by Dominic Riebli
The Santa Monica Dolphins traveled up to San Francisco for an afternoon match against 2ndplace San Francisco Golden Gate in Round 6 of the Pacific Rugby Premiership. In a match where neither side had a lead of more than seven points, the game ended in an 22-22 draw. Though not a high-scoring affair, the action remained intense for 80 minutes, with both sides playing stout defense and aggressive offense.
The Dolphins saw their first opportunity to score go wide as flyhalf Harry Bennett missed a penalty kick from 30 meters out at the 8-minute mark. Receiving the 22-meter dropout, scrumhalf Charlie Purdon made a darting run back into the attacking zone. Wing Sean Pypers got held-up in the tackle on the recycle; awarding SFGG with a scrum. Tighthead prop Epi Kalemani got a tremendous strike-and-drive, pushing the opposition’s front row back and off its axis. The pressure lead to an errant pass into the backline, where SFGG center Mile Pulu tried to clean up and reset his line. He got isolated in the tackle and lock Zac Winter pounced on the tackled player and ball. Pulu was penalized for holding-on and Bennett slotted the kick from in front of the posts. 3-0 Santa Monica.
The hosts answered back in the 20th minute off of a Santa Monica miscue. Finding themselves with a lineout near their own goal line, the Dolphins failed to connect on the throw-in. SFGG lock Brendan Daly intercepted the ball and drove toward the goal. Hooker Chris Baumann pulled Daly down just short of the line but prop Patrick Latu got the quick recycle and crashed over for a try. Flyhalf Volney Rouse missed the conversion. 3-5 SFGG after the first quarter of play.
“We were uneven through the first 20,” said Santa Monica Head Coach Greg Commins. “We were fantastic in the scrums but pretty terrible in the lineouts. The front row really saved our bacon on several occasions there by driving them back and putting pressure on their 8-man and scrummie. Epi, Chris, and Rob (Cleere) really set the tone for how we would go. You could tell it was going to a be a dogfight and I think the boys really responded to the intensity of the situation. That stated, we let ourselves down in the lineout. Either the communication or execution simply wasn’t there early on and it cost us.”
The Dolphins came ever so close to responding in the 24th minute. From the kickoff after San Francisco’s score, the home side attempted to run out of their own end but turned the ball over in the tackle area. Santa Monica had two attacking opportunities that each ended in an SFGG knock-on and a scrum restart. Setting up near the right hash just inside the 10-meter line, the ball went out to Dolphins weak side wing Sean Pypers, who added himself into the midfield behind centers Mitch Raisch and Stuart Sharpe. He spotted a crease and burst through the defensive line. Now into the secondary, Pypers cut back against SFGG fullback Pita Moala and into the arms of flanker Opeti Okusi. Pypers spun out of the tackle and extended the ball over the goalline for what seemed like a beautifully executed set-piece try. Unfortunately, the referee ruled that he lost control of the ball before applying downward pressure. Scrum to the hosts.
SFGG worked their way out of the jam and the action went back-and-forth for the next 15 minutes. In the 38th minute, Rouse kicked a short penalty after SFGG pressure resulted in a penalty inside of the Santa Monica zone. 3-8 San Francisco.
The Dolphins closed out the half with a try that tied the game at 8. After SFGG Hooker Neill Barrett received a penalty at midfield for punching scrumhalf Purdon, flyhalf Bennett kicked for the corner and set his team up for an attacking lineout just outside of San Francisco’s line. From there, Bennett popped a short ball to Raisch running through a gap. The Santa Monica center got pulled down right just before touching down in front of the posts. Purdon flung the ball wide to the right sideline where fullback Martial Chaput stepped his man and dove for the goal. Chaput was also denied by the SFGG defense but flanker Philip Lydeard would not be. He found a crease on the right flank and dove over for the score. Bennett missed the conversion. 8-8 tie.
Coming out of the half, the sides exchanged kicks and jostled for field position for ten minutes. From a SFGG lineout at the fifty, center Pulu connected with fullback Moala on a cutback. He drew two defenders and was then able to pop the ball back to Pulu wrapping around his outside. Pulu faked a pass out wide and ran through a gap back inside. With one defender to beat, Pulu passed to center Seamus Kelly and he dragged a couple tacklers over the line for the score. Rouse hit the conversion. 8-15 SFGG.
