Trinity 30 — Waverley 22
Waverley arrived at Summer Hill with a plan that ran something like this – hand out a Rugby lesson to an underwhelming Trinity team, then wait for Knox to upset Barker in the last round for the second year in succession. The outcome would then be a split premiership, with Barker and Waverley both winning nine games from ten.
Well, that was the plan. It had just one or two imperfections.
First, it relied on Knox holding up their end of the bargain. But also, as I’ve said before, the ten-round competition is an endurance test, which tests depth as much as anything, and Waverley has been battered by injury in recent weeks. The loss of fly-half O’Donnell may have hurt the most, but other important players were missing too.
Trinity wasn’t unaffected by this – regular full-back Barkley-Brown was confined to the sidelines, too. But for most of this year, Trinity’s Seconds couldn’t beat an egg. When they surprised Waverley 32-10, it was a clear indication that Waverley’s pool of talent had been seriously depleted.
Waverley’s success this season has been based on the hard work of a tough forward pack, who have a strong pick-and-drive game. But from the opening exchanges, Trinity refused to concede ground to Waverley up front. For pretty much the first time this season, Trinity took on its opposition at the breakdown, contesting every possession and counter-rucking aggressively.
They took the early lead through a penalty to 12 Christopher Ebeling; and, a few minutes later, Ebeling was instrumental in a neat backline move that sent 14 William Blake over on the left. Ebeling converted to give Trinity a 10-0 lead.
Waverley’s injury troubles deepened when 3 Adi Barisic left the field with what looked like a damaged shoulder. When not bustled off the ball by Trinity, Waverley looked to move the ball through the backs and attacked deep into Trinity’s quarter.
But an inspired piece of play by Trinity 9 Brent Whicker turned the game around.Whicker forced a turnover deep in Trinity territory, ran the ball out of defence himself, kicked downfield and tackled Waverley 15 Jack Bassett into touch ten metres from the goal line.
Trinity won the lineout, and three phases later, 8 Riley Innes crossed in the right corner. Ebeling missed the conversion, but Trinity took a 15-0 lead into half time. This was probably the best half of Rugby Trinity had managed all season; they simply denied Waverley an opportunity to get into the game.
An aside: the Waverly team has developed the habit of chanting “Hold, hold” in unison while waiting for their kicker to restart play. I doubt that they really forget to stay behind the kicker, so I suppose this was intended to be intimidating in some way – but it just seemed a little silly. Anyway, as they stood behind the kicker waiting for the second half to start, they plainly meant business. And Trinity lost concentration.
The restart was dropped, and Waverley 2 Nick Koutsoukis made a powerful run down the right wing, only to be forced into touch a couple of metres from the line. Trinity botched its own lineout throw, and Waverley 9 Darby Murphy swooped on the ball and dashed over untouched to score by the posts. 14 Duffy doesn’t miss these: 15-7.
Waverley returned the kickoff to Trinity 15 Henry Naylor, who shredded the defence in a wonderful counter-attacking run, only for his pass to a supporting forward to be spilled forward. From a scrum just inside Trinity’s half, Ebeling tried to set up his winger with an inside pass, but Waverley 10 Dion Narayan read the move perfectly, snatched the interception, and ran 35 metres to score under the posts. 15-14, and Trinity’s lead evaporated a few minutes later when Duffy landed a penalty.
This seemed to be what Trinity needed to regain focus, and a sustained period of attack ended with 1 Jackson McLean crashing through under the posts. Trinity, 22-17. Another strong attack ended with Ebeling kicking a penalty (for offside) – and at 25-17, Waverley needed to score twice.
The job became tougher when yet another attacking raid ended with Whicker sniping over: 30-17. At this point, the referee stopped play to speak to the Waverley coaches for a minute, although what was discussed remains a mystery.
It didn’t upset Waverley, who hit back with a well-worked try to Duffy in the corner. A few minutes later, Trinity was penalised at the breakdown and Koutsoukis elected to kick for goal, reasoning that his team needed to score twice. But Duffy pushed his kick wide and a couple of minutes later Whicker booted the ball joyfully into touch to end the game.
Trinity —There wasn’t a bad player on the Trinity side. Props McLean and Junior Satiu constantly charged at the defence and always made ground. 2 Geoffrey Coffill was always busy and tackled strongly.
9 Whicker was in everything and 10 Justin Fish (who missed most of the season with injury) ran elusively (and once sailed through a wide gap left when Narayan went searching for another intercept).12 Ebeling had a polished game, and 14 Rowland Kotobalavu was outstanding, bumping off one defender after another every time he got the ball.
But my player of the match would have been the Trinity School Captain, 5 Manish Poologasundram. He has been in the side throughout the season, working dutifully without ever doing a single thing that would raise the pulse of a spectator. But on Saturday, he found an extra gear. He ran powerfully, making ground and breaking tackles whenever he had the ball, he was dominant at the breakdown and he tackled everything that moved. It was an exceptional display.
Waverley — Koutsoukis was excellent, tackling, turning over ball at the breakdown, and running with exceptional acceleration for such a nugget. 8 Ryan Powter had a fine game marked by several powerful, athletic runs. The pick of the backs was 13 Jordan Bracewell, who challenged the defence whenever he had the ball, running hard and straight.
Oh: Barker won; so perhaps in the end it didn’t matter. But if you saw the desolate faces on the Waverley players, or Trinity’s post-match celebration, you’d realise that it mattered to them.
Trinity — 30
W Blake, J McLean, B Whicker, R Innes tries, C Ebeling 2 goals 2 penalty goals
Waverley — 22
P Duffy, D Narayan, D Murphy tries P Duffy 2 goals, penalty goal.
Click on arrow to see Barker v. Knox match report on Page 2