The annual Fullerton International High School Rugby Tournament, now celebrating its 10th year, saw Santa Monica go unbeaten in five games — against some of the leading high schools and clubs in the U.S. and Canada — to bring home the championship trophy.
Santa Monica opened their first game early Saturday with a very tough encounter against the Texans from Westlake (unbeaten in high school league season). This game was a true dogfight from start to finish with neither team prepared to give an inch to the other. The primary difference between the teams was that Santa Monica held on to their possession, controlled the line-out well, and ground their way over for two fine tries from flyhalf Alex Walsh, both of which he also converted. Westlake suffered from poor passing under constant pressure from Santa Monica whose defense held strong and produced a well deserved 19-10 win. Mention should go to hooker Willie Hock for leading the charge up front with prop Benny Gonda in support, intelligent running lines by Conor Lydon, the Heaney brothers Cormac and Tom with their good tackling, and flanker Michael Chandler who ran around defenders at will.
Santa Monica hit their straps in their second match with strong set piece work versus Pleasanton. The Dolphins were first to the breakdown which enabled quick recycled ball to their hard working scrumhalf Cameron Scott, resulting in tries to flanker Michael Chandler, No 8 Conor Lydon, and one each to speedy wingers Kevin Inouie and Boris Mitrafanov, who raced away to beat three defenders for the best try of the day. Walsh converting two for a final score of 24- 0.
The third match on Saturday saw the Dolphins beat a lively Santa Clarita team 15-0. Santa Monica forwards wore down the Santa Clarita team up front and eventually opened up large midfield gaps resulting in tries from Nate Peterson, Joseph Ekpo and Cormac Heaney.
Sunday’s semi-final matched Santa Monica against a fit Malvern High School team from Toronto, Canada. Thanks to great defense and excellent play from scrumhalf Cameron Scott and flyhalf Alex Walsh, and long runs from prop Benny Gonda that broke the Malvern defense and hearts, the Dolphins sailed to a 33-10 victory. Gonda scored twice and Santa Monica finished with further tries from Cormac Heaney, Tom Heaney, and two from Olan Moon-White. Walsh made four out of the five conversions.
Santa Monica took on Fullerton in the final, with a large local partisan crowd cheering on the home team. The locals were silenced in the first minute when Tom Heaney caught Walsh’s perfect kick-off and then, after getting tackled into touch, stole the ball from the the Fullerton throw-in at the lineout. The ball was passed along the Santa Monica line and when center Parker Lynch was tackled at the Fullerton 22, Heaney was there to take the pass and get the first score in the left corner.
Fullerton came back fighting and their big powerful forwards kept pounding their way down the field. However, Dolphin defense held strong and an excellent counte-attack from lock forwards Ian Joust and Adam Hernando led to a 40-meter penalty from Walsh to put Santa Monica ahead 8-0. This was soon followed by a great try from the tenacious Lynch to put Santa Monica ahead 13-0 at halftime.
Fullerton came out fighting in the second half and it took tremendous defense and discipline from Santa Monica to hold them out during a six-minute stand on the Santa Monica try-line. Scrumhalf Scott led the team to a great try when he raced down the field and offloaded to center Ekpo from a tap penalty with five minutes to go. Fullerton never gave up but Santa Monica defense was just too strong on the day and the Dolphins held onto their 18-0 lead for a worthy victory.
Coach Charlie Lydon was very complimentary of the tournament organizers and officials: “Ladera Vista School is fabulous location for this tournament and the organizers and referees made this a great weekend of rugby for all the teams that travelled.” He added that he loves this tournament, “as it allows us the opportunity to play great teams from across the country and Canada. We have a lot of boys on our team who played on the winning team last year and they were delighted to win the trophy again. The final match against Fullerton was a thriller to watch with great rugby from both teams, and the difference was our teamwork and defense held firm when we were under pressure, led by our fabulous captains Willy Hock and Alex Walsh.”