New champions Mariners experience that winning feeling
Shedding their reputation as a 'drinking club with a rugby problem', Mariners have won the league title for the first time in the club's history.
Since forming 36 years ago when they split from BAA, Mariners' merriment off the pitch has not always produced winning performances on it.
That all changed at weekend, though, when Mariners defeated Renegades 17-14 at Warwick Academy in the penultimate game of the league season, opening up an unassailable lead at the top of table.
Mariners scored tries through Dustin Archibald and Kris Furbert, while Andy Boyce kicked two conversions and one penalty.
It capped off a memorable campaign for Mariners who had lifted the President's Cup, Sandys Boat Club Trophy and the Mariners Spirit Cup trophies already this season.
In the coming weeks they will defend their Nichol Shield.
The club's former president Keith Hodgkins, now chairman of the Bermuda Rugby Football Union, attributes Mariners' turnaround to their South African coach Johann Oosthuizen, who has been instrumental in changing the club's mindset.
“The Mariners have never had much success winning the league,” said Hodgkins, who had to referee the match due to a shortage of officials. “One of the things that has made a big difference is the coaching of Johan Oosthuizen; he's really changed the club into a committed team and instilled some good work ethics.
“Average players can play well under his coaching and are able to fit into any position.
“He has taken a group of rugby players and improved their fitness, core skills and has taught them how to win rugby games. Without any superstar players, the whole of the team is truly greater than the sum of its parts.”
While Hodgkins acknowledges that Mariners' players haven't always taken the game as seriously as they might have, he believes there's been a shift in the attitudes of the players under Oosthuizen's stewardship.
“I hate it every time people put stuff about rugby and drinking because there's a lot of good things going on right now, especially at the youth level,” said Hodgkins, who stepped down as Mariners' president to become the BRFU chairman last year.
“But yeah, back in the day I used to play for the club, we'd train once a week and never really took it as serious as we should; I think that's changing nowadays a bit.”
Gone are the days when expats formed the nucleus of Mariners' side, with the foundations of this season's success being built on a backbone of Bermudian sweat and toil.
It's another important factor, according to Hodgkins, in Mariners' recent reversal of fortunes.
“We did some youth development training about eight years ago at Warwick Academy and Saltus, basically building up a nucleus of Bermudians; they're all around 24 or 25 now,” he said.
“If you look at our team now, it has ten Bermudians on it. That's very important, it means you're not reliant on transient workers who can move on every few years. That's why Teachers Rugby Club has had a lot of success over the years because they have had a high number of Bermudians, and as a Union that's what we're pushing.”
Speaking as the BRFU chairman, Hodgkins feels it's of paramount importance the Island's four teams — Mariners, Renegades, Teachers and Police — commit to developing local talent.
He said: “We're trying to get these clubs with high percentages of Bermudians, and the expats who come in can join the clubs, add to the clubs, but not be the majority of them.
“Obviously I still look out for Mariners as an ex-player, but I want to see all four clubs do well and for there to be healthy competition between them.”
Mariners skipper David Rourke said echoed Hodgkins' sentiments regarding the virtues of Oosthuizen's coaching.
“By its very nature, a league is not won an any given day in isolation, it's the product of hard work and dedication over a long period of time.
“We started running around the Arboretum last July and have continued under Johann's direction practically twice a week since that.
“Players have joined us, players have left us, players have come out of retirement, players have gone into retirement and players have been available each and every week.
“It's our ability to adapt each week with our Mariners spirit at the core that has enabled us to become the most successful Mariners squad in the history of the club.”