By DR. J. ZIMMERMAN
The Jersey Shore Sharks Men’s Rugby Club finished the fall season with a road trip to Happy Valley, Pa., home of Penn State University. This was the first time the Sharks were making the 4-plus-hour road trip to play the Happy Valley Barbarians.
A lot was riding on this match.
A loss would knock the Sharks out of playoff contention, while a win would almost guarantee us a spot in the spring playoffs.
Rugby in the USA is divided into territories and unions.The Sharks and Happy Valley compete in the Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union (EPRU). Winning the playoffs in the EPRU advances your team to the Mid-Atlantic Rugby Union (MARFU) championships. Winning that title moves you into contention for the USA Rugby National championship.
The Sharks won the EPRU and MARFU titles in 2008 and then went to the national championship in Texas, where they placed fourth. Our goal this year is to make it back into the playoff picture and advance forward as much as possible.
After beating Happy Valley, 46-17, we are one step closer to reaching our playoff goal.
Knowing how important this match was — and also knowing how driving almost five hours and playing a game an hour after arriving can cause a bit of fatigue — the team decided to drive up Friday night and stay in a hotel. It turned out to be a good idea.
Within five minutes of kickoff, the Sharks’ fly half, Jim Tchir, grabbed the ball off of a perfect Ollie Leadbeater ruck and ran 40 meters for a try. Sharks flanker Liam Marshall kicked the two-point conversion to give the Sharks a seven-point lead.
The next few minutes were back and forth. Happy Valley made it to their own 5-meter line when the Sharks were called for a rule infraction. The scrum was awarded to the Barbarians, who proceeded to pick the ball up at the back of the scrum and score across the line for five points. That was the last time the Barbarians scored in the first half, however, as the Sharks dialed it up a few notches both offensively and defensively.
Outside center Sean Lenszch took the ball after several successful forward phases and scored five points. Next up was Nick Frantz. who took a pop pass off of second-row player Dave Connelly. Connelly broke through the opposition with a nice long run and Nick was there to grab the ball just as Dave hit the opposition and score one under the posts.
Lenszch picked up another 5-point try after a 30-yard evasive run following a Sharks’ forward ruck. Marshall kicked the 2-point conversion. Sharks fullback John Abadie scored five points with a nice pick-and-go off a forward ruck, and Marshall nailed the 2-point conversion. The last Shark score of the half came from big Sharks hooker Brian Kilcoyne, who took a nice Tchir offload to add an additional five points to the tally.
By halftime, the Sharks had a seemingly comfortable 36-5 lead.
I wish I could tell you the Sharks kept scoring in the next half, but something strange happened. The Happy Valley Barbarians came out like a team possessed. Their energy was higher, their teamwork was better and they were more aggressive than in the first half. Almost immediately, the Barbarians scored a 5-point try.
Not that the Sharks needed waking up; I am very proud to say that the Sharks continued to play hard-nosed, aggressive rugby and utilized the “15-as-1” teamwork mantra that they used in the first half.
This led to another punishing run by Dave Connelly, who off loaded the ball to second-row player Alex Brigden, who crossed the line for a 5-point score. Happy Valley answered back with a try of their own and a 2-point conversion.
The half continued at a very intense back-and-forth pace. At this point, the Barbarians had outscored the Sharks 12-5 in the second half. The fight was on!
As we moved toward the last five minutes of the match, Brigden popped a pass out to Lenszch, who zig-zagged through defenders to score his third try for a hat trick in the match.
The whistle blew shortly after and the Sharks ended up with the win, 46 -17. Playoff hopes are very much alive for this spring!
Man of the match was awarded to outside center Lenszch for his amazing ball-carrying skills and three tries, giving the Sharks 15 of their 46 points. On a side note, Sean’s tackling and defensive skills were top notch. It must also be said that Sean is a high school senior at St. Augustine Prep playing against men who are as many as 10 years older than he is. Sean’s future in rugby is very bright.
The Sharks are now on an offseason break until January, when fitness training begins. Feb. 1 will start rugby practice sessions, and the first game of the spring season will be March 10. The Somers Point Shore Hardware Play of the Week goes to Connelly for not one, but two, 40-yard runs. Dave is a big 6-foot-3, 260-pound forward. So, to see him break away and run some distance is a huge thrill. Way to go, Dave!
If you are interested in playing rugby in the spring season, the Sharks are recruiting men ages 18 and older for our adult team, and we are also actively recruiting high school students for our high school rugby club. Any male student from any high school can play on the Sharks’ rugby club. Practice begins in February. The Jersey Shore Rugby club has co-ed youth flag rugby (ages 6-14), high school club rugby and our adult men’s team (age 18+).
Dr. J. Zimmerman is the president of the Jersey Shore Rugby Club Board of Directors. He is the men’s club head coach and director of youth rugby. Dr. J. is also the team chiropractor. For more information on Jersey Shore Sharks Rugby visit www.JerseyShoreRugby.com or on Facebook at Jersey Shore Rugby Club, or call 609-652-6363 or email Jerseyshoresharks@gmail.com.