CLAYTON, NC – It was a day made for rugby. Overcast conditions, light rain, and mild fall temperatures set the mood for a big day of rugby at East Clayton Community Park. Unfortunately, it was a mixed bag of results on the pitch for the Clayton RFC. The Bootleggers D3 side were handed a heavy defeat by the defending Carolinas D3 Champions Asheville. The club’s 2nds managed to salvage the day with a thrilling victory, that went down to the final kick, over a Wake Tech/Campbell/Asheville Motley.
The opening game was a rematch of the CGRU D3 playoff semifinals from last season. The match was almost a mirror image as the Bootleggers hung with Asheville for the first half only to fall off the pace in the second half. The match started off promising as the two sides traded shots with forays into each other’s territory. From the outset, the tone was set as both sides came out hitting hard. The physicality and intensity of the match led to the Bootleggers having to go to the bench early as outside center Connell Smallwood was knocked out of the match with a broken jaw within the first ten minutes of play.
Asheville struck first with a 10th minute score from outside center Payton Marshall to give the visitor’s a 5-0 lead. Marshall went on to post a Man of the Match performance as he scored five tries to lead the Asheville attack. The Bootleggers bounced right back and drove deep into Asheville territory. Clayton Captain and No. 8 Gareth Davies knotted the score at 5-5 with a 15th minute try.
The sides continued to trade possession and territory as they pounded away at each other. In the 24th minute, Asheville took the lead with another try from Marshall. The conversion from Jacob Vertel gave Asheville a 12-5 lead. Minutes later Marshall struck again with a long range score to extend the Asheville lead to 19-5.
Clayton got back into the match with a 29th minute score from Bootleggers wing Jared Garcia to cut the deficit to 19-10 with less than ten minutes to play in the first half. With just minutes left to play Asheville struck one more time with a converted try from lock David Lindsey. As the half neared, the Bootleggers won the restart and pushed into the Asheville red zone. With time expired, the Bootleggers were awarded a penalty just left of the posts. Clayton’s Ed Dixon knocked over the penalty goal to close the half with the Bootleggers trailing 26-13.
It was a hard fought first half where the Bootleggers left a handful of good opportunities unconverted. The squad went into the break looking to close the gap on the scoreboard. Asheville weren’t having any of that as they added 40 unanswered points in the second half to push their lead to 66-13 with less than ten minutes to play. Asheville got scores from David Ellis, Brent Morgan, David McAllister, Kenneth Wayne, and two more tries from Marshall with Vertel providing the conversions.
Battered and bruised, the Bootleggers got a consolation score with less than five minutes to play as Trey Eason made a break inside of the Asheville 22 and off loaded to a supporting Ted Hardy who went over for the score. Asheville added one last try and conversion from Vertel as time expired with Asheville taking a commanding 73-18 victory over the home side.
“It wasn’t pretty,” said Bootleggers head coach Rich Munro. “They were better than us. We had some injuries that really hurt us, but full credit to Asheville. They are a well drilled and strong side. They kept to their structure, wore us down, and then turned up the heat in the second half.”
With the 1st team match over, the Bootleggers 2nds took the pitch against a Wake Tech/Campbell/Asheville Motley side. The two sides produced a high scoring and entertaining match that went down to the final kick. After an early try from the Motleys, the Bootleggers strung together some solid possessions that produced tries from Brendan Fitzpatrick, Alick Holland, and Wes Smith.
The Bootleggers’ scrum was working well as they stole multiple feeds and gave their backs a good platform to attack. midway through the half, Ted Hardy scored off of an No. 8 attack off of a scrum. That was followed by another score from Smith as the 2nds took a commanding 31-15 lead into halftime.
The Motleys came storming back in the second half as they punched in multiple scores. The Bootleggers picked up another try from Fitzpatrick and one from Jim Bartles in the second half as the Motleys edged closer and closer. With time expiring, the Bootleggers held onto a 41-34 lead. The Motleys scored a well worked try, but the kick was not converted as the home side held on for a 41-39 victory.
“It was a great chance for the Clayton RFC to support a couple of area start up college clubs and get more experience under the belts of our rookies,” said Clayton RFC assistant coach Jason Niemiller. “Our new players are learning our overall play structure and have embraced our club spirit.”
The Bootleggers return to action in two weeks as they host a D3/D4 doubleheader at East Clayton Community Park. The Clayton 1st team hosts Columbia in a big Carolinas D3 matchup while the 2nds takes on New Bern in a Carolinas D4 league match.