After an opening stretch of four travelling matches to begin the 2016 PRP season, the Denver Barbarians returned to the friendly confines of Infinity Park to host the Santa Monica Dolphins in a contest of two teams desperate to build momentum for the second half of the PRP season. A see-saw first half saw both teams have success attacking with Santa Monica up three at the break, before the Barbos, bolstered by the home fans, showed their class and pulled away in the second half, 36-27.
The Dolphins fired the first salvo of the match as they gathered the opening kickoff and immediately pressured Denver into conceding a penalty. In the spirit of sportsmanship only found in rugby, the Barbos provided the tee when Santa Monica realized theirs was left on the beach, Sean Lee doing the honors 3 minutes into the match. Both teams showed promise in attack, but thwarted themselves offensively with miscues before the Barbos were able to summon an answer. Playing in his last game with Denver before returning to his native New Zealand, fullback Elliot Dillon-Herzog swam through the Dolphins’ defense before masterfully offloading to a streaking Michael Al-Jiboori, who side-stepped the last two defenders to score the match’s first try. Flyhalf Ata Malifa added the extras to take the lead 7-3 at the quarter mark.
Santa Monica were able to find their rhythm in the latter stages of the first stanza. Swinging the ball wide gave winger Harrison Phillips an abundance of space but a dearth of support, so he chipped over the defenders and collected the perfect bounce for the try. Lee slotted the conversion to retake the lead. The Dolphins quickly struck again chasing a kick down in the try zone. The replay was inconclusive, at least to the many Denver referees in the stands, but the try was awarded nonetheless, and Santa Monica stretched their lead, 15-7 with 30 minutes gone.
Despite the deficit, the Barbos continued their aggressive play, including an attempt to attack off of a lineout 8 meters from their try line. The gambit was executed to perfection as Elliot Dillon-Herzog proved to be the danger man again. Prop Stephen Karas broke loose, and found the enigmatic kiwi flying down the sideline 40 meters out. Known for his skilled ball-handling, Dillon-Herzog both caught and returned the pass in one motion to enable Karas to easily score right before the break, 15-12 Santa Monica.
No doubt inspired by Coach Borlase and the prospect to showing out in his final Denver match, Dillon-Herzog sneakily intercepted a lofted Santa Monica pass and out-raced all of the Dolphins to the try zone to put the Barbos back on top, 17-15 minutes into the second half. Santa Monica answered catching Denver unawares with a quick lineout at midfield as Phillips found lock Zach Winter who went back inside to scrumhalf Adam Crear for the five-pointer. Lee converted to give the Dolphins a 22-17 cushion in the 51st minute.
With the insertion of many veteran players into the match, the Barbos began to exploit more weaknesses in the Santa Monica defense. Malifa connected with Maximo de Achaval on a weak-side attack only to be stifled at the try line by the stout covering defense. Fortunately for Denver, flanker Johnny Bill Godinet was able to take advantage of the chaos and barreled over for the game-tying try in the 56th minute. Moments later, prop Ron Tufele sprang loose for 30 meters provoking a penalty. The resulting lineout inside the Dolphins’ 22 meter line enable outside center Al-Jiboori break through the line and dot down for his second try. Malifa’s conversion put Denver up 29-22 with 20 minutes to play.
While Santa Monica continues to find success with excellent open-field play, and an outstanding offload game, the Denver defense manages to shut the Dolphins out of the try zone. Eventually, de Achaval is able to break a few tackles before finding Al-Jiboori, who fends off two would-be tacklers to earn his second hat trick of the season. De Achaval gets into the scoring column with the conversion and gives the Barbos a two-try lead, 36-22 with 10 minutes to go. Phillips’s strong running get the Dolphins close enough for Winter to dive over, but the conversion attempt goes awry spoiling Santa Monica’s hopes for a comeback and accounting for the final tally, 36-27 Denver.
Al-Jiboori’s second hat trick in three games garners him Man of the Match honors, and Dillon-Herzog’s spectacular performance earns him a worthy sendoff. Santa Monica takes on the Olympic Club in a match between teams seeking their first wins of the season, and the Denver Barbarians return to Infinity Park to battle their bitter rivals the Glendale Raptors.
Tries: Al-Jiboori (3), Karas, Dillon-Herzog, Godinet
Santa Monica Dolphins
Tries: Phillips, Adams, Crerar, Winter
Conversions: Lee (2)