Up 20-8 at halftime, Dolphins fall 30-37
by Dominic Riebli
In a battle of Southern California Rugby heavyweights, 2009 National Division 1 runners-up, Belmont Shore Rugby, bested Santa Monica in week 3 of league play. The host Dolphins, eager to avenge last year’s quarterfinal loss, came up short in a 30-37 loss.
The match started out well enough for the home side as the Dolphins took advantage of two early penalties, the second of which nearly saw scrumhalf David Hughes break through for a long distance try. Applying pressure inside the Belmont Shore 22-meter zone, Santa Monica probed back-and-forth across the field but failed to find the try line. They eventually turned over the ball when wing Kelly Serfoss found himself isolated in a tackle. Belmont center Peter Sio pounced on the ball and took off up field for an 80-meter run that ultimately ended with Dolphins fullback Padraig Cremin slowing Sio down and center Joe Killefer forcing him into touch. Unfortunately, Santa Monica could not clear their own line and eventually conceded a penalty and three points.
Santa Monica Head Coach Doug Bratcher commented, “Our green zone (inside of the opponent’s 22-meter zone) play has been lacking so far this year. We just haven’t yet figured out…as a team…what we want to do when we get close to the try zone. On that play, we just ran ourselves out of options and Belmont capitalized. That was a good portion of the story for most of the game: they took advantage of our mistakes.”
Several minutes later, another Dolphins turnover from deep within Belmont Shore territory lead to a second long distance break for the visitors, this one ending in a try to winger Matt Tracy.
The Dolphins finally answered back on a penalty goal from fly-half Brian O’Shea. O’Shea then closed the gap to 6-8 when, while playing advantage, slipped a drop goal through the uprights. Several minutes later, Santa Monica seized control of the game with their first try. Coming from a Santa Monica line-out at the Belmont 22, fullback Cremin broke through the midfield and easily scored under the posts. O’Shea converted the try and the hosts took a 13-8 lead midway through the first half.
O’Shea got did all the scoring on the next Santa Monica attack. After missing a penalty goal attempt, Belmont Shore failed to kick to touch and the Dolphins applied pressure around the breakdown area. Belmont scrumhalf Rainer Ball threw an errant pass to hooker Craig Eaton that went to ground. O’Shea scooped-up the loose ball and strolled-in under the posts unmolested. He converted his own score, putting his side up 20-8.
“We closed out the half well,” said Bratcher. “It took us a while to settle in and find a flow…and I think that cost us in the second half. Brian O’Shea (who earned Bud Light Man of the Match honors for his play) had a great half and a great game. As far as I know, he’s the first Santa Monica player in at least a decade have a try, penalty, conversion, and drop goal all in the same game.”
Starting the second half, Belmont Shore quickly seized back the momentum. On the opening kick-off, the Dolphins were penalized for holding the ball in. Belmont kicked for touch just outside of the attacking 22. From there, they set a driving maul from the lineout and drove to the Dolphins 10-meter line. Referee Lyons penalized Santa Monica for pulling the maul down and the visitors took a quick tap and prop Brice Shilling crashed over for an unconverted try.
“The first 10 minutes of the second half are always crucial and we simply did not come out and execute. The opening kick served as a microcosm of the half: we caught the kick without issue, took it up into the tackle, had plenty of support, yet we got penalized for holding in. That was such a basic error on our part. We absolutely cannot make those mistakes and expect to compete at a high level.”
Belmont went back on the attack again, kicking deep into Santa Monica’s end and forcing the Dolphins to play from within their own territory. Santa Monica’s David Hughes cleared the ball from a ruck and kicked into touch. However, Belmont took a quick throw-in and penetrated back into the Dolphins’ zone. After several phases of not breaking the Dolphins’ line, replacement flyhalf Rob Laird chipped over the defense and found a soft-spot. Hughes gave chase but a fortuitous Belmont bounce saw the ball hop away from him and into Laird’s arms. He dashed in for a try and tied the game at 20 with the conversion.
“That was just really frustrating to watch,” said Bratcher. “They got down to our goal-line, we shunted their attack and drove them back out of our red zone, and then the flyhalf puts in the kick and gets the hop. My frustration is compounded by the fact that we were so very close to getting that same hop on numerous occasions in the first half. That’s just how the ball bounces sometimes.”
Belmont took the lead for good after more sustained pressure inside the Dolphins’ zone. Santa Monica’s defense eventually broke and wing Matt Kay dotted down in the corner. The play was not without controversy in that flyhalf Laird seemingly knocked the ball on leading-up to the score.
Moving into the final quarter of the match, fullback Cremin brought Santa Monica to within four points when he kicked a long distance penalty goal. However, Belmont regained a two-score advantage when they quickly converted a Dolphins turnover into a converted try, this one coming from lock Ian Carpenter.
With seven minutes left, Santa Monica gave themselves back into striking distance when Joe Killefer scored through the midfield off of a lineout. However, Belmont closed the game out on a penalty kick from Laird and the Dolphins were left to consider what could’ve been.
“I think that, right now, we’re still trying to figure out what kind of team we want to be. We need to really increase our team rugby knowledge. We’re not making good decisions and we’re not playing cohesive rugby for 80 minutes. We have moments of brilliance but it’s just not enough against a team like Belmont Shore.
“We’re going to go back to work this week and focus on the basics. Our tackling was poor and our ball handling was appalling at times so we’ll just go back and work on it. This is a talented group but we need to be fundamentally sound.”
Score: Santa Monica Rugby Club 30 : Belmont Shore Rugby 37
Tries: Santa Monica – O’Shea, Killefer, Cremin : Belmont Shore –
Conversions: Santa Monica – O’Shea (2), Cremin : Belmont Shore – Sio (2), Laird
Penalties: Santa Monica – O’Shea, Cremin : Belmont Shore – Sio
Drop-Goal: Santa Monica – O’Shea
Line-up: 1. Guerra; 2. King (Riebli – 60); 3. Knox (Turner – 50, W. Scott – 60); 4. R. Scott; 5. Winter; 6. Kelley (Strangeway – 70); 7. McKenna; 8. Canterbury (Cooper – 50); 9. Hughes; 10. O’Shea; 11. Serfoss; 12. Killefer; 13. Ross; 14. Branham (May – 70); 15. Cremin