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Granite Bay HS Club Champs

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Granite Bay HS Club Champs

Every meter was a battle. Dan Bandoni photo.

Granite Bay exacted some measure of revenge and defeated Royal Irish to win the 2016 Boys HS Club national championship Saturday at the Rugby Athletic Center in Charlotte, NC.

The Grizzlies enjoyed a brilliant performance from their deep three of Anthony Wiley, Jon Rogers, and Sam Cusano, and an aggressive defensive performance from everyone.

The ability of Cusano, Wiley, and Rogers to run back kicks, and use each other to keep those counter-attacks moving, helped negate the Royal Irish kicking game. And meanwhile, the kicking of Gavin Janis at scrumhalf and Desi Streater at flyhalf helped put Granite Bay on the front foot repeatedly.

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Granite Bay opened the game pressuring Royal Irish and being very aggressive in the breakdown. The Grizzlies earned a penalty early in the game and Rogers put the kick over. 

Royal Irish replied quickly, with No. 8 Kevin O’Hara helping power them through. Granite Bay was pinged for a penalty in the breakdown, and David Hannon put the kick over.

The Grizzlies went right back to do the same thing, running their centers Justin Oles and Andrew Smith hard into the midfield, and using No. 8 Ryan Macintosh as well.

Rogers missed his next kick, but later kicked from the same spot. That made it 6-3 Granite Bay.

Dan Bandoni photos. Granite Bay in solid green and mud. Royal Irish in stripes and mud.
Granite Bay v Royal Irish Dan Bandoni photo Granite Bay v Royal Irish Dan Bandoni photo

There then followed a wild turn of events. Both teams started to get penalties in the rucks, although Granite Bay more than Royal Irish, and eventually both teams received a stern warning from the referee to stop killing the ball in the ruck, coming in from the side, and playing the ball in the ground.

The warning was clear, and right after that, Granite Bay was in from the side and got a yellow card. Royal Irish tapped and ran, and in the next ruck, Granite Bay didn’t release the tackled player. Another yellow card. The Grizzlies were lucky not to get another the next phase, but the message was clear.

Royal Irish had the penalty right in front of the posts, they opted to run it.

“I am OK with the decision,” said Royal Irish Head Coach Scott Peterson after the game. “They were up two players, and with that it made sense to go for the try.”

But they didn’t get it. Stretching over the line, Royal Irish knocked it on. From the ensuing scrum, Streater drifted sideways and then thumped a kick through his own goalposts, and down to midfield. The chase was on, and Granite Bay regained the ball, and Janis popped a box kick to gain further territory.

After a little loose play thanks to the mud, Granite Bay got a penalty, and kicked for the lineout. And from there, Streater put a wiper kick down to the corner. Coming off the opposite wing, Wiley chased, picked up the ball, and dove over for the try.

Dan Bandoni photos. Granite Bay in solid green and mud. Royal Irish in stripes and mud.
Granite Bay v Royal Irish Dan Bandoni photo Granite Bay v Royal Irish Dan Bandoni photo

It was a killer. From almost scoring at one end, Royal Irish had seen Granite Bay -shorthanded - work their way downfield and, with several exceptional pieces of skills, scored a try.

“That was a huge try,” said Peterson. “It turned the whole game around.”

“I got into open field and I was going to hit a grubber through but [the defense] was too close to me so I put it over,” said Streater. As for that kick from his own in-goal, “there was really not much I could do - I had about four yards to kick the ball. I wanted to get ten yards, but it ended up going farther.”

After that, Granite Bay tried to press the advantage. In the second half, they went back to full strength, but Royal Irish scored after an big break from center Kyle Hoeper. That made it 11-8. Then Royal Irish got a yellow cars for kicking the ball out of a player’s hands, and Rogers quickly put that kick over.

Rogers almost scored with a try, chasing a kick into the corner. Rogers insisted he touched the ball down, but the call was a knock-on.

For the remainder of the game, Royal Irish tried to bust out of their 22, but the Granite Bay defense was very physical, led by player of the game Jagger Maderos, and their counter-attack on kicks was excellent.

The key was Cusano varying his approach, sometimes running straight, sometimes putting on a move, sometimes passing to his support, and sometimes kicking.

“That’s what he learned this year,” said Granite Bay Head Coach Jason Divine. “He was making some very smart decisions and we were able to get back 20, 30 meters every time they kicked. They kept to their pattern the whole game, and defended really well. I think the muddy conditions made them stick to the plan, because everything was just so difficult.”

And it ended after one last go by Royal Irish, 14-8. It was the Indianapolis team’s 5th-straight national final, and Granite Bay’s second, but Granite Bay came away the winners.

In a weekend where many teams said it was too wet, too muddy to play much with the ball, Granite Bay worked the passes and played running rugby, and won. Their convincing early wins allowed them to rest some players, and that also proved key as they finished strong on Saturday.

“For us [in the forwards] it was just defense,” said prop Roddy Hamilton. “We knew they had big guys and we knew we needed to stop their forwards rushing in.”

It was a perfect combination of ball skills, kicking smarts, and defense. Royal Irish played hard and savvy, but couldn’t quite get that third-straight championship.

For all the placements, click here.