By Gavin Menu; photography by Michael Heller
International players rotate through the world of American club rugby so often that an all-Irish frontline backed by a core of New Zealand-born veterans can give way to a line-up of locally-raised talent from one month to the next.
The dynamic can work both ways, as is sometimes the case with the Montauk Rugby Club, which over its 41-year history has seen foreign players come and go with the seasons and its success often measured by the length of their commitment.
Following a perfect 6-0 fall campaign and a win over Brooklyn earlier this month, the Sharks resumed their spring playoff run with a disappointing 35-10 loss to the New York Rugby Club at Herrick Park in East Hampton on Saturday. The match was not an elimination game for either team, but was used to determine seeding going forward.
Missing from the Montauk lineup were several key players from last fall, including Callum Beattie, the club’s reigning most valuable player who has since returned home to New Zealand, Shane McGuire, an Irish-born player, and Mike Bunce, a native of Southampton who has competitive experience at the national level.
Still the Sharks arrived Saturday with a strong starting 15 and a handful of able reserves, though the final result cost them a home game this weekend when the elimination rounds begin in the Empire Geographical Union’s Division III playoffs, where eight teams will vie for a chance to play for northeast and national titles down the line.
Montauk’s opponent on Saturday will be all too familiar, as the team will travel to Randalls Island to face New York in a rematch at 2 p.m. Montauk coach Rich Brierley on Saturday said that while his team lost some of its international charges, New York added “five or six” foreigners to their roster who were not part of the Division III side last fall.
“They rotate their rosters through two divisions so they’re a strong club,” Brierley said. “That was a good team today. “
The Sharks fell behind by three scores early on Saturday, but their play improved late in the first half and two tries by Brendan Mott, one of the club’s up-and-coming local players, trimmed the lead to 15-10 at the break. Aside from a strong series or two to start the second half, New York dominated the remainder of the game and ran away with an easy victory in the end.
“We need to play like we did for that 20-minute period at the end of the first half and beginning of the second,” Gordon Trotter, Montauk’s New Zealand-born player/coach, said when asked what would have to be different for his team to advance on Saturday. “We didn’t start very well and we didn’t finish very well.”
Montauk defeated New York by a narrow margin last fall, winning 32-29 in October to cap a perfect six-game run. More is on the line going forward, however, and the loser on Saturday will have their spring season come to an early end.