Dolphins Fall Short to Belmont Shore
by Dominic Riebli
Saturday’s opening round Pacific Rugby Premiership match pitted local rivals Santa Monica against Belmont Shore. The Dolphins made the short trip down the 405 Freeway to Long Beach State University, looking for redemption from last season’s close losses. In a game that saw several shifts in momentum, the Dolphins’ final punch failed to make a solid enough connection to bring home the victory.
Santa Monica got off to a fast start from the kick-off. Receiving the ball inside their own zone, the Dolphins probed the midfield with runs from Inside Center Mathieu Lesgourgues and Flyhalf Harry Bennett. Bennett’s run ended with a penalty against Belmont for hands-in the ruck. Santa Monica kicked for touch and moved into Belmont territory. The Dolphins went wide from the lineout and quick hands from Outside Center Shawn Lee sprung Fullback Ali Ross around the blitz defense and down the right sideline. Ross offloaded to winger Mitch Raisch with one man to beat. Raisch couldn’t take the corner so he came back infield. Scrumhalf Charlie Purdon quickly recycled the ball. Lesgougues drew his defender and put Lee through a half-gab on the left sideline, only to have Lee knock-on in the tackle from Shore’s cover defense.
Belmont cleared their line and then the Dolphins bailed them out further by knocking-on successive line-outs and then giving up an off-sides penalty at midfield. Belmont Wing Andy Jackson’s penalty kick went wide and Santa Monica took a 22-meter restart. Belmont Center Jack Tracy took the ball into the tackle at midfield where Santa Monica Lock James Lowrey poached it. Scrumhalf Purdon got it out to Bennett, who kicked over the Belmont defense and forced Fullback Michael Teo to rush the return kick to touch. Ali Ross quickly played the line-out and got the ball to Sean Pypers. The Santa Monica Wing took it deep into enemy territory along the right sideline. After two hit-ups, Bennett found Lee on the left flank. Lee stepped his man, pushed forward, popped back inside to Bennett, Bennett slipped his tackler and dotted-down 15 meters from the sideline. The conversion missed wide to the left. 5-0 Santa Monica.
The Dolphins failed to clear their own half on the restart, eventually giving Belmont a solid attacking platform from a scrum at the 22. The home side drove on their put-in and the referee pinged Purdon for off-sides. Jackson easily converted the penalty. 5-3 Santa Monica.
The Dolphins struck back immediately on the restart as Lesgourgues executed a nifty restart: grubbering the ball toward the left sideline where Pypers picked it up perfectly and dashed into the attacking 22. He got stopped short of the goal line but offloaded to Flanker Van Aarde Pretorius, who finished the move. Bennett again missed wide left from the extreme angle. 10-3 Santa Monica.
Scrumhalf Purdon clocked in with the next Santa Monica try on a fantastic individual effort. Inside the attacking 22, Santa Monica again was threatening. Lesgourgues split a gap on the right side but knocked-on in the tackle. Hooker Philip Lydeard sustained a massive (and questionable) hit away from the ball on the play from Belmont Prop Brice Shilling and remained down for several minutes. Thankfully, Lydeard gathered himself and stayed in the game. On the ensuing scrum, Purdon blocked the clearance kick, the ball rolled toward the posts, hit one of the uprights, and landed back in Purdon’s arms for a try under the posts. The conversion was true and the Dolphins were up 17-3.
Belmont answered back with a converted try of their own in the corner off of a line-out inside the Dolphins side of the field. 17-10 Santa Monica.
The Dolphins came back with three more points off of a penalty kick. Santa Monica successfully poached the ball from a ruck at midfield. Lydeard passed out to Bennett, who reversed field and connected with Ross streaking down the right sideline. The Fullback chipped over the defense, regathered on the ball on the fly, dummied the opposing fullback and headed for the posts. Again, Belmont scrambled back and held off the try, giving up another hands-in in the process. Instead of taking the points, Flyhalf Bennett elected to kick for touch at the 5-meter line. The ensuing throw was offline, giving Belmont a reprieve.
On the ensuing scrum, Purdon would hold Belmont 8-man Zac Shapiro up in the tackle, thus returning possession to his team. Belmont was then penalized for collapsing the scrum. This time, Bennett elected for the easy points. 20-10 Santa Monica 40 minutes into the game.
The second half started well for the Dolphins as Belmont’s Shapiro knocked-on the opening kick, putting Santa Monica in prime attacking position. From the scrum, the Dolphins attacked the midfield. The quick recycle from scrumhalf Purdon caught Belmont off-side in front of the posts. Bennett easily slotted the kick. 23-10 Santa Monica.
The tide then turned in the home side’s favor. From the restart, Santa Monica failed to find touch on their clearance, giving Belmont Fullback Teo room to counter attack. A series of pick-and-drives and short balls eventually lead to an off-side call 5-meters out. Belmont elected for the tap and drove toward the posts. Hooker Joe Taufete set-up to receive a short pass from the ruck but the ball slipped through his hands and right into the hands of his support man, Sam Lilley. Lilley straight-armed his defender and slid-in under the posts. Adding insult to injury, Santa Monica 8-man Ken Aseme was issued a yellow card for hands-in the ruck and would spend the next 10 minutes in the bin. 23-17 Santa Monica.
A few minutes later, Santa Monica looked to add to their lead with a long-range penalty but Bennett’s kick came up short. Playing a man up against a pack that was already missing starting front rower Chris Baumann (USARFU Eagles camp), Belmont consolidated and played off the front foot. They gained ascendency in the scrums, getting two successive penalties against the head. From the latter offensive scrum, Belmont got the ball out to Wing Sinipati Uigaleti on the right flank and he charged for the line. Santa Monica held firm but the referee deemed Dolphins’ Center Lee offside at the scrum. Teo took the quick tap at midfield, passed wide to Hooker Taufete, who slipped a tackle and bulldozed over in the corner. Jackson missed the conversion. 23-22 Santa Monica.
