The Phoenix Rises Again, Yet Is Felled in a Friendly

There were many new faces at Saturday’s “friendly” here with White Plains, including those of Peter Vaziri and Taylor Harned, recent East Hampton High School grads
White Plains’s forwards and backs were hard to bring down. Craig Macnaughton

    The Montauk Rugby Club, like the Phoenix, has arisen from its ashes, a reincarnation that didn’t seem all that likely last October when a story on these pages bore the headline, “Sharks’ Swan Song?”

    The question mark proved to be a wise hedge, for there were many new faces at Saturday’s “friendly” here with White Plains, including those of Peter Vaziri and Taylor Harned, recent East Hampton High School grads.

    Asked how long he’d played rugby, Vaziri, a freshman at Ithaca College who was to start at winger, replied, “One week.” Harned, a sophomore at Eckard College in Florida, plays on the club side there, either at flanker or center. He started as well on Saturday.

    The lopsided result, 53-19, was a foregone conclusion, for White Plains is a Division 1 entry. Montauk is in Division III at the moment.

    Charlie Whitmore, who founded this club more than 40 years ago, put in an appearance on the sidelines in the early going, and was, if more than anything, gratified that there were still young guys who wanted to carry on the tradition.

    “These guys look like we were when we began,” he said, with a smile. “The first 10 years we didn’t win a game, and then for the next 10 we didn’t lose one.”

    “They’re athletic,” he said as Vaziri took off on a 40-yard run into the middle of the field, at which point he flung the ball up into the air, toward no one in particular. “They just need the experience.”

    The game was arranged by Rich Brierley, Montauk’s coach, and White Plains’s president, Mike Matkovic. “Rich and Gordon [Trotter] play for our Old Boys’ side,” Matkovic, the A side’s former number-eight, said before the game began. We’ve played together at Saranac Lake.”

    “We haven’t been out here for a while, so it was a no-brainer,” he added, asking if this writer knew Chris Carney and Frank Bistrian, the latter a resident of Greenwich, Conn., now, and the former a quasi-retiree. He also asked for Garth Wakeford, whose stiff-arm of him in a long ago Montauk-White Plains game made it onto the Internet.

    The visitors asserted themselves quickly, ripping the ball out of Montauk players’ hands in rucks, and running with it the other way.

    Defensively, things were even worse. “Hit somebody!” Connor Miller, who was soon to join the fray, shouted from the sidelines. “Come up!”

    “Play him out!” Miller shouted, in vain, as a White Plains cut back inside on his way to the visitors’ fourth try of the afternoon.

    It was 27-0 when Montauk finally got on the scoreboard, but it was a nifty try, Vaziri rushing alertly in to pick up at the 5-meter line a Montauk kick that bounced up into his hands.

    “He’s good,” said another former player, Tek Vakalaloma. “He’s just got to learn the game.”

    With some of the regulars, including Miller, Ryan Borowsky, Steve Turza, and Jim Abran, in the lineup after the break, things went a tad better in the second half, though the visitors continued to roll.

    Montauk’s bright spots in that half were a 70-yard scoring run by Miller, to which James Stones added the conversion kick, and a try following a penalty assessed White Plains within its 5-meter line by the Sharks’ hooker, Michael Earley. Stones’s drop kick accounted for Montauk’s last 2 points.

    “Defense was the problem,” Miller said as he walked off the field.

    “We played better together in the second half,” said Borowsky, the side’s president, “but there were a lot of willy-nilly passes.”

    The team’s next appearance this summer will be in Montauk in mid-August. “We’ll be playing with a new Long Island team,” said B.A. Anderson, Montauk’s scrum half.

    He added that Montauk’s Casino Night will be June 14 at the American Legion Hall in Amagansett. Sponsors are being sought for the blackjack, three-card poker, craps, and roulette tables.

    The team practices at Herrick Park in East Hampton on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

    “Absolutely, everyone is welcome,” said Anderson.