The Santa Monica Dolphins fell to the Austin Blacks by a final of 33-31on Saturday at Webster Middle School in Los Angeles. The visitors proved to be the more physical and polished side and the hosts have a benchmark for where and how much they need to improve.
The game started auspiciously for Santa Monica as they failed to cleanly handle the opening kickoff and Austin immediately went on the attack. A few offside penalties coupled with the Dolphins’ inability to get out of their own red zone on turnover ball eventually lead to the Blacks’ first try; 0-5.
Santa Monica answered back in the 30th minute when center Mathieu Lesgourgues sliced through the midfield, broke down the right sideline, and offloaded to Sean Pypers on the wing. Pypers waltzed in under the posts for an easily converted try; 7-5.
The Blacks retook the lead minutes later in rather serendipitous fashion. For most of the match, Austin relied on their big forwards to grind out meters and then kicked deep, putting the Dolphins’ back three under pressure and daring them to return fire or counter-attack. One such Austin kick worked out extremely well as the punt took an awkward hop on Pypers and landed in the arms of the Blacks’ winger, who scored under the posts; 7-12.
“There wasn’t much in it,” Pypers said of the kick. “He got a very large, very lucky hop. I was retreating on the ball but it bounced back and past me and right into their wingers arms.”
Despite generally poor play and execution – particularly at the lineout – Santa Monica did go into the half with the lead when Taylor Manavian scored off of a ruck set-up by another Lesgourgues breakaway. O’Shea was true with the extras and Santa Monica had a 14-12 lead after 40 minutes.
“It’s the little things that make a big difference,” said SMRC Coach Marc Stcherbina. “We’d get into the attacking zone with a lineout and then overthrow the jumper because the lift didn’t come quickly enough. We’d knock-on an easy pass because we didn’t finish our passes or run tighter lines. These are all things that will obviously improve over time and with more games under our belt. That stated, we obviously need to play better than we did in that first half.”
Unfortunately, the Dolphins did not answer their coach’s call, spending long stretches of time playing defense and frittering away the scoring opportunities they did have. Austin scored three times in the 3rd period before Santa Monica finally got off the mat and played inspired rugby. Down 33-12 with 15 minutes to go, flyhalf O’Shea started chipping the ball over the defensive midfield into the open space between first attackers and fullback. The Blacks employed a combination of rush defense in the centers and deep wings and fullback. This made it difficult for Santa Monica centers Lesgourgues and Mitch Raisch to run into space but also prevented O’Shea for kicking for field position. The switch in attacking technique paid dividends for Santa Monica as it lead to two successive tries by Pypers (his 2nd on the day) and his wing partner, Chinedu Okolo; 26-33.
Down by a try with 1 minute to play, the Dolphins took possession and worked their way into the scoring zone with strong runs by Lesgourgues and replacement flanker Ken Aseme. Referee Nick Ricono penalized Austin 5-meters from the goal line for offsides and the forwards crashed up with a series of rucks. Hooker Chris Baumann eventually found pay-dirt in the corner but the extreme angle proved too difficult for O’Shea. Final score: 31-33.
“It’s a start,” said Captain Andy O’Conner. “Obviously not where we want to be in terms of execution. The guys played hard and we fought back to make it a game.”
Of note: Young Santa Monica winger Badra Wilson suffered what appeared to be a nasty head injury in the game. After making a blistering 80-meter run down the pitch, sidestepping multiple Austin defenders, Wilson did not land well in the tackle situation and was unconscious. He reports that he’s doing wll but please keep Badra in your thoughts.
TRIES: Pypers (2), Manavian, Okolo, Baumann
CONVERSIONS: O’Shea (3)
1. James Murray, 2. Chris Baumann, 3. Danny Hill, 4. Rob Cleere, 5. Zac Winter, 6. Jabari Zuberi, 7. Taylor Manavian, 8. Philip Lydeard, 9. Andy O’Connor, 10. Brian O’Shea, 11. Sean Pypers, 12. Mitch Raisch, 13. Mathieu Lesgourgues, 14. Chinedu Okolo, 15. Stuart Sharpe, 16. Luis De La Torre, 17. John Corr, 18. Ken Aseme, 19. Badra Wilson, 21. Martial Chaput