense of self. We thought we could win it quite easily, and we didn’t. So we ate our humble pie and realized these are never easy games. We came out this time and played a lot harder.”

Though the game was never truly in doubt for the Mariners – who are ranked inside the top-four in B.C.’s senior boys elite division – head coach Adam Roberts admitted his team played far from its best rugby, in no small part thanks to the weather.

“There were tons of mistakes out there – the weather is a great equalizer. Whether it’s wind or rain, the ball just isn’t the same, and our guys just couldn’t really get our mojo going in the first half. We never really clicked,” Roberts said.

And though the atmosphere surrounding the game was far less raucous than in years past – again, due to weather, as well as a last-minute decision to move the game from 4 p.m. to 3 p.m. – the longtime Marriott coach believed nerves and excitement probably got the best of both sides, at times.

“The kids make so much of this game that sometimes they don’t end up playing the way that they should,” he said.

“They get so worked up – even some games in provincials don’t mean this much to some of the guys. But that’s the nature of this game. It’s a great rivalry.”

Sullivan said his team had added incentive heading into the game, as well, considering the contest fell on the six-month anniversary of the deaths of Clayton Heights Secondary students Cody Kehler and Chantal MacLean, both of whom were well known in the South Surrey rugby community.

The two 17-year-olds were killed in a multi-vehicle crash in Delta last October.

“They were very dear to us, and we’re wearing black armbands today, for them,” Sullivan explained after the game. “It’s been six months, so today meant a little bit more.”

Marriott led 17-0 at halftime, and tacked on another two tries, plus a penalty kick, in the second half, to extend the lead. Despite the score, the two teams played a physical game right until the final whistle.

“It was a really hard-fought, physical battle, right through, just like it was last year,” said Marriott Grade 12 player Liam Moore.

“This year, we were just a lot more focused, and we stuck to the basics. It was really good.”

Prior to last year’s loss to the Totems, the Mariners had won each game since 2009. Semiahmoo has not been without it’s dominant stretches, either. They won in 2008, and at one point won 19 of 20 cup contests.

With the Sandcastle Cup now back in their grasp, EMS will take aim at a top-three provincial ranking. On Friday, they’ll head to Oak Bay – and the winner will be crowned No. 3 in the province, behind only private-school powerhouses Shawnigan Lake and St. George’s.

“It’s a big game, and it will decide a whole lot. But I think we can do it – we have a strong, confident group,” Roberts said.