Aseme returned to field and the Dolphins attempted to get beyond their one point advantage. Replacement Flanker Jabari Zuberi poached the ball in the attacking half and Flyhalf Bennett deftly kicked it into the corner. He nearly laid the ball up in bounds but just barely rolled into touch at the 5-meter. Belmont’s clearing box kick didn’t travel far, thus giving Santa Monica a lineout inside Belmont’s 22. Unfortunately, Lydeard failed to connect with Lowrey, Belmont caught the overthrow and punted the ball ahead. Fullback Ross took the kick and attacked the right flank. In second phase, Purdon passed out to Bennett, who chipped just over the defensive front line. Lesgourgues gathered and was immediately tackled. Purdon recycled to a hard-charging Sean Pypers off the left side. The Winger stepped his man to the inside, broke for the posts and offloaded to has Wing partner Raisch. Once again, Belmont scrambled back to make the tackle and turned the ball over as Raisch’s support came too late.
Belmont failed to clear the ball out of their own 22, setting up another Santa Monica lineout meter from the line. Lydeard connected with Lowrey and Santa Monica set-up for a maul. However, Belmont didn’t contest the lineout, hung off the maul, and collected a penalty for obstruction. The referee then penalized the Dolphins in the scrum for boring. Belmont didn’t get much distance out of their clearance and Lock Lowrey intercepted the throw-in. Purdon picked up the loose ball and charged forward, only to have the forwards knock-on in the ruck.
Not finding success in kicking to touch, Shore’s Teo kicked straight down the middle from the scrum. Ross collected, counter-attacked, and brought the ball back into the attacking 22. After recycling for a couple phases, the Dolphins turned the ball over in the tackle and Shore finally cleared their defensive zone. Pypers retrieved the ball on his own 10-meter, took it into contact, and lost possession. Belmont recycled out to Uigaleti, who was dragged out of bounds just before the try zone. In the blink of an eye, the field position had flipped completely.
From his own 5-meter line, Lydeard attempted a long pass to Flanker Zuberi but it went off-line, turning possession back to Belmont. From the scrum, the Shore pack drove forward and 8-man Shapiro plopped down on the ball over the try line. Jackson converted the extras giving Belmont Shore their first lead of the day with 10 minutes left to play.
Shore botched the restart and gave the Dolphins an attacking scrum inside the 22. Before the ball made it out of the tunnel, the referee pinged Purdon for feeding. Jackson muffed the clearance kick, giving Santa Monica the lineout just a few meters back from where they scrummed down. From the throw, the ball went from sideline to sideline and back, where it found replacement Center Stuart Sharpe. He shot through a hole and charged down the left flank. Fullback Teo’s cover defense came through again as he herded the ball-handler into touch.
The next series of events proved pivotal in determining the final outcome. From the lineout, a series of Belmont runs got them to midfield. An errant pass from Belmont 8-man Shapiro saw the ball bounce around in no-man’s land. Santa Monica’s Lesgourgues towed the ball through and was surely away for a try had Shapiro not tackled him before he could pursue his kick. Furthermore, the ball trickled away from Teo on his attempt to regather it, and rolled toward the posts. Santa Monica’s Aseme jumped on the ball and seemingly grounded it against the posts. The referee saw things differently and did not award the touchdown. He did, however, present Shapiro with a yellow card and gave possession to Santa Monica inside the attacking zone.
Lesgourgues kicked for touch and Flyhalf Bennett, who was visibly hobbling for most of the second half, came off in favor of Brian O’Shea. Santa Monica drove off of the lineout but came up short as Belmont’s Uigaleti pulled down the maul, thus earning himself a yellow card.
Up two men, Santa Monica again opted for the lineout and drive. Belmont was able to jar the ball loose from the pack, but not before knocking it on. Shore got called for pushing early on the scrum and 8-man Aseme took the quick tap and charged for the posts. He came up inches short so Purdon passed out to O’Shea, who fed Sharpe. Sharpe drew his defender, passed out to Raisch, who dotted down near the right corner. O’Shea’s conversion sailed wide left, leaving the Dolphins down one point.
Santa Monica had one last shot on the restart, moving all the way from their 22 to the midfield. However, it was not to be as Sharpe sought a half-gap but found his pop pass to Pypers going forward. Final 29-28 Belmont Shore.
“We fought hard and never gave up,” said Santa Monica Head Coach Greg Commins. “We showed resilience in coming back after giving-up the lead. The fitness and mental toughness are there. It comes down to execution on the small things and in the set piece. We have to shore those parts of our game up if we expect positive results. I’m proud of the guys for the fight but disappointed in the outcome.”
Santa Monica travel to San Francisco’s Sheeran Field at Treasure Island this Saturday for their match against Olympic Club.
Santa Monica Line-up:
- Danny Hill (Khoozani – 70)
- Philip Lydeard
- Robert Cleere
- Zac Winter
- James Lowrey
- Van Aarde Pretorius (Zuberi – 50)
- Taylor Manavian
- Ken Aseme
- Charlie Purdon
- Harry Bennett (O’Shea – 78)
- Sean Pypers
- Mathieu Lesgourgues
- Shawn Lee (Sharpe – 50)
- Mitch Raisch
- Alistair Ross
- Kaevon Khoozani
- David Amaya
- Jabari Zuberi
- Chinedu Okolo
- Eli Weiss
- Brian O’Shea
- Stuart Sharpe
- Luis De La Torre
Tries: Bennett, Pretorius, Purdon, Raisch
Penalties: Bennett (2)
Conversions: Bennett (1)