On Saturday, 10/28/23, Mesa, Arizona was once again the host for top-tier rugby. The Belmont Shore Whales from Long Beach, California traveled to Arizona to take on the Red Mountain Warthogs in an exhibition match. This game was part of Play Rugby AZ's ongoing efforts to elevate the quality of rugby in the state, providing local rugby enthusiasts high-quality matches in their own backyard.
Belmont Shore, one of the most prestigious rugby clubs in the nation, was gracious enough to make the effort to come to Arizona. Their aim was to help us promote rugby in the state and give our home crowd a good game. On the other side, the Red Mountain Rugby Club from Mesa, Arizona is the premier rugby club in the state. For the past three years, this young club has been turning heads by playing great rugby and entertaining crowds with its young personnel. Under the guidance of their new Head Coach, Mr. Bill Ellrey, the club felt confident enough to challenge the well-known Long Beach club.
Coach Elrey, confident in his team's talent, created a simple game plan. This plan put emphasis on defensive pressure and keeping ball possession against a much more experienced side. The coach also opted for a young roster that featured rookies Isaac Browning (GCU), Joshua Lesley (ASU), Jacob Hernandez (ASU), and Syd Schonwald (ASU) in the starting lineup. Jesse Emerson (GCU) and Juan Felan (GCU) also made an impact as substitutes.
On the Belmont Shore side, the coach followed a similar strategy, blending young talent with well-known veteran skilled players. Among them were James Vaifale, an Arizona native who attended high school in Tempe at Corona Del Sol High School, and University of Arizona fly-half standout Robert Figley.
Despite an early kickoff time of 9:30 am, which was right before the broadcast of the Rugby World Final, the expectations were exceeded. Hundreds of supporters and rugby lovers flooded the Mesa field to watch these two clubs and enjoy the beautiful sport of rugby in the beautiful Arizona Fall weather.
The highly-anticipated contest was refereed by Arizona's best professional referee, Mr. Jacob Gonzales. With extensive experience, including being part of the professional 7s rugby league "Premiere Rugby Sevens," Jacob has been instrumental in growing and improving the quality of rugby in Arizona since his involvement with Play Rugby AZ in 2020. He was assisted by Assistant Referees Andy Avery and Peter Leone.
From the starting whistle, the game was an exciting display of rugby. Packs on both sides demanded respect through hard hits and solid tackles, keeping the spectators engaged and entertained. The first ones on the scoreboard were the Warthogs, thanks to their well-structured, conservative attacks. Despite Red Mountain's constant defensive pressure and Belmont's unfortunate individual handling errors, the Warthogs closed the first half up 12-7. Early in the second half, Red Mountain was able to score one last time to bring the score to 19-7. However, Belmont Shore then showed their experience, tightened their game structure, and leveled the score at 19-19 by the 60th minute. Fly-half Robert Figley sealed Red Mountain's fate with a penalty kick, and Belmont Shore added one last score before the final whistle, making the final score Belmont 29, Red Mountain 19.
The event was a phenomenal day of rugby in Mesa, Arizona. The local crowd enjoyed very competitive rugby, and the Warthogs proved they could compete with bigger, better teams. Coach Bill Elrey proved himself in front of a skeptical crowd, and the Warthog rookies showed that competitive-level rugby in Arizona has a bright future. After the game, in typical rugby fashion, both clubs and fans hit up a local brewery, ate, drank, and watched the Rugby World Cup. Special thanks to Belmont Shore's staff and management, Red Mountain's management, and referees Jacob Gonzalez and the rest of the local Referees for making this event possible and for their ongoing efforts to improve the quality of rugby in Arizona.
The footage from the game is not the greatest because we forgot to buy Tripods for our cameras. Oops . but we got them now . :)
below you will also find a few pics from the day . Scroll to the bottom for for bonus piuctures if you are a Belmont Shore Fan . Don't forget to tel your friends to follow @playrugbyaz .
Rugby : The best time you will have with your new best friends
As a Bonus for making it this far here are some pictures from Belmont vs Seattle from may 2023