High school rugby plays a truncated, six-game season. There is no room for error. Every match counts.
In the season opener in mid-December, the Torrey Pines Varsity was tied, 12-12 with rival La Costa Canyon, when a Falcon player was ejected. Playing a man-up, the strong Maverick back-line quickly exposed some Torrey Pines deficiencies, scored three tries in 10 minutes, and won, going away 40-12.
The worst loss in years for Torrey Pines Rugby.
Incredibly, in the week following the match, Head Coach Matty Sandoval told his team, “Fellas. I believe we are a championship team. We’re just going to have to work really hard to get there.”
The quantity and quality of practices got bumped up, and Sandoval started tinkering each game with the line-up, eventually settling on a young squad that starts three sophomores and as many as six juniors. Scrum halfs became centers, fly halfs dropped back on defense to become fullbacks, fullbacks became wings, several subs pushed starters out of the way for playing time.
The result is a five-game winning streak, including a victory Friday night, Feb. 12, at Torrey Pines High School over St. Augustine, 28-7, to cement a rematch in the final against La Costa Canyon (6-0).
“We got better and better every week,” said Prop and Senior Team Captain Benny Ruffolo. “We were tired after every practice, we were pushed every week, but we knew if we just went out there and played, we’d improve.”
Improve they did. Rebounding from the LCC loss with a 17-7 victory over Poway. Then beating a tough Fallbrook team on the road, 41-36. Then putting complete games together and knocking off Del Norte and Cathedral Catholic in nail biter, back-to-back home contests. The wire-to-wire win over St. Augustine was the rare contest where the team never trailed.
The teams were testing each other early, when Saints No. 8 Andrew Alves made a punishing long run (one of several on the night) down to the Torrey Pines 5 meter line. Saints cycled out the ruck, and were spreading the ball out, when Falcon Senior Wing Max Lyle intercepted the ball and went untouched, 85 meters for the try under the posts. Flanker Jackson Baere nailed the conversion. A few minutes later, Falcon Blake Richards-Smith collected a ball out of line-out, and reached over for another try. He nailed the conversion kick for good measure, and Torrey Pines led at half, 14-0.
Saints star Alves had a strong run early in the second half, and James Downey hit the conversion to make the score, 14-7. But, Ruffolo added a cushion (Richards-Smith with the conversion) to put Torrey Pines up, 21-7. Midway through the half, Falcon Fly Half Matthew Goena made a nice inside flip to Center Tanner Dearham, who caught the Saints defense heading the wrong way. He knifed through the line for a 20-meter score. Jackson Baere hit the conversion to finish off the scoring, 28-7.
Torrey Pines (5-1), earns a rematch with the Mavericks on Feb. 19, at La Costa Canyon. Time TBD. A remarkable turn-around for a Falcon team that started 0-1, with a 28-point pasting.
Explaining the turnaround, Sandoval simply said, “The best group of boys that I’ve ever coached.”