The Long Island Rugby Club was said to be missing a few guys, but it is doubtful that the outcome of Saturday’s friendly match at East Hampton’s Herrick Park would have been any different had the Division I side come in at full strength.
Montauk too was missing a few good men, among them its captain and fly half, Gordon Trotter (shoulder, calf), who, along with the local side’s coach, Rich Brierley, kept a watchful eye on things from the sidelines. Presumably, they liked what they saw as the Sharks coasted to a 38-10 win in their final warmup for the national Sweet 16 regional in Pittsburgh over the May 12-13 weekend.
They will be tested there, for the entries will include Naples, which is second-ranked among the nation’s Division II sides, fourth-ranked Middlesex, and fifth-ranked Wisconsin. Montauk is ranked 12th on the 30-club list.
Bryan Vince, Naples’s head coach, said Monday morning that the once-defeated Hammerheads had beaten Charleston 39-16 in the south region’s championship game this past weekend. He expected, he said, that his side would play Montauk on the first day in Pittsburgh.
Brierley confirmed this later, though as of last week he had been led to believe Montauk’s probable first-round opponent would be Wisconsin, which on Saturday won the Midwest regional title by defeating the South Side Irish 42-19.
Wisconsin’s first-round opponent will be Middlesex, the Northeast champ, which, it will be recalled, bageled Montauk in the Northeast final 53-0. Mike Bunce Jr., the side’s best player and its number-eight man, had been banned from that game because he’d been red-carded near the end of a 29-8 win over Portland, Me., the day before. Also missing from Montauk in the Northeast final were two of the side’s fleet young backs, Connor Miller and Zach Brenneman.
Steve Brierly, speaking of the Sharks’ backs — who, besides Trotter, Brenneman, and Miller, include Erik Brierley (Steve’s son), Matt Brierley, Brian Anderson, Chris Bunce, Ricardo Salmeron, and James Rigby — said, following Saturday’s rout, “We’ve never had a back line like this.”
Montauk’s forward pack, with Mike Bunce, John Glennon, Jim Abran, Nick Lawler, Nick Finazzo, Ryan Borowsky, James Lock, Danny Ramirez, Paul Jones, and Jarrel Walker among them, is formidable too.
The locals began Saturday’s game on the right foot, taking Long Island’s opening kickoff and moving the ball all the way into the visitors’ try zone. Finazzo, who was to come out soon after owing to a cut over his left eye, touched the ball in the try zone, and Matt Brierley, who had not kicked well the week before, boomed an angled 22-meter conversion through the uprights for a 7-0 lead.
Soon after, Erik Brierley, Montauk’s fullback, broke away for a score, and again Matt Brierley’s kick was good for 14-0.
Noting that his son had played on the Long Island Rugby Club’s 7s team a few years ago, Steve Brierley said that despite the missing players, there were “some quick guys out there.” No sooner had he said this than the visitors’ fullback reeled off a long run whose follow-up ruck got Long Island on the scoreboard. The conversion kick was no good.
Near the end of the first half Montauk was presented with a 5-meter scrum after Long Island had massed at the goal line to prevent Walker from touching the ball down. When play resumed, the Sharks’ forwards, rolling the ball under them, pushed their peers back over the line, where Bunce touched the ball down for a 19-5 lead. Brierley’s kick was good; thus Montauk took a 21-5 lead into the halftime break.
The locals padded their lead with three tries in the second half — Erik Brierley’s runback of a would-be clearing kick, an alert pickup near the goal line by Rigby of Ryan Borowsky’s pop kick taken from about 10 yards out, and a 10-yard rush by Brian Anderson off the weakside of a scrum.
Afterward Mike Bunce Sr., Roger Miller, Rich Brierley, and Steve Brierley, all proud fathers, posed for a photo with their sons — Mike Jr. and Chris Bunce, Connor Miller, Matt Brierley, and Erik Brierley.
“We’re still trying guys out at different positions,” Rich Brierley said. “Last week, we had Zach at outside center. This week we had Matt there — he was the fullback last week. Erik was the fullback this week. Connor played fly half, Gordon’s position, and Chris Bunce, who’s new to the game, did a great job at inside center. It’s really the first time he’s played at this level. . . . Both centers need to pass well under pressure and need to tackle well. Also, Brian Anderson [the scrum half] has improved in every game. This game was his best yet.”
Rich Brierley said Monday that while he knew playing Naples would be a challenge, “We’re confident. We’ve got a good combination of youth and experience. I like our stamina and aggressiveness, and though aggressiveness sometimes leads to mistakes, we’re going to turn our young guys loose.”
“And keep in mind,” he continued, “that we’re also focusing on the future of our club. We’re happy to be in the playoffs. When the season began we thought simply to have a good season would be enough. Then, midway through it Gordon said we could go undefeated, which we did. And then we went on to play in the Northeast final. We’re very happy to be where we are.”
This Saturday at 2 p.m. the Sharks hope to hold a light intrasquad practice at Herrick with some of the old boys participating. A “casino night” at the American Legion Hall Saturday night raised about $10,000, Trotter said.