For the Earl Marriott Mariners senior boys rugby team, last week’s provincial championship in Abbotsford was deja vu all over again.
Just like last spring, the South Surrey squad got bumped up to the tough quad-A division – by virtue of winning the Fraser Valley zone – and, just like last spring, they had to square off against the Shawnigan Lake Stags, winners of seven of the last eight provincial titles prior to last weekend.
And, as was the case 12 months ago, Shawnigan handily defeated EMS, 108-13, and went on to – yawn – yet another provincial crown, while EMS was bounced to the third-place game, where they lost to Oak Bay. Just like last year.
“Very similar to last time. Really, the exact same,” Marriott head coach Adam Roberts told Peace Arch News Monday.
Before the four-team quad-A tournament began, Roberts’ team knew a bronze-medal date with Oak Bay loomed; Shawnigan Lake and St. George’s, on each side of the draw, have combined to win every B.C. title for more than 10 years. And though the outcome of Thursday’s first-round title was never in doubt, Roberts said the game had a lasting affect of his team and perhaps hurt them in Saturday’s 50-17 loss to Oak Bay 48 hours later.
“We struggled with confidence throughout the year, but for the Fraser Valley final against Yale, I thought we got ourselves back up, we played fantastic defence and we won,” Roberts explained.
“But I think the Shawnigan game got into our heads a little bit, just because of the physicality of it. We just couldn’t play defence against Oak Bay… we were a bit tentative after Thursday, and… rugby is very difficult if you don’t enjoy that physicality.”
Despite the lopsided score Thursday, Roberts was quick to point out that the 13 points his team put on the board – one try from Isaac Kelly, plus a conversion and two penalty kicks from Max Radcliffe – were the first points surrended by Shawnigan to a B.C. team all season long.
“That was a cool thing, to be the first. They’d blanked everyone, so we were happy to do that. When you’re playing a team like Shawnigan, you basically have to go for small, moral victories,” Roberts said.
Despite the positive outlook, the longtime coach did admit that the provincial tournament format – that seems the Fraser Valley and Island champs essentially thrown to the wolves of Shawnigan and St. George’s – did leave his group feeling a bit sour.
“If you’d said to me at the start of the year that we’d be a top-four team in the province by the end of it, I would’ve be so happy, and I’m very proud of the boys,” he said. “They’ve really come a long way and grown so much, so for me, that’s a success.
“But it’s still kind of a bad feeling, finishing the way we had to. Yale had a fantastic tournament at triple-A. The team we beat in the Fraser Valley final got to go and have a lot of fun to finish the year, but… that’s just the nature of it right now.”
A dozen members of Earl Marriott’s team will return to the pitch this weekend, when B.C. Boys Rugby Sevens Championships are held at Brentwood College on Vancouver Island. The Mariners are the defending provincial champions of the seven-a-side format.
“It’ll be a nice way for some of our guys to rebound,” Roberts said.
At the the triple-A level last week, the Elgin Park Orcas finished 10th overall – the first time in 11 years that they’d ended the season inside the provincial top-10. Last year, Elgin won the Tier 2 provincial crown.
The Orcas began the tournament Wednesday with a loss to W.J. Mouat – “It was close, but things kind of unravelled in the second half,” said coach Mike Jamieson – but in their next game Thursday, rebounded with a 48-5 thrashing of Belmont.
“The goal from the beginning of the season was to be top-10, and the winner of that game was guaranteed to be in the top 10,” said Jamieson. “We probably had our best performance of the year. It was a close game in the first – it was only 10-5 at halftime, and we didn’t know what way it was going to go, but we just blew it open in the second.”
In the ninth/10th placing game on Saturday, Elgin lost to Handsworth by 10 points.
“Our grad was Friday night, so all of our Grade 12s were going on about four hours sleep, and the boys just lost a bit of steam in the second half. But it was good, close game and the boys were proud of themselves.”
Jamieson said the top-10 finish was good for the program as a whole, while also impressive considering the team’s participation numbers dwindled dramatically as the year went on, due to injuries and players quitting.
“We started the year with 34 players and we finished Saturday with 18, including three Grade 10s,” he explained.
“So in the end, with who we still had going, we ended up where we belong and it’s good to be back in the top 10 – we haven’t been there in 11 years. It’s good to keep slowly moving up.”