Fortune played to the guests’ favor on the next score as Santa Monica scored against the flow of play. SFGG maintained possession of the kick-off and methodically worked their way downfield. After a driving maul brought them from a 22-meter line all the way to the 5-meter mark, the Dolphins dug deep and shunted the flow. By applying pressure around the tackle area, Santa Monica forced scumhalf Don Pati to throw a poor pass to wing Bubba Jones. Jones offloaded to Rouse, who took the tackle. Center Pulu muffed Pati’s recycle and flanker Philip Lydeard streaked onto the loose ball and chipped it forward. The short kick sat up perfectly and he was off to the races. With San Francisco players in pursuit, Lydeard offloaded to Raisch and the center ran the final 60 meters for an end-to-end try. Bennett converted. 15-15 tie.
Santa Monica nearly retook the lead in the 70th minute. From an SFGG penalty at the fifty, Purdon quickly tapped and challenged the midfield. He offloaded to 8-man Patrick Roberts who then connected with Bennett coming around the far side. A nice show of hands eventually got to Pypers on a cutback. Pypers dashed for the line and offloaded to Raisch just 10-meters out. Bennett recycled to Purdon and the 9-come-10 dummied and tucked inside near the left hash; coming up a meter short of the line. Wing Phil Osbourne’s pick-and-drive got shunted and then Bennett passed out to Purdon on the short side. Purdon popped to Roberts and the 8-man dove for the line only to get held up in the tackle. SFGG pressure in the ensuing scrum caused Roberts to knock-on and turn the ball over.
SFGG won their put-in and cleared their zone. From the lineout, Santa Monica attempted to find holes near the sidelines but San Francisco’s defense held strong. After several phases, flyhalf Bennett kicked into the right corner, looking to pressure the ensuing throw-in. Fortunately, the oblong ball took a wicked hop over SFGG wing Pila Huihui and back toward Dolphins wing Pypers. He dashed a few meters and offloaded to 8-man Roberts, who then connected with wing Osbourne. Bennett hit the extras. 22-15 Santa Monica with 8 minutes to play.
Unfortunately, the Dolphins could not hold the hosts out as a series of offside penalties put SFGG into prime attacking position with a lineout on the 5-meter mark. Santa Monica then got called for successive penalties for collapsing the maul, giving SFGG the freedom to play with an advantage to spare. After shunting two sequences of attack, the Dolphins concede a try in the 78th minute off of a pick-and-drive from replacement flanker Thomas Nabbs. Rouse tied the game on the conversion and that’s how it would end.
“Though it’s not a victory, I want to congratulate the boys…not just on the effort, but on the way they played,” said Commins. “We’ve talked in the past about our rugby IQ and how we need to play smarter. Coming out of that Glendale game where we committed a lot of unforced errors, we knew we had a lot of room to improve.
“This is probably the smartest game of rugby we’ve played this season; not the best, but the smartest. Even with the missed opportunities, we had more control over the flow of play because we made the right decisions at the right times. Again, a tremendous effort from everyone who took the pitch today. Hopefully this is the game that gets us over the hurdle against the teams at the top of the table.”
Santa Monica go into their bye week and the halfway point of the season with a record of 2-3-1 and are currently in 4th place with a game in-hand over the competition. The Dolphins will host down freeway rivals Belmont Shore on March 21st.
- Rob Cleere
- Chris Baumann
- Epi Kalemani
- Ken Aseme
- Zac Winter
- Philip Lydeard
- Taylor Manavian (Pretorius – 60)
- Patrick Roberts
- Charlie Purdon
- Harry Bennett
- Philip Osbourne
- Mitchell Raisch
- Stuart Sharpe
- Sean Pypers
- Martial Chaput
- Danny Hill
- Andrew Stock
- Van Aarde Pretorius
- Jabari Zuberi
- Sebastien Kamyab
- Badra Wilson
Tries: Lydeard, Raisch, Osbourne
Conversions: Bennett (2)
Penalties: Bennett (1)