It was a cold, blustery day in Sin City as the 2-2 Santa Monica Rugby Club first XV opened the game against the 3-1 Las Vegas Rugby Blackjacks.
The Blackjacks played with the wind in the first period and were able to capitalize on an early SMRC penalty with a easy kick in front of the posts by Zeb Greening at the 7 minute mark of the first half (SMRC 0 – LV 3). The penalty would be the first of many awarded to the home side for Dolphin players supposedly not releasing in the rucks. “Give credit to Las Vegas, they put us under pressure when we took the ball to ground, and adapted to the calls the referee was making,” commented Head Coach Doug Bratcher.
The Blackjacks were next to get on the board with a try by prop Timote Fangupo 16 minutes into the half. The try came after a long line break, the Dolphin defense scrambled but were unable to cover Fanupo who barged over for the unconverted try (SMRC 0 – LV 8). At the 28 minute mark another line break and a scrambling Dolphin defense left enough of a gap for an unidentified Blackjack player to squeeze into the corner for a Vegas try (SMRC 0 – LV 13). “I said before the game that the wind was likely worth at least 20 points.” Bratcher said, “I was feeling pretty good that we’d only given up 13 points in the half defensively.”
Matt Strangeway an early replacement on the wing for Cameron Bunce (hamstring) got the Dolphins going forward, at the 32 minute, when he stripped his opponent at midfield and made a break. Strangeway fed flanker Eddie McKenna who found #8 Ken Aseme. Aseme received the ball and was able to outpace the Blackjack defense to touchdown. David Hughes conversion was wide left (SMRC 5 – LV 13).
The Dolphins kept the pressure on and second row Aurthur Houlihan was able to crash over in the corner for second Dolphin try on half time. Hughes conversion from the touchline was good (SMRC 12 – LV 13). “Although we started slow, we were able to exert some pressure and impose out will on them late in the half, switching ends and getting the wind in the second half we were certainly sitting in the catbird seat.”
The half opened and it took Las Vegas 3 minutes to expose a hole near midfield. Former Eagle Vaha Esikia made the Dolphins pay as he jigged and jagged downfield eventually finding pay dirt, Greening converted (SMRC 12 – LV 20). “We had issues all day with our defensive realignment and tackling. The Blackjacks are a hard running, physical team and when we missed our tackles or tried to tackle them high we got ourselves into trouble.”
The Dolphins were on attack for much of the second half and a Hughes penalty at the 49 minute mark closed the gap (SMRC 15 – LV 20). Then at the 57 minute mark fullback Nick Regas tied the game with the Bud Light Try-Of-The-Match. Hughes started the break near halfway and Strangeway got his hands on the ball before finding Regas. Regas took what little space he was given and exploded through the gap handing off one defender and outpacing several others on his way to the corner. The touchline conversion was missed (SMRC 20 – LV 20). “We had some moments of greatness throughout the match, the Regas try was one of those. He’s a young player but he works very hard to improve every time he steps onto the field.”
The game got a little stagnant as neither team was willing to concede much ground, and every ruck was contested tooth and nail. Then at the 70th minute scrumhalf Danny Carpio was sin binned. The referee had awarded a free kick from a Dolphin scrum. Danny took a couple of steps, dropped the ball, and then the ball was inadvertently kicked by one of the retreating forwards. The official awarded the penalty, gave Vegas an additional 10 meters and sent Carpio to the bin. Greening was able to make the 20 meter kick from in front of the posts (SMRC 20 – LV 23).
The Dolphins fought for the next 10 minutes to score any way possible, but the Vegas defense proved to be stout. Carpio returned for the games last minute, but Vegas was able to secure and clear the ball to ensure the victory.
“I’m pretty gutted right now. We can’t seem to win the close game, and we’ve been in a few this season already. In our three losses we’ve been outscored by a total of 13 points. The silver lining is that we still aren’t even half way through the season yet, 6 of our remaining 9 games are at home (we need to fire up the Green Machine), and that we’ve got guys returning from injury and work conflicts over the next few weeks. I am confident that we can right this ship and still attain the goals that we set at the beginning of the season.”
The Dolphins return home this weekend for three matches at Webster Middle School. At 3 p.m. the first side kicks off against OMBAC. OMBAC are currently at the top of the table and are undefeated.
SM Rugby Club- 20
Tries- Aseme, Houlihan, Regis
Las Vegas Rugby- 23
Tries- Fangupo, Esikia, unknown
Penalties- Greening 2
1-Guerra (captain) 2-King (Reibli 70th minute blood) 3-Knox (Turner 70th minute) 4-Davis (Winter 65th minute) 5-Houlihan (Scott 55th minute) 6-Kelley 7-McKenna 8-Aseme 9-Carpio 10-Hughes 11-Bunce (Strangeway 10th minute) 12-Killefer (Milford 60th minute) 13-Ross 14-Branham 15-Regas