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

Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows issue fire bans

Cities say poor air quality from smoke could further exacerbate current COVID-19 climate

VIDEO: RCMP bring 7 p.m. parade to front doors of Ridge Meadows Hospital

Cruisers with lights and sirens blaring give boost to those working within

WEATHER: Mainly cloudy with a chance of showers

Temperatures to reach a high of 11 C

Intergenerational Garden in Maple Ridge open for another year

All food will be donated to the Friends In Need Food Bank

Front line workers in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows calling out for supplies

Doctors and specialists say they are in desperate need

B.C. records five new COVID-19 deaths, ‘zero chance’ life will return to normal in April

Province continue to have a recovery rate of about 50 per cent

John Horgan extends B.C.’s state of emergency for COVID-19

Premier urges everyone to follow Dr. Bonnie Henry’s advice

B.C.’s first community COVID-19 death was dentist ‘dedicated’ to health: lawyer

Vincent was 64 when he died on March 22 after attending the Pacific Dental Conference

UPDATE: 6.5-magnitude earthquake in Idaho shakes B.C. Interior

An earthquake was reportedly felt just before 5 p.m. throughout the Okanagan

Two inmates at prison housing Robert Pickton test positive for COVID-19

Correctional Service of Canada did not release any details on the identities of the inmates

BC heart surgery patient rarely leaves home

James Jepson is especially vulnerable to the novel coronavirus

BC SPCA launches matching campaign to help vulnerable animals after big donations

Two BC SPCA donors have offered up to $65,000 in matching donations

Quarantined B.C. mom say pandemic has put special-needs families in ‘crisis mode’

Surrey’s Christine Williams shares family’s challenges, strengths

Anti-tax group calls for MPs, senators to donate scheduled pay raises to charity

Bill C-30, adopted 15 years ago, mandates the salary and allowance increases each calendar year

Most Read