ASHEVILLE, NC – This past Saturday, the Clayton Bootlegger’s season ended with a loss to Asheville in the Carolinas Geographic Union D3 Semifinals. Despite the loss, the Bootleggers end the season on a high note having reached the playoffs for the first time in club history. The surprise playoff run came in only their second season in Division III and only their fourth season in existence.
“It’s been a great season and appreciate all of the hard work put in by our players,” said head coach Rich Munro. “Asheville is a strong side and showed us where we need to be. No one expected us to be in the playoffs this season. We’ve shown what we can do and now we face expectations as well look ahead at next season.”
As expected of a playoff match, the match started off fast and furious with both sides using their forwards to commit defenders and then going wide to their back lines. The bruising Asheville pack aimed to control the match, but the two sides traded possession throughout the first quarter of the match. Both squads made trips into the opponents half only to come away without points. Midway through the scoreless first half, Asheville threatened deep in the Clayton half. Bootlegger back Ted Champman was given a yellow card for an intentional knock on. Asheville responded with two tries to stake a 14-0 lead.
With Chapman still in the bin, the Bootleggers recovered the restart from the second Asheville try and slowly moved the ball into scoring position. They were rewarded with a kick-able penalty from 30 meters out. Ed Dixon knocked it through to cut the Asheville lead to 14-3. The Bootleggers took the ensuing kickoff and again moved into scoring possession by controlling possession through their forwards. Clayton was rewarded with another kick-able penalty and Dixon provided the points to cut the deficit to 14-6 with ten minutes to play in the first half.
Off of the kickoff, the Bootleggers strung together an incredible 20+ phase attack to slowly push their way deep into the Asheville half. Clayton showed patience as they went through the phases before lock Jeff Cosgrove broke the Asheville line to score the first Bootlegger try of the match. The conversion from Dixon cut the Asheville lead to 14-13 with just minutes left in the first half.
The extended attack on the Asheville lines left the Bootleggers drained and the home side took advantage as they scored two rapid tries in the final moments of the first half to push their lead out to 24-13. Having finished the first half on a high note, Asheville went to work pounding away against the Bootleggers’ defensive lines. Using their forwards to control the tempo of the match, the second half belonged to the home side. They began to find space as their offense controlled possession and put Clayton’s defense to the task. As the Bootleggers wore down, Asheville answered with tries. Asheville scored five second half tries. The lone second half try from Clayton came through No. 8 Gareth Davies as the Bootleggers fell 59-18 to Asheville.
“There’s no reason to hang our heads,” added Munro. “The guys played hard the entire match and never gave up. Asheville was a better team. No shame in that. I’m very proud of our effort. We’ll learn from it and get better for next season.”
With the end of the 2017/2018 season, the Bootleggers move into the off season for some of their players while others prepare for the start of the Summer 7s Tournament season. The Clayton Rugby Football Club also prepares for their 3rd Annual CottonTown 7s Rugby Festival on July 14th. The tournament brought 30 teams to Clayton last year and they aim to top that number in 2018. All while this is happening, the club has broken ground on their new rugby facility and expect primary site work to be completed in July. The club expects to move into the facility sometime this Fall.