Humboldt’s late rally paves way to win over Mendo Steam Donkeys
The Emerald Cup is a big deal. Every season, rival rugby clubs Mendocino Steam Donkeys and Humboldt Old Growth battle for the exclusive trophy. Bringing home the Cup is at the back of every players mind, just as is the notion to hit hard, score tries, and whittle their opponent down during the course of the match. The last meeting between these two clubs was no different.
On Saturday, February 1, the Steam Donkeys traveled up to Humboldt County with high hopes on securing the trophy from their victory over the Old Growth club last season. Players knew it wouldn’t be easy, having enough matches in the past to realize Humboldt would come out aggressive and try to run over their defense with a large front pack and a skilled, heavy-shouldered back line. That is exactly what Humboldt attempted to do early on in the match. But the Steam Donkeys defense was prepared with solid tackling and causing timely turnovers.
Although Humboldt retained the ball within Mendocino’s five-meter line for several series during the first half, they were only able to score two tries. The Steam Donkeys tagged on a try of their own when outside center Emmanuel Natividad scooped up a knock-on from a Humboldt player and dove into the try zone. At the break, the Steam Donkeys found themselves down by only five points with a score of 12-7.
The Mendocino squad tends to be a second-half team and they proved so once again over the weekend. They came out of the break pushing the ball hard toward Humboldt’s side of the field, retaining field position for several minutes before flanker Matt Campbell caught a pass and rambled ten meters to touch the ball down for another score. It was a tied game at that point but the score wouldn’t last long.
A few possessions later, Manny Griego caught a nice offload by Joshua Landers and burst through the middle of the Humboldt defense, diving between the goal posts and into the try zone for five more points. Soon after, Manny’s kick split the uprights, adding another two points and giving the Steam Donkeys a solid 19-12 lead with 12 minutes left in the match. The Mendocino squad was pumped up, confident, but maybe a little too secure of the outcome of the match, because the final ten minutes proved costly for the visiting club.
The Steam Donkeys started losing rucks more often and a few times Humboldt players poached the ball, stealing it from Mendocino’s possession and retaining control. After one of Humboldt’s poaches, the fly-half sent a high kick in the air. Instead of the ball sailing out of bounds, going to touch and handing the ball over for a Steam Donkey line out, it took a generous bounce into a Humboldt players arms. With a quick offload to their streaking inside center, Humboldt scored an easy try with Mendocino’s defense never having time to get back.
Now with five minutes left in the match, the Steam Donkeys holding on to a two-point lead, another unfortunate sequence happened. Off a Mendocino penalty, Humboldt’s 8-man quick tapped the ball and streaked up the sideline, gaining several meters past a surprised defense. Another quick offload and the home team scored the final try, one that would give them a 3-point lead and an eventual victory as the referee’s whistle rang out, signaling the end of the match.
Even with the tough loss, the Steam Donkeys held their heads high. They played a rival team hard, executed some new offensive plays and saw a vast improvement in their defensive line. Although it was a difficult loss to swallow, especially since the players felt they should’ve won, it didn’t come without some positive effect. When the Steam Donkeys battle for the Emerald Cup later this season at their home pitch in Ukiah, you can be sure they’ll correct the problems they made and play even harder to retake the coveted trophy.
The Steam Donkeys next match is against the San Francisco Fog on Saturday, February 15, in Ukiah. Please come by and watch this exciting sport and support your local club.
This is a family friendly event, and be sure to bring some chairs, drinks, and food while enjoying this fast-growing sport. The match starts at 1p.m.
For directions to the home pitch, visit mendorugby.com and click on the Home Field icon.