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Torrey Pines Rugby undefeated heading into Cathedral match

Torrey Pines rugby player Jacob Neeley fights for yards during Saturday’s 38-5 victory over San Pasqual.  Teammates Miles Ahles (center) and Jackson Backer (far right) come up in support.  Photo/Susie Talman
Torrey Pines rugby player Jacob Neeley fights for yards during Saturday’s 38-5 victory over San Pasqual. Teammates Miles Ahles (center) and Jackson Backer (far right) come up in support. Photo/Susie Talman

By Tim Pickwell

The Torrey Pines Varsity Rugby team shook off a slow start Saturday morning, Jan. 12, and steamrolled to a 38-5 victory over the San Pasqual Eagles.  The Torrey Pines victory sets up a San Diego Section, Gold Division, High School Rugby showdown with Cathedral Catholic on Saturday, Jan. 19,  at 10 a.m. at Cathedral.  Both Torrey Pines and Cathedral are undefeated.  The winner will have the inside track to host a Southern California High School semi-final match.

Against San Pasqual, Torrey Pines Senior Michael Cahill continued to cement his reputation as a playmaker.  The lanky Wing broke open a scoreless, tough match with a brilliant open-field tackle 10 minutes into the contest.  University of California bound teammate Billy Maggs then picked up the ball from the stunned Eagle player, and stiff-armed his way to a quick score. Alec Mills converted the point after kick to make it, 7-0.

Fifteen minutes later, after some mid-field struggles, Cahill grabbed the ball and kicked it way down field to put the Eagles in a hole.  Rookie 6’ 4”, 235-lb. Torrey Pines player Pierre Pretorious then used his substantial bulk to rumble up the middle, to make it 14-0.

At the 26-minute mark of the first half, Cahill grabbed another wild San Pasqual attack, and punted it back down to the Torrey Pines half.  Pretorious  snagged the ball and pitched it to Senior Miles Ahles who tossed it back to the hustling Cahill for the score.

“Cahill doesn’t meet the eye test for a rugby player,” said Torrey Pines Head Coach, Matty Sandoval.  “But he’s the toughest kid, pound for pound, I’ve coached or even seen in this sport. He’s absolutely fearless defensively, and is a blur with ball in hand.”

Maggs, who will play rugby at Cal, and who was recently selected for the USA National Juniors Seven’s Team, fought off three tackles and made the score, 26-0 at half-time.  He had three tries in the match.

The game was officially out-of-reach 5 minutes into the half when Senior Miles Ahles dug hard for another Torrey Pines score—the first in Ahles’ two month old Rugby career.

“We call Miles the ‘Honey Badger,’” said Sandoval, “because he just keeps digging.”

Torrey Pines might have been forgiven for slacking off after they went up, 31-0.  Instead, they proceeded to play some of their toughest Rugby of the season, as San Pasqual controlled the ball for over 5 minutes in front of the Torrey Pines try-line.  The Eagles kept hammering ahead, or probing the wings for a weakness, but defenders Michael Cox, AJ Talman, Seth Hill and others put up a ferocious defense and turned them back.

Rugby is not currently a CIF-sanctioned sport.  But, with growing awareness, and the recent addition of rugby Sevens to the 2016 Olympics, supporters of the world’s most popular contact sport believe it is only a matter of time until rugby joins lacrosse as a new addition to high school sports programs.

Both Torrey Pines and Cathedral Catholic compete in the Southern California Youth Rugby High School League.  There are 15 teams in San Diego County (up from 11 last year), and 31 throughout southern California.   Recognizing that some programs are more established, the schools have been divided into “Gold” and “Silver” Divisions.  Torrey Pines competes with eight schools in the Gold Division south.  Torrey Pines and Cathedral are both undefeated in the Gold Division, so this Saturday’s match has big playoff implications.

“We’ve improved steadily from week to week,” said Sandoval, “and the team is really starting to gel.  Cathedral will require a lot more than they’ve been asked to give so far this season. I have faith the boy’s will be up for the task. They like nothing more than the challenge of playing the private school up the street.”