No Shuffling Off to Buffalo for the Montauk Rugby Club

A 45-17 first-round playoff loss
The Sharks could field only the minimum for the April 8 Empire Geographic Union rugby playoff game in Fairlawn, N.J., with a predictable result. Craig Macnaughton

Last fall, after it became known that the Montauk Rugby Club had squeaked into the Empire Geographic Region’s playoffs’ top eight — as the seventh seed — Charlie Collins, a club spokesman, said he thought the Sharks could make a run.

But it was not to be. Montauk, with the minimum of 15 players, was handed a 45-17 first-round playoff loss by the second-seeded North Jersey R.C. in Fairlawn, N.J., on April 8.

Collins said during a conversation at The Star Friday afternoon that had the Sharks been at full strength the outcome could have been different. Certainly, he said, the score would have been closer.

North Jersey went in — and continues to be — undefeated, while the locals finished the fall season at 5-2-1.

“We were simply undermanned,” said Collins, who began playing the game when he was a student at Boston College. “Rich Brierley, who’s pushing 60, played the whole game, on the wing, and the other wing, Sebastian Antonio, who’s from Westhampton, had never played a rugby game in his life. It was a baptism by fire for him, I guess. Actually, he played quite well.”

“Four of our guys — Jim Abran, James Rigby, Niall Toomey, and Thomas Houghton — were on the sidelines with injuries,” Collins continued. “John Glennon didn’t make it — he’s sort of retired — Scott Abran was coaching baseball, and Bryan Anderson, who was supposed to fly up from North Carolina, had his flight delayed and then canceled twice. So, we were missing a lot, and, consequently, a lot of guys played out of position.”

Also, in the off-season, two of “the Irish guys,” Philip Roche and Brendan Cosgrave, went back to Ireland. Other key players missing that day were Conner Miller and Brenden Mott.

Montauk’s lineup included, besides the above-named and Collins, the following: Axel Alanis, George Calderon, Josh King, Dane Riva, James Lock, Kevin Brabant, Ronan Curran, Chris Tobin, Nick Lawler, Steve Turza, Graham Fynes, and Shane O’Keefe.

“We controlled the ball in the first 20 minutes,” said Collins. “We kicked off to start the game, took the ball back, and drove to within 10 yards of their try zone. They were penalized there and Shane tried a penalty kick, but missed. It wasn’t a direct one. Then we got the ball back again and drove to their 5-meter line. Again, they fouled. This time, we tapped it and tried to run it in, but there was a knock-on,” a fumble forward.

“Then we had a couple of yellow cards, so we had to play a man-down for 10 minutes at a time. We kind of ran out of steam as the game went on, though we had two scores by halftime, one by George and one by Josh, young guys who came up to us from Kevin Bunce’s youth program.”

(Another of Bunce’s protégés, Brandon Johnson, a student at Mount St. Mary’s, is reportedly ranked among the country’s top-50 in rugby.)

Montauk’s third try was scored by Riva, who was playing fly half.

“Though while we basically didn’t have enough people to compete in a playoff game — they thought they were going to roll — we gave them a tough game,” Collins said. “In a way, it wasn’t so awful, it wasn’t the end of the world. If we’d won, we would have had to travel to Buffalo!”

The club, he said, would soon begin its Tuesday and Thursday evening practices at East Hampton’s Herrick Park. Collins said he was also working on getting some friendly games in the spring and summer, though, at the moment, there was nothing to report on that front. “Teams like to come out here . . . we’re gracious hosts.”