New South Wales Country revelled in the win from their trip west, defeating the Perth Spirit in a closely fought Round 7 match, 32–29.
The Country Eagles now move into fourth spot on the ladder and are well in contention for a semi-final berth with two matches to play. The Spirit by contrast drop to sixth position with only one match remaining to press their claims for 2015.
The match was played in overcast conditions at UWA Sports Park. Unfortunately, it also turned out to be another “Yellowfest” with both teams wearing predominantly gold jerseys and black shorts despite having alternate kits manufactured. Not really good enough from the clubs and the competition should step in to take these decisions from their hands.
But the game was a solid physical contest with some fine skills on display, regardless. The backline of the Country Eagles linked superbly with well-worked moves to get over the try line and take a big lead in the first half. The Spirit had the better of the battle in the forwards, though, which laid the platform for their later surge.
The breeze favoured the home side at the kick off. It was an arm wrestle in the opening quarter as both defences held tight with good line speed. Referee Damien Mitchelmore paid particular attention to the breakdown and blew several penalties against both sides for players not rolling away.
The first half
The Spirit had an early attempt at lineout drive from 10 metres but couldn’t quite get it right with forwards Richard Hardwick and Ross Haylett-Petty losing touch resulting in an accidental offside.
The Eagles were making the most of their possession. From 40 metres out in midfield, a long pass went to winger Charlie Clifton, who spun out of three would-be tackles and put on the leg drive to make 20 metres. Fly-half Jono Lance cut out his inside centre Dave Horowitz to pass the ball to fullback Andrew ‘The Red Folau’ Kellaway. He sped past defending winger Brad Lacey and ran down the right sideline to set up the first try. The pass went back inside to Horowitz who crossed the line untouched, running infield to improve the position. Lance added the extras to put the visitors ahead by 8 points at the 20 minute mark.
It wasn’t long before Lance took charge again, running to the defensive line on halfway. With Clifton acting as decoy runner, he delivered a flat cut out pass to Kellaway who was running a different line. The deception allowed him to break through, and Kellaway ran in a 50m try, stepping his opposite number Albert Nikoro before circling around to dive in behind the posts! Another easy Lance conversion had the Eagles ahead by 16 points after 25 minutes.
The Spirit then got some useful possession in opposition territory and a few penalties started going their way. Nikoro almost had his side’s first try when he was metres from the line in a one-on-one, but the ball spilled loose. The front row of Chris Heiberg, Heath Tessmann and Oli Hoskins were getting on top for the Spirit and they began taking scrums when awarded penalties. Country eventually infringed once too often close to their line, and their centre Ed Stubbs was yellow carded. From a big shove in the subsequent scrum, the Spirit sent the ball out to the centres where Junior Rasloea crashed through from 10 metres to score near the posts! Ian Prior converted and it was 8–16 in the 34th minute.
Unfortunately for the try scorer, his afternoon was soon to be over. It was a red card 4 minutes before the break as Rasolea was adjudged to have lifted Jono Lance past the horizontal and landed him on his shoulder and back. The Eagles swooped just before half time, putting it through their backline once again, running at full pace. Winger Jarome McKenzie burned them on the outside, going through the attempted tackles of the Spirit’s wingers Lacey and Apineru to score in the right corner. A great sideline conversion from Lance against the wind pushed the lead out to 8–24, and that remained the half time score.
The second half
The wind was now behind the visitors, but the third quarter would belong to the home side. The Spirit found touch 20 metres out and disrupted the Eagles lineout. They put it through their backline to the left and advanced to within 5 metres. With Perth probing after multiple phases, big prop Hoskins took a pass off the base of the ruck to crash over from short range for a try. Prior nailed a great conversion from out wide to make it 16–24 just three minutes after the break.
Number 10 Luke Burton then left the field for Perth with Prior moving out one spot to play fly-half and Michael Ruru coming on as scrumhalf. Ruru was soon into the action with a short pass to his captain Tessman who ran straight up the guts from 20 metres out. He was brought down just short of the line, but managed to roll on his back, reach over his head and plant the ball down for a try! An easy conversion from Prior tied the match up at 24-all in the 48th minute.
The Spirit were swarming all over Country. Their scrum won a penalty after a big second shove with Angus Cottrell controlling the ball at the back. Another Perth lineout drive was pulled up for a truck and trailer, though, as things weren’t quite clicking for them. But after the Eagles conceded a couple of penalties in their 22, prop Dane Maraki infringed and was issued with a yellow card. The Spirit kicked for touch and got their lineout drive working at last. Hardwick scored the try as the back of the maul drove over. Although Prior couldn’t convert from out wide into the wind, Perth were in the lead for the first time, 29–24 at the 57 minute mark.
