By Director of Rugby, Dominic Riebli
When we first received our league schedule, I felt disheartened that we would play Long Beach State at such an early phase of the season. With an entire system to install, the coaches would not have enough time to prepare for the reigning Gold Coast Conference champions. Given that they had beaten us so thoroughly over the past several seasons, we wanted to play our best on this day. The coaches didn’t think that we could do that so early-on. Unfortunately, we were right; we didn’t play our best today. Fortunately (if such a thing exists in defeat), not playing our best translated to a 17-24 loss that came down to the final play of the match.
As I told the team during the Captain’s run on Friday, this game will not define our season; it merely serves as a barometer for where we stand right now. I truly did not know how the match would go for the Trojans. Knowing that Long Beach had beaten us 80-10 last season and sensing the mixture of doubt and excitement in our ranks, my expectations varied from dominating to being dominated. Having come out the other side, I now state with confidence that we went toe-to-toe with the top of the league for 80 minutes, never backed down, and announced that the Trojans would no longer serve as an easy mark. I believe that we will face Long Beach State again this season and I know we will be markedly improved on that day.
Affairs did not start well for USC as the 49ers picked up where they left-off last season – playing hard charging interior rugby. The Trojans conceded a penalty for hands-in the ruck and the opposing flyhalf slotted the kick. 0-3 LBSU through 10 minutes of play. Though dismayed at having given up the points, we got the sense that we could physically compete with Long Beach. USC had the ascendency in the scrums and competed well in the line-outs. Our midfield, though outsized, had better skills.
On the ensuing kick-off, the Trojans kept the 49ers pinned back and forced them to kick out of their own half. After several phases of attack, Center Joey Krassenstein showed style, speed, and strength as he slipped his defender, straight-armed another would-be tackler, and ran in the first try. Flyhalf Adam Bushell missed the conversion. 5-3 USC.
After moving back into the attacking zone, we knocked-on; thus awarding LBSU the scrum. Our flanker and scrumhalf got their lines crossed in defense and allowed the 49ers flyhalf to break free down the right sideline. Wing Connor Patenuade made the open-field tackle but our scramble defense arrived too late, allowing the opposing scrumhalf to pick-up from the base of the ruck and go the remaining 50 meters for a soft try. Conversion good; 5-10 LBSU. That sequence served a as a double whammy for the Trojans as we conceded a try that never should have happened and got our flanker yellow-carded for a high-tackle in the try zone.
USC successfully killed-off the penalty time and once back at full-force, went on the attack. At the 38 minute mark LBSU’s wing received a yellow card for a dump tackle on our 10-meter line. Now a man-up, the Trojans made the most of their opportunity by crashing the ball through the forwards, collapsing the defense, and then swinging it out to Patenuade for a try in the corner. Bushell missed from the difficult angle, leaving us deadlocked at 10-10 midway through the match.
For the first 20 minutes of the second half, we executed very poorly, didn’t take advantage of the space that Long Beach allowed us to kick to, and simply failed to get out of our own way. LBSU kicked long and pushed us back into our defensive zone. Instead of kicking out of our own half and playing defense, we took the ill-advised route and tried to run out. On one particular occasion, LBSU kicked long. Our wing received the kick, attempted to counter-attack, got isolated in the tackle, got the ball poached, and left the rest of the team too little time and distance to recover. Try converted; 10-17 LBSU.
We had our best shot to even things up when a Long Beach penalty lead to a lineout inside the attacking 22. The pack successfully mauled the ball to the 5-meter mark and received penalty advantage. After the maul collapsed, the ball went wide and, ultimately, astray. From the penalty we opted to tap-and-go instead of kick-for-touch and set-up another maul. That decision proved detrimental as we didn’t score through the forwards and failed to execute another backline move. This time the ball went loose and to the ground. LBSU’s wing pounced on it and was in the clear for a long distance, soft try. However, Krassenstein ran him down short of the line. The fantastic effort went for naught as USC’s support could not arrive in time and the 9ers were able to ruck, go, and score under the posts. Conversion good; 10-24 with five minutes to play.
Down but not out, USC immediately struck back from the kick-off. LBSU knocked-on and set-up a scrum on the attacking 10-meter line. The backs executed a beautiful “unders” line that sprang Center Dmitry Veremeenko. He stepped the fullback and wing and dotted down under the posts. Krassenstein converted the extras; 17-24 with three minutes to play. From the kick-off, Long Beach went deep and forced us to run the length of the field. We managed to work our way three-quarters of the way there but eventually knocked-on and ended the game.
The Trojans played valiantly today and I’m very proud of the effort. Our shortcomings and failings are correctable and will come with time, teaching, and experience. The players continue to grow and are starting to define their rolls within the team. Of particular note, Lock DeMarco Scavuzzo played his best game of rugby and showed that he can be a dominant force.
In the 2s match, USC came out victors with a 10-5 score line. Flanker Andrew Daoud had a fantastic game and Lock Jonny So took home the Iron Man Award for most minutes played (40 minutes in the 1s match, 60 minutes in the 2s match).
This week we travel down to San Diego to play the Toreros. If you live in the area or can make the trip, we would love to see you there.