CLAYTON, NC – On a gorgeous fall afternoon, the Clayton Rugby Football Club hosted their final home double header of 2018. Fans on hand at East Clayton Community Park were treated to not one, but two exciting games as both matches went down to the wire.
In the opener, the Bootleggers 1st team faced off against Columbia Olde Grey in a pivotal Carolinas D3 conference match that could have future playoff implications. From the outset it was apparent that the match was going to be a physical battle as both sides traded shots and penalties. A theme that would carry on throughout the match. The Bootleggers were first on the board. After a foray deep into Columbia territory, Clayton turned over possession to Olde Grey. Pinned deep in their territory, Olde Grey attempted to play their way out of the pressure. In the 5th minute, Bootleggers’ center Eric Hile intercepted a pass a strolled into the end zone for the opening score of the match. Ed Dixon added the conversion to give the Bootleggers an early 7-0 lead.
Ten minutes later Clayton found themselves again deep into Columbia territory. A Olde Grey penalty about 30 meters out in front of the posts led to a successful penalty goal from Dixon to extend the lead to 10-0. The two sides then locked into a back and forth defensive battle. The Bootleggers had multiple visits into the Columbia half, but were undone by penalties.
With less than ten minutes to play in the first half, Columbia struck back with back to back tries to tie the match at 10-10.
Just minutes into the second half, the Bootleggers made another trip deep into the Columbia half. They came away with the lead as lock Eric Davis pushed over to score a try from a meter out. The conversion from Dixon gave the home side a 17-10 lead. Ten minutes later it was Hile again crossing the white wash. This time it came at the end of a well worked phase of play from the Bootleggers that opened up space outside. The conversion drifted just wide as the Bootleggers extended their lead to 22-10 with 25 minutes to play in the match.
As was the case in the first half, Columbia came charging back. Clayton misplayed the ensuing kickoff and Olde Grey capitalized with a quick try in response. With the conversion, Columbia decreased the lead to 22-17. The Bootleggers responded back in the 66th minute when Trey Eason scored off of a nice running line. Another conversion from Dixon pushed the Bootleggers’ lead out to 29-17.
Again it was the restart that hurt the Bootleggers as the ensuing kickoff was collected by Columbia and ran in for a try. The conversion drifted wide, but Olde Grey closed the gap to just a try as the home side led 29-22 with ten minutes left in the match.
After some tense moments, Clayton sealed the match with another try from Eason with just minutes left in the match. Dixon added the conversion to give the Bootleggers a 36-22 victory.
“This was a big one for us,” added Bootleggers head coach Rich Munro. “It wasn’t a pretty win, but the guys played through it and got the win. That’s a match that we would have lost in the past. The guys put in a big effort.”
The victory upped the Bootleggers record to 5-2 this season and 2-1 in Carolinas D3 conference play. They have one more D3 match left this fall, at Camp Lejeune, before the holiday break.
“I’m proud of how the team played,” said club captain Gareth Davies. “We played a very physical Columbia team, but were able to pull it all together for the win. Our defense has improved a lot in the past couple of weeks and that was the biggest factor. It was a great team victory.”
“We need to go to Lejeune and take care of business,” said Munro. “We need to finish with a win and put ourselves in good position to make another run at the playoffs in the 2nd half of the season.”
The second match of the day was a wild and high scoring affair as the Clayton 2nd side took on New Bern in a Carolinas D4 conference match. The two sides combined to score 107 points with a staggering 20 tries scored in the back and forth affair. The Bootleggers’ D4 side were first on the board with a quick try from Alex Branoff, but New Bern answered right back with a converted try to take a 7-5 lead. A lead that New Bern would never relinquish despite the home side’s best efforts.
New Bern added four more first half tries as the Bootleggers got another try from Branoff and one apiece from Eric Tansey and Simon Potter. The difference were the conversions as the Bootleggers missed all of their conversions in the first half while New Bern converted four of their five tries as they took a 33-20 lead into halftime.
The seesaw match continued into the second half as the two sides traded tries throughout the second half. The closest the Bootleggers came was 50-48, but New Bern finished strong on their way to a 62-55 win. The Bootleggers got second half tries from George Earhart, Jon Sanyer, Paul Castellana, George Allen, and another from Potter. The highlight of the match was Allen celebrating his 51st birthday in style by scoring a try as the match was in the dying moments.
“We’re very proud of our D4 side,” said Munro. “Half of that side hadn’t even played rugby before this fall. Some of the guys couldn’t make it through ten minutes of game time when we started in August and now they’re putting in 80 minutes. This group is working their tails off to get better and we’re seeing it on the pitch. At the same time, we’re disappointed not to come away with a win. We need to keep working on our defensive effort.”
The Bootleggers’ D4 side has one more match this fall as they take on the Raleigh Redhawks in another D4 conference match.
Clayton D3 36 Columbia 22
Tries: Eason (2), Hile (2), Davis
Conv: Dixon 4/5
Pen: Dixon 1/2
Clayton D4 55 New Bern 62
Tries: A. Branoff (2), Potter (2), Tansey, Sanyer, Earhart, Castellana, Allen
Conv: Sanyer 2/5, W. Smith 3/4
About the Clayton Rugby Football Club
Founded in 2013 and having played their first game in mid-2014, the club has grown quickly with an active membership of over 70 people. Developed with a family friendly and community driven club culture, the Clayton RFC offers both playing and social membership levels. The Clayton RFC currently fields three Men’s teams (D3, D4, and Old Boys). The club also provides rugby to local youth through outreach activities, camps, and a Spring and Fall youth program through their partnership with the Town of Wilson’s Mills.