Having conceded three consecutive tries, the Eagles finally replied. The ball was put through the hands once again, but this time with a few forwards chiming in. Number 8 Sam Figg made good metres close to the tryline before recycling and the ball went left to big lock Tom Staniforth. With a long cut out pass that Quade would be proud of, Staniforth found Stubbs running wide to cross for the try! Lance slotted his fourth conversion from the left sideline to retake the lead, 29–32 at 61 minutes.
Light rain then began to fall and substitutes started coming on. Maraki returned to the field from the sin bin for Country who then had their full complement of 15 players. Perth continued to press but only had 14 players. Some of the less experienced replacements from both teams didn’t have the same level of composure and a few mistakes crept in. Perth winger Hutchinson attempted a high kick near the sideline which was blown out on the full with the wind. Country winger Pennington fielded a kick from Prior that would’ve gone dead.
But Perth would still have a chance to snatch the game at the death. They threw it wide after a series of penalties and a tap and go from Ruru. It went out to Harper on the left who did well to step inside and beat two defenders. With the benefit of hindsight he should have taken the tackle to recycle it 5 metres out. But he saw a team mate outside and attempted a one-handed pass. The ball went over the sideline. Close, but no cigar!
Final score 29–32 to the NSW Country Eagles.
It was a good win away from home for the Country team. While players like Kellaway and Staniforth (and perhaps a couple others) might be future Super Rugby stars, the team doesn’t have the roster of professional players to match the competition leaders. NSW Country have managed to recruit well from clubland.
More importantly, the coach seems to be able to get the most out of the squad he has. The first two seasons of NRC are evidence of that but Darren Coleman has done similar things with the previous teams he has coached too. I don’t know the guy, never even met him, but reckon he might go alright at the next level.
Red card to Junior Rasolea before half time. While the Spirit won the second half and Country also got a couple of yellow cards, playing with a man down for that long took a toll.
The GAGR MOTM
Kellaway, Staniforth and McKenzie were notable for Country. Hoskins, Tessman and Prior stood out for the Spirit. But Jono Lance is the Green and Gold Rugby Man of the Match. A positive for Perth is that he’s joining the Force.
OZ Baabaa watch
Winger Charlie Clifton made plenty of metres for Country, spinning out of tackles and putting on the leg drive. Scrumhalf Michael Ruru was almost another Perth forward, drawing defenders and offloading. Kicks were okay too.
S. Rasolea 34'
O. Hoskins 43'
H. Tessmann 48'
R. Hardwick 57'
I. Prior (3/4) 35', 44', 49'
S. Rasolea 38' — RC
NSW Country: 32
D. Horwitz 20'
A. Kellaway 25'
J. McKenzie 39'
E. Stubbs 62'
J. Lance (4/4) 21', 27', 40', 63'
E. Stubbs 33' — YC
D. Marakai 58' — YC
[/one_half]Referee: Damien Mitchelmore
Perth Spirit: 1. Chris Heiberg, 2. Heath Tessmann (c), 3. Oliver Hoskins, 4. Ross Haylett-Petty, 5. Rory Walton, 6. Kane Koteka, 7. Richard Hardwick, 8. Angus Cottrell; 9. Ian Prior, 10. Luke Burton, 11. Brad Lacey, 12. Solomoni Rasolea, 13. Maalonga Konelio, 14. Faamanatu Apineru, 15. Albert Nikoro. Reserves: 16. Harry Scoble, 17. Joe Savage, 18. Torongare Reedy*, 19. Adrian Hall, 20. Pierre Roberts, 21. Michael Ruru, 22. Daley Harper, 23. Byron Hutchinson. Coach: Tai McIsaac.
NSW Country Eagles 1. Dane Maraki, 2. Tom Sexton, 3. Dave Faeo, 4. Tom Staniforth*, 5. Nicholas Palmer*, 6. Beau Robinson, 7. Mark Baldwin, 8. Sam Figg; 9. Mitch Short, 10. Jono Lance, 11. Charlie Clifton, 12. Dave Horwitz, 13. Ed Stubbs, 14. Jarome McKenzie, 15. Andrew Kellaway. Reserves: 16. Peter Nau, 17. Jerome Vaai, 18. Andrew Collins, 19. Jock Armstrong*, 20. BJ Edwards, 21. Angus Pulver, 22. Tom Merritt, 23. Jack Pennington, Coach: Darren Coleman.
* Late change
Photo Credits: Delphy