The men’s season opener begean solemnly. Prior to kickoff, the two sides locked arm in arm with their teammates and observed a moment of silence to recognize the passing of Chris Duffy. Monmouth men wore black bands on their left arms as a constant reminder of Duffy. Captain Ryan Greenwood instructed the men to look to the band every time they got tired to remember what they were playing for.
Monmouth kicked off to a very talented and tough Division 1 White Plains side, including a few players on MLR rosters and several former Fairfield Yankees who knocked Monmouth out of the playoffs back in 2019 on their way to a national title. Many of the White Plains players are actively fighting for pro looks or to get more pro minutes, playing in the ARP against the likes of Old Blue and NYAC.
White Plains scored early and often through support lines and offloads seen consistently as such high levels, but only seen in flashes at the D3 level. Unfazed by their opponent’s expertise and physical prowess, Monmouth battled back and managed to hold the score steady for 24 minutes in the middle of the half applying defensive pressure and toughness, forcing turnovers and penalties, and commanding territory through steady gains and the boot of rookie Tyresse Prescod. Despite taking better control of possession and territory, Monmouth couldn’t manage to land a try in the first half. White Plains broke another couple tries before the half to go up 38-0.
Early in the second half, Monmouth rookie fullback Colby Marshall sustained an eye injury and needed to come off the field. 2021’s Most Improved Forward, Scott Lasher assisted in getting him to the hospital, as Scott was already sidelined with a torn pectoral. The good news is that Colby was treated and discharged in time to make it back to the Rover later.
White Plains came out hard again and put up another four tries in the first 20 minutes of the second half. Something clicked again for Monmouth, who put a stop to White Plains scoring and finally put up a score themselves. Monmouth drove down the field and held strong inside the White Plains 22. After some back and forth on possession, Monmouth saw a series of close-range lineouts by forcing turnovers and penalties. At short range, Monmouth didn’t wait for another set-piece and hammered small pods of forwards at the goal line. Aided by devastating pick-and-go gains from inside center Vallon Adams, the White Plains defense eventually gave way for seasoned lock Ryan Greenwood to slam down Monmouth’s first try.
Relieved from avoiding the goose egg and confident after getting the better of such a high level club (even temporarily), Monmouth was intent on doing the same again. Through the same type of play that got them there the first time, Monmouth found themselves in a similar situation. After Monmouth earned another close-range lineout, hooker Donny “the Trashman” Palmer had enough. He called for the ball and threw a deceptive lineout short to prop Jon Minenna. Minenna drew the White Plains hooker in and popped the ball back to Trashman with a head full of steam. Trashman made contact with two White Plains defenders, but neither could stop him from putting the ball down for Monmouth’s first score. The Monmouth playing side and sideline erupted in triumph. Both tries were full team efforts, and were scored just 4 minutes apart.
White Plains had one more try in the final minute to finish the game Monmouth 10, White Plains 67. Despite the scoreboard, Monmouth men can hold their heads up high. The goal of the spring is to prepare for the fall. Monmouth’s leadership ultimately decided they would rather take an outside chance against a D1 team than to reverse the scoreboard against a lower D3 team. Against a D1 side, the team is forced to play their best to have success rather than getting away with sloppier play and taking a guaranteed W. “The toughest steel is forged in the hottest fire”.
As Donny Palmer said in practice ahead of the game, “what matters most is how you play the game”. Monmouth was punching well above their weight class and did not get knocked out. They played tough and showed promise. They had three talented rookies starting in the backline and more coming off the bench. Monmouth is rising.
Final Score: Monmouth 10, White Plains 67
Tries: #4 Ryan Greenwood (C), #2 Donny “The Trashman” Palmer
Forward of the Match: #2 Donny “The Trashman” Palmer Back of the Match: #12 Vallon Adams
Monmouth quickly brushed the dirt off to prepare for an opponent closer to their level: Mid-Atlantic North playoff contender, Jersey Shore Sharks. The two teams tied 17-17 at their meeting last spring down near Atlantic City. In that game, Monmouth suffered a huge loss with an injury to Nick “York” Gajewski, who is recovering from his second surgery resulting from that day. There isn’t yet a cup named for the only rugby rivalry on the NJ coastline, but it’s only a matter of time. Don’t miss the matchup on April 2nd! Women’s season opener at 11:00am vs Brooklyn! Monmouth Men A vs. Jersey Shore Sharks A at 1:00pm. Prior to kickoff, there will be a brief dirge played to acknowledge the loss of Chris Duffy. Monmouth Men B vs. Jersey Shore Sharks B at 2:30pm, Old Boys welcome!
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