St. George – It was a gritty, intense, blood spattered game.
The Fundy Mariners hosted the Kennebecasis Valley Crusaders last Friday evening at the Fundy Middle and High School in the final game of the regular season.
It was the Mariners’ time to sink or swim to keep post-season hopes alive – prior to the match the squad held an impressive 5-1 record in AAA – but needed the win to advance.
“We knew it was do-or-die,” said Connor Chevarie, Grade 11 co-captain. “If we didn’t win it, we were out, so we brought everything we had.”
The Mariners dug-in and pulled through with a 26- 12 victory.
Chevarie, who shares captain’s duties with Aiden Cooke, scored a try in the first half – after plucking the ball out of a ruck, he made his way uncontested to the try line.
Jasper Gianan also added a try in the first half, slogging through three members of the Crusaders to score. Conversions were successful on both attempts for a Mariners 14-0 lead.
Toward the end of the first half, however, the Mariners intensity dipped – not unreasonable with injuries running rampant on an already short bench of 18. The Crusaders cut the Mariners lead in half with a try and conversion to end the half 14-0.
“The other team took full control at the end of the first half,” Chevarie readily admitted.
“Coaches gave us a good talking to at halftime, and we smartened up from there,” he added, laughing.
Coach Tyson McGee laughed along with Chevarie, but noted the effect of the short bench has taken its toll.
“It’s the difficulty of riding a short bench; when they’re back and forth down the field, up the field and with our big boys, strong boys we have some good intensity, but trying to keep it up for 35 minutes straight without a break is pretty tough at times.”
The halftime “talking to” worked – Tristan Hutchison added to the Mariners score with a try, for a brief 19-7 lead before the Crusaders tacked on another five points.
Nearing the end of the half, Dylan Cooke scored the Mariners final try, and Ryan Jones added the conversion. Jones successfully kicked two conversions during the match, while Peter Smith added one.
As time ticked away to single digits, the intensity from both teams boiled over into two separate confrontations on the pitch, which led to a trip to the sin bin for a player on both sides.
“Rugby’s a sport of passion,” McGee said. “In order to put yourself in front of a 250 pound man running full tilt down the field, you’ve got to be passionate, you’ve got to want it, and you’ve got to be aggressive.
“Rugby’s all about controlling that aggression, and sometimes as things get a little intense toward the end, especially in a do-or-die game like this, sometimes the aggression flows out in a different way, but ultimately we have to be disciplined and control ourselves.
“…In a sport where you’re allowed to drop your shoulder in somebody’s face, there’s no need for fisticuffs or shoving around.”
Chevarie agreed, and said an invaluable lesson was learned – especially as the team prepares to head the post-season, there’s no room for error.
“If that was in the middle of a game, it would ruin us.”
Finishing second in the south with a 6-1 record (Saint John High placed first with an undefeated record) the Mariners are now slated to meet Fredericton High School Wednesday as the post-season begins. In the time before the game, McGee said the main focus will be to rest and heal – as injuries have wreaked havoc on an already small roster.
“We’re missing a few key players – a few key players were playing quite hurt at the beginning of the game even, so we want to take our time and ice our wounds and let ourselves heal.
“We win games not by being bigger and stronger, but being better rugby players so we just work on the basics. Good, solid, hard rucking, hard hitting intense rugby, and that’s what makes us competitive.
“When we’re a school of 300 Grades 9 to 12 compared to playing against schools that have 1,500 to 2,000 we’re not drawing on our athletes, were drawing on our people who have lots of heart.”
And that’s just what the Mariners have proven with the 6-1 record in a tough AAA league.
But as Chevarie and McGee explained, it’s a record the team fought for after starting the season with a one win and two loss Rugbyfest weekend.
“From Rugbyfest, the improvement’s unbelievable; from everybody,” Chevarie said, while McGee expanded on his thought.
“It’s a short season, so the experience that comes with the first game to the last and the idea with a short bench and learning to play through injuries being able to pick it up, the boys have done very well that way.”
What did it take to post a strong record with a short bench?
Chevarie doesn’t hesitate.
“The grit, hard work. Everybody put in the work that they needed to. Everybody contributed. Most teams have a leading score by say, 10 tries. We’re all very even. We all do it together,” Chevarie said.
“From the start of the season, not only the skills have improved, but the team bond…it’s unbelievable.”
McGee quickly agreed.
“That’s a good point. You’ve got to come together if you’re going to win, right?”
Mariners fall to Black Kats
The Mariners have ended the season, falling 30-13 in the first game of the post-season Wednesday to the Fredericton Black Kats – a team coach Tyson McGee identified as “the best Fredericton team I’ve seen in years.”
Ryan Jones scored a try, and successfully made a penalty kick, while Jasper Gianan added a try. Man of the match went to Michael Ingalls.
The Mariners were 6-1 in the regular season.