The Bulked-Up Montauk Rugby Sharks Can Taste It

Paul Jones - Montauk Rugby
Paul Jones, with the ball above, has been described by Rich Brierley as “the key to our rotation.” Jack Graves

    With 29 players on its roster, among them a number of athletes who’ve made their marks in other sports such as football, lacrosse, and wrestling — even baseball — the Montauk Rugby Club has great expectations for the Met Union’s Division II fall season.
    The side tied for fourth in the eight-team league last year, missing out on the playoffs by one point. The team that went to the playoffs, North Jersey, fell to the Sharks in a division opener Saturday by a score of 42-36.
    The locals, who traveled with 22, jumped out to a 22-10 lead by halftime, though North Jersey came back to take a 36-35 lead with four or five minutes to go, according to Rich Brierley, Montauk’s coach.
    Ricardo Salmeron, who was playing fullback that day, clinched the win, assisted by Mike Bunce, Montauk’s premier player, who had swept the weak side of a scrum before passing off. Though Salmeron touched the ball down in a corner of North Jersey’s try zone, Gordon Trotter’s angled two-point conversion kick was good for the aforementioned 42-36 final.
    Salmeron scored two tries for the Sharks that day, with Mark Scioscia (an all-Big East lacrosse player when he was at Villanova), Zach Brenneman (a lacrosse pro and former Notre Dame all-American playing in his first rugby game), and Brenden Mott at one each. Trotter’s kicking accounted for 12 points.
Montauk’s core, said Rich Brierley, comprises Bunce, who plays for Boston’s Super League side in the spring and was Montauk’s most valuable player last season, Scott and James Abran, Danny Fagin, and Nick Lawler, all of them forwards.
But the list of those playing forward positions doesn’t end there. In addition to the above-named there are Jarrel Walker, who played football for C.W. Post and arena football upon graduation; Connor Miller, a former wrestler;  Hamish Cuthbertson and James Lock, each of whom Brierley rates highly, and Paul Jones, an impact player, “the key to our rotation.”
Montauk’s forward pack, then, is packed. “As they say,” said Brierley. “Your forwards decide whether you win or lose, and your backs decide by how much.”
Trotter, after having played sparingly last fall, is back to lead the backs from his fly-half position. This group also includes Ryan Borowsky, at inside center, Scioscia, at outside center, Salmeron, at fullback, and Brian Powell, Brenneman, Mott, and Erik Brierley on the wings. Matt Brierley, Rich Brierley’s son, has a broken arm at the moment, though he may be back in action in the next couple of weeks.
Andy Reilly’s retirement a couple of years ago left the Sharks with a big hole to fill at scrum half, but Brierley reported Monday that Brian Anderson had been impressive in his scrum half debut. “He and Gordon are essentially the links between the forwards and the backs, and they worked well together,” said the coach, who filled in at scrum half at times last season.
    “It’s a difficult position — you have to play smart around the breakdowns, you have to be quick off the penalties . . . it’s a position you have to play a lot, though Brian has been one of our biggest pluses.”
    In the old days, when Montauk made appearances in national Final Fours, “We’d get two or three new players a year,” said Brierley. “We got six or seven this year. Moreover, they’re local, and they’re U.S. citizens. Even our foreign-born players are U.S. citizens now.”
    Asked if the side had any weaknesses, Brierley replied, “Ball-handling — trying to make passes under pressure. If you drop the ball in rugby that’s a turnover. But it will come in time.”
    Montauk has a bye this Saturday, but will be home to the Princeton Athletic Club on Saturday, Sept. 24. Danbury (Conn.) is to play here on Oct. 1. Montauk is to play Lansdowne in New York City on Oct. 8. Union (New Jersey) is to play here on Oct. 15. The Sharks are to play at Bayonne on Oct. 22, and at Rockaway on Oct. 29. The regular season is to end with the Connecticut Yankees here on Nov. 5.
    Brierley said he thinks “the two Connecticut teams” will be Montauk’s biggest rivals.