Torrey Pines rugby remains perfect

By Tim Pickwell

The Torrey Pines varsity rugby team defeated Del Norte High School, 42-0, in a non-league game on Saturday, Jan. 14, played at the Nighthawk’s stadium. The Torrey Pines varsity is managed by the San Diego Youth Rugby Club “Mustangs,” and competes with 21 other teams in the Boys High School Division of the Southern California Youth Rugby Organization. Torrey Pines remains unbeaten (4-0) and nearly perfect, having outscored their opponents 210-0.

Moments after the game, veteran referee David Mason gathered both teams together at mid-field.

“Great match, boys,” he said. “Give yourselves a hand.”

He talked about his keys for success in rugby, and told the Nighthawk team, “You never quit, you played hard, and you stayed together. That will serve you well later in the season. But, today, you just ran into a better team.”

Mason is a coach and player with the Old Aztecs Rugby Club and is well respected in local rugby circles.

He nodded over to the Torrey Pines boys. “These guys have played together for a lot of years, and have a lot of experience.”

A core group of Torrey Pines/Mustangs players won the Southern California State Championship as U14’s (2008), U16’s (2010) and were the JV State Champions in 2011.

“Torrey Pines,” Mason said, looking at the players. “You could play for a national championship this year. Players one-through-15 can all handle the ball. You won the rucks, you won the scrums, you never stopped pushing. You are in good condition, now, but you will need to be in even better competition if you want to go deep in the playoffs.”

Torrey Pines was down to only 18 players (15 take the field at one time) due to the three-day MLK Holiday Weekend, and every boy got his fill of minutes. Like soccer, rugby is continuous play (35 minute halves), and each player must run, catch, pass and tackle.

The Torrey Pines squad includes Codi Jones, a senior, and Billy Maggs, a junior. The two were invited by USA Rugby to be among 74 participants from around the country at the prestigious High School All-American Camp held in Phoenix in late December. Maggs has since been selected to represent an All American 7s JV/Varsity squad at the U.S. national tournament in Las Vegas.

So, expectations are high for the Torrey Pines team, which is coached by Matty Sandoval, a former collegiate All Star at USD, and long time local youth coach.

“The boys are rounding in to form just in time for our playoff push,” said Sandoval. “But there is a lot of work to be done to accomplish our goal of the Southern California High School Varsity Championship. They have everything it takes, but it will come down to their dedication and focus.”

On Saturday against Del Norte, Torrey Pines was led by Maggs, Jones, and Andrew Fargo, a senior who is getting some looks from college for both football and rugby. Maggs scored the first two tries of the game, the first coming minutes into the match after Fargo advanced the ball with a long run. The second coming after Wing Chase Pickwell tackled and stripped a Del Norte player, and Maggs picked up the ball and outran the Nighthawk Defense. Next, outside Center Jones made a perfect pass to Pickwell who bulled in for a try to make the score 17-0. Fargo had two trys on the day, and Brian Hollenbeck, a Torrey Pines senior had another to start the second half.

Two-hundred-and-sixty-pound forward David Lederer unveiled a kicking skill that had escaped the attention of previous football and rugby coaches. He eschewed the kicking tee on extra points, and used a drop-kick technique that was last popular in the 1930s.

“I’m old school,” said Lederer. He had 10 points on five successful 2-point conversions.

Lederer combined with seniors Michael Tillson and Brent Sanders, and juniors Grant McGahey and Derek Lipincyzk, to provide some old-school tough play in the middle. Torrey Pines consistently won the push on rucks and scrums.

With 10 minutes left, a Torrey Pines forward was exiled to the “sin bin” for tackling a player without the ball. Torrey Pines was playing a man down, and Del Norte took advantage of the situation to drive the ball to the one-meter line.

With its unblemished (no points allowed) season on the line with 10 minutes left, the Torrey Pines defense put up furious resistance as Del Norte worked hard to gain six inches at a time. Each attempt ending in a stop, a ruck (where players push to cover their fallen teammate in order to maintain possession or capture the ball) another recovery, and another attempt.

Torrey Pines flanker Jonathan Raby was especially active in the furious defensive series, preventing scores on several attempts. Ryan Hoffman, stellar senior hooker, and the team’s best tackler, kept the defense organized and aggressive. After three minutes of intense action all crammed into about 20 square feet of space, Torrey Pines managed to get the ball and punt downfield to regain some real estate. An exhausting few minutes later, the whistle finally blew to end the contest.

The Torrey Pines JV defeated the Del Norte JV 21-12, coming back from a 7-0 halftime deficit. The JV squad was led by Seth Hill, who always plays much bigger than his 150 pounds. The JV is now 3-1, and eying the playoffs themselves.

Torrey Pines plays the San Pasqual High School Eagles Friday, Jan. 20, under the lights at San Pasqual High School.