CLAYTON, North Carolina – The Clayton Rugby Football Club officially opened up their 2019/2020 season this past Saturday with a home double header at East Clayton Community Park. After playing two warm up games in Scotland, the Bootleggers were welcomed back home with 90+ degree heat and customary North Carolina humidity. The playing conditions made for a tough day for all of the teams on the pitch.
The double header opened up with Clayton’s 2nd XV taking on a seasoned and skilled Southern Pines squad in their Carolinas Rugby Union Division IV opener. Bootleggers were anchored by some club veterans alongside a new and exciting crop of recruits. Nine players either played in their first official game of rugby or their first game of club level rugby. This group included four U20 players each of which came to the club with High School rugby experience.
Southern Pines wasted little time getting on top and pushed the pace and tempo of the match throughout the first half. The Clayton 2nd XV put forth a valiant defensive effort, but went into halftime behind 31-0. The Bootleggers had an improved second half and threatened to score on multiple occasions, but couldn’t finish the deal. Southern Pines added three more second half tries to hand the 2nds a 46-0 defeat.
The second match of the day pitted the Bootleggers’ 1st XV against Tobacco Road in the sides final warm up match before the Carolinas Rugby Union Division III season begins. The action on the pitch was as hot as the temperature as the two sides combined to score 83 points in a seesaw affair. The Bootleggers got three first half tries from outside center Austin Lyons and one from center Jeffrey Felix as they took a 26-21 lead going into the break.
Tobacco Road came out firing first in the second half as they scored a 50th minute try to tie the match and then another in the 65th minute to take a 33-26 lead over the home side. Clayton fullback Cam Grim slipped through the Tobacco Road defense for a 68th minute try to narrow the gap and the conversion tied up the match at 33-33.
Bootleggers’ Man of the Match Adam Avate added back to back tries with less than ten minutes to play to extend the home side’s lead to 45-33. With less than a minute to play, Tobacco Road used a botched kickoff by Clayton and a muffed line out to score one final try. Final score 45-38 in favor of the Bootleggers’ 1st XV. Gareth Davies went 4 of 5 on conversions and Brendan Fitzpatrick went 1 of 2 from the tee for Clayton in the victory.
“We need to revisit our game plan and fine tune our fundamentals,” added co-head coach Jason Niemiller. “There were lots of great moments today, but also some areas where we need to improve with some tough matrix matches coming up.”
“It was a good team performance today,” said co-head coach Ed Dixon. “We’ve been working on implementing a new structure and there is plenty of room for improvement with our ball handling and retention. The highlight of the day was the performance of our young Bootleggers, who recently graduated and moved onto men’s rugby. They excelled under pressure today.”
The win closes out pre-season play for the Bootleggers’ 1st XV. The club now moves onto conference play as they take on Camp Lejeune this coming Saturday at home. The club’s 2nd XV is taking on a combined Wake Tech and Lejeune side in the second match of the double header. Kick off for the 1st XV match is 1pm on Saturday October 5th with the 2nd XV match immediately following.