Earl Marriott Secondary’s senior boys rugby team – which won a provincial triple-A championship last spring – is currently in London, U.K., trying to return home to B.C. after a planned two-week trip through Europe was scuttled due to the COVID-19 virus. (File photo)

Earl Marriott Secondary’s senior boys rugby team – which won a provincial triple-A championship last spring – is currently in London, U.K., trying to return home to B.C. after a planned two-week trip through Europe was scuttled due to the COVID-19 virus. (File photo)

Surrey rugby team tries to get home from U.K. amid COVID-19 ‘chaos’

Earl Marriott Secondary senior boys rugby squad currently in London

What was supposed to be a two-week tour of Europe for Earl Marriott Secondary’s senior boys rugby team has turned into a story that could well be pitched as a sequel to Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

But unlike the 1987 John Candy-Steve Martin comedy, this version is a lot less funny and a lot more stressful as the South Surrey travelling party of 42 tries to find its way home amid a worldwide COVID-19 crisis.

The team, led by head coach Adam Roberts, left Vancouver for London on Wednesday morning – with a layover in Dallas – but things escalated quickly between departure and arrival. Almost immediately upon landing, the team’s original itinerary – which included games in France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany – was scrapped.

In addition to rugby games, the team had a number of other activities planned, including a visit to Vimy Ridge. Originally, the team planned to return home on March 26, flying out of Frankfurt, Germany.

“When we left, everything was fine – well, it was bad, but it wasn’t nearly what it has become now,” Roberts said Friday afternoon from London.

“By the time we landed in Dallas, (U.S. president Donald) Trump had announced he was going to ban all trips from Europe, and then the World Health Organization said this was a pandemic. That all happened by the time we got to Dallas.

“Then we landed in London, and it just hit like a ton of bricks. Everything was chaos, everything was playing out just crazy. Parents were calling, wondering what was going on, and everyone was just in total limbo.”

• READ ALSO: BC Hockey cancels all provincial championships due to COVID-19 outbreak

• READ ALSO: Postponed fight means boxer Bisla won’t get to ‘kick 2020 off with a bang’

Upon arrival in London, Roberts was immediately told the team would not be allowed to travel to mainland Europe, which meant, if the team was to continue on its trip, a new itinerary would have to be created – and quickly.

After years in rugby, Roberts – who has also coached at the provincial and national levels – had contacts throughout the United Kingdom, and started to create a new game schedule for his group.

But with the situation surrounding the COVID-19 crisis getting worse by the hour – with professional and amateur sports leagues across the world cancelling and postponing games – eventually Roberts decided to pull the plug.

“It just kept escalating, and there was more panic, more chaos, more hysteria, so we just thought, ‘OK, let’s just get out of here.’”

For much of Thursday and Friday, Roberts and others tried to find a route home – a challenge that was exacerbated by an airline overrun with cancellation and change requests and the newly instituted rule that flights from Europe could not land in the U.S., with the exception of ones from the U.K.

“No one has the capacity to deal with what’s going on, and everyone is converging on London as they try to fly home because they can’t re-enter the U.S. from anywhere else,” Roberts said.

“I’ve been working my tail off trying to find a way home. I can’t even imagine what my phone bill is going to be.”

On Friday, the Surrey School District announced that all international student trips have been cancelled for the rest of the school year.

By early afternoon Friday, Roberts’ team had a plan to get home, but it wasn’t exactly a direct flight. The team was set to travel by ferry from London to Dublin, Ireland, where the group would then split into two, “because we have a group of 42 and nobody has that many available seats,” Roberts explained.

One group will board a plane that will land in Seattle via Chicago, while the second will stop in Philadelphia before also landing at Sea-Tac International Airport. The two flights land within 25 minutes of each other. From there, the team will re-convene and board a bus that will take them to the Canada-U.S. border, which Roberts said they’ll walk across, and have people pick them up on the Canadian side.

“Talk about planning on the fly,” Roberts said.

Though it’s been a stressful few days for the EMS crew, Roberts was quick to praise the hospitality of the U.K. rugby community, especially offers of help from members of Vyners School, which is a short drive from London.

“I played against Vyners when I was in Grade 10 at Semiahmoo, so there’s a longstanding tradition and relationship there,” he said. “The Vyners guys were great. They told us, ‘You can stay in our school gym. You can stay here for two weeks if you need to.’

“So really, there was no better place for us to be during this than with people we know and trust and love. The rugby community is just amazing – everyone just wanting to help.”

In between all the botched travel plans and confusion, the Mariners did manage to hit the pitch for one game, played Friday against Vyners.

“And we won,” Roberts said.

“But it was a long way to go just for one game.”



sports@peacearchnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

CoronavirusHighSchoolRugbyrugby

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

LEFT: Krista Macinnis, with a red handprint across her face that symbolizes the silencing of First Nations people, displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
RIGHT: Abbotsford School District Kevin Godden says the district takes responsibility for the harm the assignment caused.
Abbotsford school district must make amends for harmful residential school assignment: superintendent

‘The first step is to unreservedly apologize for the harm … caused to our community’: Kevin Godden

Chilliwack School District school bus outside Sardis elementary on June 11, 2014. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
COVID-19 exposures on three school buses in Chilliwack

Exposure dates range from Nov. 13 to 19, according to letters sent out by Fraser Health

File photo
Outdoor recreation generates close to $1 billion annually in Fraser Valley: report

Camping, hiking and sportfishing generate the most spending, report finds

Chief Robert Gladstone of Shxwha:y Village at a federal flood funding announcement April 24, 2019. (Jenna Hauck/Chilliwack Progress file)
Consortium of Indigenous chiefs seeking a way to participate in cannabis economy

All Nations Chiefs from the Shxwha:y, Cheam, Soowahlie and Sq’ewlets holding online forum Dec. 2

The Santa Photos event will not continue at Highstreet Shopping Centre after Fraser Health asked organizers to suspend the event after new restrictions. (Highstreet photo)
Santa Photos at Abbotsford’s Highstreet Shopping Centre event suspended

Fraser Health Authority asked Highstreet to suspend event following new restrictions

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Elissa McLaren broke her left elbow in the Sept. 20, 2020 collision. (Submitted)
Surviving victims of fatal crash in Fraser Valley asking for help leading up to Christmas

‘This accident has taken a larger toll financially, mentally and physically than originally intended’

Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld (left) and former BCTF president Glen Hansman (right).
BC Court of Appeal left to walk tightrope of freedom of expression in Neufeld-Hansman case

Is defamation lawsuit aimed at stifling free expression or does the defamation hinder free speech?

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

Most Read