The Montauk Rugby Club is entering the playoffs with barely the number it needs, having lost — until further notice — about a dozen players, some of them veterans, in recent months.
The Sharks, who are to play in a regional final at Princeton, N.J., over the weekend of May 4 and 5, are down to 18 players given the fact that the side no longer has the services of, among others, Scott Abran, Zach Brenneman, Mark Scioscia, Nick Finazzo (fractured orbital), Christopher Bunce, Robby Grau (knee), Matt Brierley (shoulder), Danny Ramirez, and Mike Bunce Jr., a national-caliber forward who has retired because of concussion problems dating to his high school football days, at the age of 27.
Asked if he might play at Princeton, Rich Brierley, the Sharks’ 54-year-old coach, said, “I might.”
“And then there’s always Bert [Wiegand],” this writer said. “He’d probably come flying if you asked him.”
“Yes,” said Brierley, “he’s a year older than me.”
At any rate, Montauk, whose remaining stalwarts look fit, had no trouble in handling Newport, R.I., here in a friendly game Saturday, by a score of 46-17. It was the first home game of the spring for the Sharks, who, said Brierley, had lost two recent friendlies to White Plains and the Long Island Rugby Club, having begun the spring season with a tournament appearance on Randalls Island in March.
“We were competitive in those games we lost,” Brierley added. “Often, a loss helps you improve more than a win.”
Bryan Anderson, Montauk’s scrum half, who is relatively new to the game, having replaced the Irish-born Andy Reilly at that position a few years ago, led the way Saturday. “He played a great game,” Brierley said later. Anderson scored two of the side’s eight tries. Connor Miller, the inside center, scored two, and John Glennon, the hooker, Jim Abran, the number-eight man, Gordon Trotter, the New Zealand-born fly half, and Pat Gant, a wing, whose third start it was, each scored one. Gant’s, moreover, was his first try ever, Brierley said.
When told the side, which also included Danny Fagan, Ryan Borowsky, Nick Lawler, Jarrel Walker, Shane O’Keeffe, and Erik Brierley, the coach’s nephew, among others, looked fit, the elder Brierley said, “Our fitness level is improving. It’s especially important because we’re trying to get everyone, forwards included, involved in our offense.”
“Without giving away any secrets, it’s a different plan of attack than we’ve used in the past — we don’t want to get stuck in a monotonous pattern of play, so we’ve been changing things up. . . . We’re asking our forwards to handle the ball as well as the backs. In certain situations, everyone is an attacker.”
Four teams from the Empire Geographical Union region, one that comprises sides in upstate New York, Connecticut, Long Island, and New Jersey, are to vie at Princeton, on a field in nearby Monmouth, “about three hours from here.”
Montauk and Princeton are to vie at 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 4, while Danbury, which finished undefeated atop Montauk’s division in the fall, with Montauk the runner-up, at 6-1, is to play the Rockaway-Montclair winner that day. “It’s one-and-done,” said Brierley, “though if we lose Saturday, we’ll play in the consolation game Sunday.” The regional championship game is to be played that day at noon. Montauk and Danbury did not play each other last fall.
Only the top team from Princeton will advance. Division II’s national Sweet 16 tourney (in which Montauk vied last year in Pittsburgh) is to be played in Virginia Beach, Va., over the weekend of May 18 and 19. Again, only the top side will advance to the Final Four in Glendale, Colo., which is to be contested the first weekend in June.
It’s a long row to hoe, though Montauk has gone all the way to Final Fours before.
The side is to benefit from a “casino night” at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett on Saturday from 7 to 10 p.m. “We had it at the American Legion last year, and did well,” said Brierley. “We’ll have gambling games — roulette, black jack, craps, and poker — with fun money, and there will be lots of prizes.”