Because of a last minute scheduling change the Whistler Hoary Marmots Rugby Football Club was forced to forfeit their first two games en route to the annual Williams Lake Stampede Rugby Tournament last weekend, but it was better late than never for the team.
After almost canceling the season due to insurance issues, the Marmots have put together a respectable roster of 40 players, including the usual international mish-mash of Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians, British, Scottish, Irish and Welsh. Of those 40 players, a group of 16 headed to Williams Lake, where they padded their roster with a couple of subs from the Simon Fraser University team.
Because they arrived too late to qualify for the finals, the Marmots were relegated to the consolation round where they proceeded to win three games in a row, while not allowing a single point against.
The games were Rugby Union rules with 15 players a side, but with 20 minute halves instead of 40 minutes.
"I have to say we had a really good looking side out there, and that was just the road trip team a lot of the guys didnt make it," said team manager and captain John Gideon. "Well look even better when we have our full side out there for our first home game."
Gideon almost pulled the plug on rugby this year because of insurance requirements and the teams mounting debt most players played for free in the past, while the team earned money by hosting an annual seven-a-side tournament. Last year the Marmots were forced to pull the plug on the sevens tournament because of insurance issues, and were unable to make that money back.
Gideon held a meeting in late May to determine if there was enough interest and sponsorship to go forward this year. A number of players and sponsors, including Garfkinkels, Whiski Jack Resorts and Blacks Pub stepped up with money, jerseys and other support.
Although they got off to a late start, Tuesday and Thursday practices have continued to grow to the point that the Marmots now have over 40 athletes in the club, including nine women who will be making their debut at the upcoming Simon Fraser University Summer Sevens tournament on July 16.
This is the fourth year that Whistler has taken part in the Williams Lake tournament, but the first time theyve come home with a trophy. In other years the goal was to be the hardest partying team, which they accomplished even bringing their own DJ along.
"Id still say we were the life of the party, but we showed that we can play as well," said Gideon.
In their first game Whistler faced Kamloops, winning 34-0. Their semi-final game in the consolation round was against Prince George, who they beat 29-0 to face the Williams Lake Rustlers second team in the finals.
"That was a hard game. For the last five minutes we were on our own goal line, trying to keep them out because we didnt want to give up our shutout. We held up two tries in the end zone, while our fullback kept shouting at us, no tries boys, no tries," said Gideon. "Finally the whistle blew and everybody just went nuts we were the only team to shut out the competition that weekend, which isnt easy to do."
It was hard to sit on the sidelines for the main final, which went to the Velox Valhallians of Victoria over the Real Action team made up of players from other teams.
"I dont know if we would have won, but I know we could have given those teams a good game," said Gideon. "I think this is one of the best Whistler teams weve ever had. Were looking forward to playing at home, and getting a few fans out to watch."
Following the SFU Summer Sevens tournament, the Marmots are hoping to host their annual exhibition game against the Rowers RFC from Vancouver. They will host their own sevens tournament at the end of July, and are hoping to host another exhibition game against Velox in August.
Gideon is hoping to keep the practices and games going through September if there is enough interest from the players to make up for the late start.
New players, men and women, are welcome to come out and join the Marmots. The team practices every Tuesday and Thursday at Whistler Secondary School, starting at 6 p.m.