by Dominic Riebli
In what initially had the makings of a calamitous affair, Santa Monica defeated the British 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery rugby team (7 Para RHA),24-14 yesterday at Webster Field. Despite having not played in about a month and fielding a mixed-and-matched side of First, Second, and Third team players, the Dolphins showed surprising continuity, discipline, and commitment in holding a lead for the entire 80 minutes of play.
“Things really didn’t look too sunny when, at 5 minutes to kick-off, we only had 16 total players and some of the first XV had yet to arrive. In the pregame huddle, the Irish boys, Brian O’Shea and Alistair Ross, gave us a rousing speech that was something to the effect of, ‘Let’s not go out and embarrass ourselves.’ That’s one thing about the Irish: they’re eternal optimists.”
Said Ross: “We obviously hadn’t trained in a while and I’ve never played with some of the guys on the field…I mean, I didn’t even know the left wing…so I just said to the boys, ‘Look, let’s not go out and lose 50-to-nil.az’”
“I thought we’d be lucky to get nil,” O’Shea added.
Whatever it was — the speech or the truncated pregame warm-up — the Dolphins came out and set the tone for the day with disciplined, hard-hitting defense and field position offense. 8-man and Captain Ken Aseme, playing a spirited match against his countrymen, lead the defensive charge along with flankers and brothers Pete and Giovanni Roses. The loose forwards did a fantastic job of making their first-up tackles and neutralizing the Paras’ assaults. The midfield combination of O’Shea, Ross, and Cris Erdtsieck took advantage of their speed against their larger opposite numbers by running wide and kicking behind the defense. O’Shea’s tactical kicks to touch paid dividends as the U.K. had trouble throwing the ball in straight, thus leading to several turnovers deep in their own territory.
One such turnover lead to opening score of the match as, off of a lineout inside the attacking 22, the Santa Monica forwards attempted to maul the ball in for a try. The Paras held their ground and shunted the attack near the 5-meter line. After a couple pick-and-drives from the pack, scrumhalf Danny Carpio got the ball out to the backline where Ross ran a cutback line and drew in more defenders. Carpio recycled the ball to O’Shea, who found an overlap outside and hit Aseme for a try in the corner. O’Shea missed the conversion but responded several minutes later when he executed a deft drop-kick from just outside the U.K. 22, putting his side up 8-0.
“We were playing advantage and I didn’t have many support runners so I just put it to the boot. From that point forward, I think we really started to get a bit of confidence in ourselves that we could take the game. Within 30 minutes, we evolved from apprehensive to questionable to confident. It was really nice to see.”
The Paras answered back to close out the first half with a converted try from a driving maul.
“Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have told the boys to defend our goalline as if it were the Falkland Islands,” said O’Shea. “But truth be told, Alistair shares part of the blame. I was searching a rallying cry and yelled, ‘Come boys, let’s defend our line as if it were…’ I started to fumble for the right analogy when Ali chimed in with ‘the Falkland Islands!’ It sounded good enough so I went with it. After the game, I went home and looked it up on Wikipedia; turns out Ali’s full of shite. It’s like the old Irish saying goes, ‘Never trust a Cork-man to give it to you straight when it comes to 1980’s English military campaigns.’”
The half finished at 8-7, with the home side changing directions and working downhill.
“We regrouped after the score and agreed that we’d pound the corners with the kicking game and force them to hit their lineouts and run out of their own zone,” said O’Shea.
And that’s exactly what the Dolphins did. O’Shea, Carpio and reserve back Kelly Serfoss all took advantage of the southern contour of the field and the easterly current of the wind to continually boot the ball to the southeast corner. True to plan, the Paras struggled to run it out of their end and conceded a penalty in the midfield. O’Shea converted the penalty kick, putting his side up 11-7.
The fly half hit two more penalty goals through midpoint of the second half to stake his side to a 10 point lead. “Getting up 10 was really important for our confidence,” said hooker Riebli. “Whenever you get up two scores in the second half, you know that the other side has to chase the game and may start to press.”
On the ensuing restart from O’Shea’s third penalty goal, the kick went to scrumhalf Carpio inside his 22. Carpio fed the ball to Serfoss, who unleashed a booming kick that traveled all the way to the opposing 22.
“Kelly’s got a boot on him, that’s for sure,” said Ross. “After that, we really started to feel the winds at our backs. Paras are such a tough group of individuals. We’re glad that we just caught them early in their tour at a time when maybe their continuity wasn’t what it will be 1-2 games from now. We’re honored just to get to host them; winning was just an amazing bonus.”
Flanker Pete Roses closed out the scoring for his team in the 70th minute after the Dolphins had worked an attacking lineout from the left to the right side of the field. Center Erdtsieck found a half gap and broke the gain line. He was tackled just outside of the attacking 22, where winger Chris Clay and Serfoss cleaned the ruck. Carpio served-up a short pop pass to 8-man Aseme, who looked to be isolated in the midfield. Aseme fought to stay on his feet until prop Keaton Nasser, who had an absolutely outstanding game at tighthead (the Paras’ loosehead prop actually players in the English Premiereship), arrived in support. Carpio recycled the ball to O’Shea, who found Roses in the gap and sent the flanker on his way to paydirt, putting his side up 24-7.
The Paras scored a consolation try with five minutes left to go but the day ultimately belonged to Aseme, O’Shea, and the Dolphins.
Santa Monica Rugby Club would like to thank the 7th Parachute Regiment rugby team for playing in the game and for their service in defense of our freedom.
Stay tuned for for more Santa Monica news and next week’s match against storied Blackheath Rugby.