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‘Not bad for a bunch of ski punks’

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Hoary Marmots downed in exhibition play

Despite heavy rains that lasted from kick-off until the final whistle – and the fact that they were seriously outweighed by their more experienced opponents – the Whistler Hoary Marmots rugby team put up a strong fight against the visiting Vancouver Rowing Club Rowers at Whistler Secondary on Saturday afternoon.

The Rowers got on the board early, scoring three unanswered tries in the first half. With rain making the ball hard to handle and limiting the players’ abilities to run and dodge, it quickly became a forwards game. Without a strong pack of their own, the Marmots were constantly on the defensive against the charging Rowers.

The game opened up more during the second half as the Marmots got more organized and began to get some clean ball. The Rowers got on the board again early on, but were shut down in the Marmots’ half on several occasions.

The game line moved closer to the middle as the Marmots regrouped and the backs started getting into the game.

At about the halfway point in the second half Whistler winger John Nolan took a pass from the outside centre and charged past the defender to put one on the board for the Marmots.

"We definitely got better as the game went on. They (the Rowers) were always running together, getting good support, and they always had the ball," said Nolan, 26, who hails from Australia’s Gold Coast.

"Then we started to get some clean ball, and actually managed to do pretty well with it. We had a few good chances there, and came close quite a few times. We kept the pressure on, though, and scored."

The Marmots had the advantage in speed, said Nolan, and would probably have done better in dry conditions as the ball is easier to catch and the players could have used their speed and agility to open up the game.

"The opposition were very good, and played together as a team, but if it had been a little dryer I think we would have had a much more even result."

The Rowers scored their last try on a foiled attempt at a fast lineout by the Marmots that landed in the wrong hands. The final score at the whistle was 27-5.

"It went as good as could be expected," said Marmots captain John Gideon. "We were missing a few key players, and kind of threw a pack together in the forwards at the last minute. This was also the first game ever for some of the players.

"But we came out and had a good second half, played with some fire, and managed to put one on the board as a team. Not bad for a bunch of ski punks."

One new player to the sport was winger Sean O’Neill, who hails from Montreal.

"I’ve only been coming to practices for about three weeks so it was good that I got to play today," he said.

"I hit one big guy, and that felt pretty good – I didn’t hurt myself. I got to run with the ball once as well, but I don’t have the moves yet. I’m thinking ‘what would work in hockey?’ but that didn’t really work too well."

O’Neill said only a few of his friends played rugby in Quebec, and while he had to play it in high school gym class, even the gym teacher didn’t understand the rules.

"It’s nothing like this. I’m still learning, but hopefully I’ll get to play some more this season."

O’Neill will get his wish this weekend as the Whistler Hoary Marmots head to Simon Fraser University for their 25 th annual Highland Summer 7’s tournament on Saturday (July 20). Gideon hopes to field two men’s teams and a women’s team for SFU.

Whistler will be hosting a 7’s tournament of its own in early August, and Gideon hopes to organize more exhibition games for the Marmots against teams from the Lower Mainland over the summer.

The Marmots practice every Monday and Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Whistler Secondary school. Beginners and social players are welcome, as well as competitive players, to train and play in non-contact touch games.

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