CLAYTON, NC – On a gorgeous Carolina Winter afternoon, fans were treated to not one, but two great matches at East Clayton Community Park. All four teams, in play, made the most of the excellent conditions and produced two exhilarating matches. The opener was a heated battle between the 1st and 2nd place teams in the Carolinas D3 Eastern Division. The match was immediately followed by a high scoring affair between the Bootlegger’s 2nds and a combined New Bern/Wake Tech side. The picturesque rugby day was accented with the aroma of food cooking from the back of the end zone and online streaming of the match from a local broadcaster.
From the opening kickoff, it was apparent that Clayton and Cape Fear were going to put forth a cracking match. The two sides traded possession early on as the teams were feeling each other out. Despite having the run of play in previous matches against the Bootleggers, it was obvious that the tune had changed for Cape Fear. Both sides settled in early on into playing field position with the Bootleggers pinning Cape Fear into their half during the early parts of the match. The field position battle produced the first score of the match as Clayton attacked from inside the Cape Fear 40. Bootlegger’s flyhalf Brian Beauregard found a gap in the Fear defense and offloaded to scrumhalf Brian Anderson who appeared on his way in for a try. Cape Fear were able to wrangle Anderson just before he scored, but he was able to offload to lock Ted Hardy who dove over for the first score of the match. Ed Dixon provided the conversion for an early 7-0 lead for the Bootleggers.
Clayton continued to pressure inside of the Cape Fear half, but some strong work at the breakdown by Fear produced a penalty. A nice touch finder gave Fear a line out inside of the Clayton 40 and their first trip into the home side’s half. Cape Fear found some space to run off of the line out and their inside center carried deep into Bootleggers’ territory. Three phases later, Cape Fear went weak side and was awarded a penalty try after a high tackle in the corner on the Fear wing. The conversion knotted the match at 7-7 with twelve minutes gone from the clock.
The two sides then locked into a defensive battle filled with hard hits and smart positional play. Clayton maintained the bulk of possession, but found themselves in penalty trouble that thwarted a few promising attacks. With the half drawing close, Clayton pushed their way into Fear’s half aiming to break the tie. From a penalty, Bootleggers’ Captain Simon Potter took a quick tap and weaved his way through Cape Fear’s defense. He found Anderson in support and the scrumhalf was over for the second score of the match. Dixon’s conversion gave the Bootleggers a 14-7 as the half drew to a close.
The second half continued much like the first half as the two sides refused to give ground. Both squads put together promising attacks early in the second half only to be denied by stout defensive efforts. Penalty trouble put Clayton on the back foot again as Cape Fear used a penalty to move the ball into the Bootleggers’ half. From a line out on the Clayton 40, Cape Fear spun the ball wide and moved the ball into the red zone. Cape Fear put together a series of phases that ultimately led to a try from a crashing forward. The conversion deadlocked the match at 14-14 as the sides headed into the final quarter of the match.
Clayton aimed to wear down Cape Fear with a strong rolling maul and ate up large chunks of territory. This gave the Bootleggers a couple promising shots at the Cape Fear goal line, but were undone by more penalties. The battled continued back and forth as the intensity increased. In the 70th minute Cape Fear broke the tie after a quick tap off of a Clayton penalty around mid field. After drawing in Clayton defenders, Cape Fear went wide and threatened to score. A Cape Fear player went over the line and appeared to initially have been held up, but a second effort grounded the ball for the tie breaking score. The conversion gave Cape Fear a 21-14 lead with less than ten minutes to play.
With the clock ticking, the Bootleggers drove the ball deep into Cape Fear’s half. The home side strung together a nice set of phases, but were undone again by penalties. Two Cape Fear players were yellow carded in the waning moments of the match which gave the Bootleggers a glimmer of hope. With the ball deep in their own half, Clayton attempted a final push. With some room to run, the Bootleggers went wide, but the scrambling Cape Fear defense was up to the task. A forward pass ended the match and any hope of late heroics from the home side.
“It was a disappointing end to the match, but I’m so proud of these guys,” said Clayton head coach Rich Munro. “Cape Fear is a strong side and we’re not far off. We hate to lose this one, because it was there for the taking, but there is a lot of great things to take away from this.”
Following the exciting opener, the Clayton 2nds took the pitch against a combined New Bern/Wake Tech side. The men were determined to bring home at least one victory for the home side on the day. The two sides locked into a seesaw battle in a first half that produced some great scores. The Bootleggers got off to a quick start with an early try from wing Sharif Nash. The conversion from flyhalf Jesse Rinehart staked the Bootleggers to a 7-0 lead. Minutes later, hooker Jon Sanyer crashed over for a try to extend the lead to 12-0. New Bern bounded back with three consecutive tries to take a 15-12 lead.
The Bootleggers’ regained the lead with a try from Rinehart, but New Bern quickly regained the lead with another try to place the score at 20-17 in favor of the visitors with about 20 minutes played in the first half. A try and conversion from Zane West gave the Bootleggers a 24-20 lead only to see New Bern return fire with another try to take a 25-24 lead. Minutes later Bootleggers’ lock Les Shelton scored his first try. West added the conversion as Clayton took a 31-25 lead into halftime.
The back and forth flow of the first half turned into mostly one way traffic in the second half as Clayton began to find a flow to their play. The Bootleggers’ forwards produced a strong effort which gave the backs plenty of room to run. West added his second try of the match, Nash added his second, Deven Howard scored two second half tries, and Anthony Crumity also crossed over for the home side in the second half. New Bern managed only two second half tries as the Bootleggers pulled away for a 64-35 win to close out the day on a high note.
“The first half was a little shaky,” added Munro. “They settled down in the second half and played some nice rugby. Some of the best rugby we’ve seen from our 2nds yet. It was a great day for our club from top to bottom.”
The Bootleggers return to action on March 10th at home against the Charlotte Barbarians. Despite the loss, the Bootleggers’ 1st XV remained in second place, but now face a must win match up at Hilton Head on March 17th followed by another must win at home against Camp Lejeune on March 24th. Clayton defeated both teams in the Fall, but face stiff tests in against them to reach the playoffs for the first time in club history.