Rugby: Sharks’ Swan Song?

Garth Wakeford said the local side’s days might be numbered.
Gordon Trotter, clearing the ball above in advance of a would-be Danbury blocker, would welcome young blood. Craig Macnaughton

    Following Saturday’s disappointing 20-19 defeat at the hands of the Danbury (Conn.) Rugby Club, Garth Wakeford, once his fellow Montauk R.C. players were gathered around, said the local side’s days might be numbered.

    Danbury scored in the final minutes with Montauk playing a man down — Erik Brierley, its Olympic-hopeful fullback, who now lives in Narragansett, R.I., having been sent to the sidelines for pushing an opponent.

    As game time approached at East Hampton’s Herrick Park, the Sharks were still looking for a few more good men, and, with the arrival of Steve Brierley, Erik’s 53-year-old father, who told this writer he hadn’t played in 15 years, Connor Miller, Paul Jones, John Glennon, and Tom Flight, they managed to field the requisite 15.

    The week before, Montauk, which has four games remaining on its Empire Rugby Union schedule — and has yet to win one — had to forfeit an away match with the Connecticut Yankees because it was shorthanded.

    “We’ve got to make a decision, and sooner rather than later,” said Wakeford. “Is this our swan song?”

    There have been periodic rumors over the years of the 40-year-old club’s demise, but, like the Phoenix, it has always risen from its ashes.

    Bryan Anderson, the side’s young scrum half, when asked a couple of weeks ago if he didn’t have friends who might take to rugby’s rough and tumble, said most of them had had to move away.

    Still, Gordon Trotter, who may be nearing the end of his playing career — as is Wakeford — wondered out loud why the sons and nephews of guys who had played the sport two to three  decades ago weren’t prospects.

    “We only got one guy, Brendan Cosgrove, who played today,” Rich Brierley said, when asked how Montauk’s recruiting party at the Montauk Brewing Company had gone the week before.

    “I think part of the problem,” Rich Brierley said, “is that the younger guys on our side, many of whom I coached when we had our youth rugby program, have grown up knowing what it’s like to belong to something bigger than themselves, to a team, while the guys who haven’t had that experience don’t look at it that way — they’re thinking only of themselves, of maybe getting hurt rather than dishing it out.”

    Although Danbury came with a large side, enabling it to substitute freely, Montauk put up a fight.

    Erik Brierley, who’s training with the New England Olympic Development Academy in Boston, thus positioning himself for a possible U.S. Olympic 7’s berth in Brazil next year, scored first, floating a high kick into Danbury’s try zone where he took the ball from the receiver and touched it down.

    Trotter’s points-after kick fell shy of the posts, leaving Montauk with a 5-0 lead.

    On several occasions thereafter in the first half, Shark attacks were repelled owing to turnovers inside the 22-meter line.

    The visitors made good a penalty kick in the 16th minute, for 5-3, after which Brierley broke away on a 45-yard ramble before Steve Daige, one of the forwards, fumbled forward, a “knock-on” in rugby parlance.

    Despite being a man down in the final minutes of the first half — Miller having been yellow-carded for pushing — Montauk staged a staunch goal-line stand that prevented Danbury from scoring.

    The locals continued to play a man down in the opening minutes of the second half until, in the 45th minute, Miller re-entered the fray. Wakeford came out five minutes later with a pulled chest muscle. Steve Brierley replaced him.

    Danbury made good another penalty kick in the 60th minute to take a 6-5 lead. But in the 73rd, Montauk struck again as Miller broke away on a 20-yard run into Danbury’s try zone after receiving a lateral from Trotter. Trotter’s conversion kick was good this time for a 12-6 Montauk lead.

    Jim Abran, a prop forward, scored a try of his own five minutes later — to which Trotter added two points — treating the Sharks to a 19-6 lead, affording them, it seemed at the time, some breathing room.

    But Danbury, which had been shut out try-wise until then, came back with two converted scores in the final 10 minutes of play.

    The pivotal drive began with a long kick to a lineout at Montauk’s 22-meter line, at which point a Danbury flanker broke away and outran all pursuers — the last one being Trotter — on his way into the Sharks’ try zone. The conversion kick, which put Danbury over the top, at 20-19, administered the coup de grace.