For a number of years – pandemic-related breaks aside – Earl Marriott Secondary’s senior boys 15-a-side rugby team has been among the class of not just the Semiahmoo Peninsula, but the entire province.
The Mariners have won a slew of Fraser Valley championships – including a run of six straight that ended in 2015 – and in 2019 captured a triple-A provincial championship, which was the first-ever for the school.
Now, due to new BC School Sports rules, the Mariners – as well as the Semiahmoo Thunderbirds, Elgin Park Orcas, Southridge Storm and Grandview Heights Grizzlies – are looking to tackle the seven-a-side game instead.
In previous years, schools could compete in both 15 and seven-a-side games, but with high-school rugby now under the purview of BC School Sports, the rules have changed, forcing schools to pick one or the other; schools with big enough rugby programs can still play both, but there can be no player crossover on the roster.
In a news release earlier this spring, BC School Sports said the change was made “to provide 15s teams with an opportunity to try 7s without compromising the integrity of the post season play or endangering the safety of the student-athletes.”
And so far, the switch to sevens has worked out well for Peninsula teams. Last week, South Surrey sides finished first through third at South Fraser championships, with EMS finishing first, Elgin Park second and Semiahmoo third.
Next up for the group will be provincials, which are to be held alongside the 15-a-side B.C. championships, at Abbotsford’s Rotary Park from June 1-4. The sevens will be held June 2-3, Adam Roberts, the longtime coach of Marriott’s senior boys rugby team, said.
Roberts said that while it was an adjustment moving full-time to seven-a-side play, the most important thing for his group was simply getting back out onto the pitch and playing after losing two seasons to COVID-19 cancellations.
The two-year gap has been noticeable on the field this season, he said, as players look to shake off the rust.
“The level of rugby is not what it was pre-COVID – our Grade 12s haven’t played at all, or have played very little, these last couple years – and (rugby) isn’t the kind of thing you can just pick back up again easily. There’s development and learning involved,” he said.
“But it’s still been absolutely fantastic to get back to it.”
With all provincial tournaments – sevens and 15s, boys and girls – being held at once, BC School Sports is calling the two-day event a “festival-style” championship. In total, more than 70 teams will compete across all divisions.
“It’s been a tough two years without high school rugby, but every player and coach I’ve talked to is absolutely thrilled to be back on the field,” said BCSS rugby tournament co-chair Walter Van Halst.
“This year’s provincial championships will be the start of a new era and a celebration of rugby resilience.”