Above: The Lions narrowly lost to Old Blue last fall after a held-up try at the death. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015: Village Lions 20, Old Blue 26

On March 28, the Village Lions visited Old Blue for the first round of the Empire GU playoffs. While the Lions fell just short, this match did not disappoint in serving as the next great chapter in a series of matches between two of New York’s top sides.

Marked by aggressive play on both sides of the ball and some frustration-turned-chippiness, the Lions were bolstered by hard-fought forwards play from always-solid 8-man Franco DeLisa and sure-tackling captain Matt “Fuzzy” Mullen. The backs were led by dynamic play from new boy Byron Henry and the French Mafia contingent of Francois Fay and Dume Marcellesi.

The Lions played a tremendous first half of rugby, looking great coming off the scrum and playing deep in the backs. As one forward put it to this back so succinctly: “I am trying to think of an equivalent exchange for a back that you would understand the significance of wheeling the scrum to the tight-head. I can imagine it’s something like when you get out of bed in the morning and your hair is perfect without having to comb it.” Word.

An unfortunate missed pass and miscommunication on the part of the Lions enabled Old Blue to strike first and take an early 7-0 lead. The Lions were able to get on the board in the 10th minute through the boot of Hubert Chan, who struck a penalty kick from the right side to bring the score to 7-3.

After a tough five minutes that really set the tone for the entire match, some dynamic backs play and fancy footwork on the part of Old Blue created a strong overload and the opportunity for another score, making it 12-3. Enter newest Lion and French Mafia member Dume Marcellesi at 12.

In the 20th minute, Marcellesi received a pass from Henry 20 meters out, made a great dummy pass, put his shoulders down, and punched one in for the Lions. Chan converted the kick, putting the Lions right back in this match at 12-10.

Another penalty kick from Old Blue five minutes later put them on top, 15-10, with 15 minutes left in the half. On the ensuing kickoff the Lions won back the ball and set up nice phase play between both forwards and backs to work down the field and put the Lions in great position to score.

When you need a score you dial up your playmakers, and for the Lions, that is Mr. Patrick “Pokey” Mullarkey. He took a great skip pass from Marcellesi 25 meters out to break down the near sideline and put one in for the Lions, tying up this bad boy at 15.

With five minutes left in the half, Fay, not one to be outshone by his fellow wing, ran a beautiful line on the far sideline, took an offload, and scored one for the good guys to put the Lions on top, 20-15, at halftime.

While the Lions played a tremendous second half, the final 40 minutes were marked by some chippiness on both sides, including a questionable yellow card for a dump tackle by Mullarkey on a guy who had 50-plus pounds on him. While Mullarkey might be the Flash for his speed, that move was Hulk-like. An Old Blue try with an extra man following the card put the boys from Columbia up 23-20.

The second half was a slugfest, with both sides throwing everything they had at the other. Neither team executed as effectively in the second half as it did in the first, leading to more penalties and turnovers. Old Blue was able to capitalize and put one more penalty kick on the board to make the final score 26-20.

While the Lions lost the match, the overall impression from both the players and the sideline was that this was some of the best rugby the Lions have put together in recent months. Every player showed heart and determination, and fought until the final whistle.

The Lions are still alive in the playoffs. They prepare for a wildcard weekend matchup against Lansdowne on April 11 at Randall’s Island.

Tries: Dume Marcellesi (1), Patrick “Pokey” Mullarkey (1), Francois Fay (1)

Penalty kicks: Hubert Chan (1)

Conversions: Hubert Chan (1)

Lineup (1-15): Chris Mullen, Danny Shea, JJ Darling, Zach Levek, Pat Christy, Joe Karlin, Matt “Fuzzy” Mullen, Franco DeLisa, John Tublin, Byron Henry, Patrick Mullarkey, Chris Wise, Hubert Chan, Francois Fay, John Roberts

Subs: Dume Marcellesi for Chris Wise; Thiery Kamga for Danny Shea; Adrian Clements for Pat Christy; Alex Sheidler for Francois Fay; Carl Trezza for Thiery Kamga