Perth Spirit head back to WA with the points after keeping the Western Sydney Rams at bay to claim a deserved 30-24 victory.
As clear blue skies welcomed the boys from WA the Rams were looking to kick-start their season with a home win at Concord Oval. Near-perfect conditions set the scene for running rugby with Olympic Gold Medal winner Vatemo Ravouvou lining-up against Wallaby Luke Morahan.
The Rams also featured big Will Skelton, the lock not being required by the Wallabies, but were missing Hugh Roach – the Waratahs hooker succumbing to stress fractures in his left big toe and will miss the rest of the NRC.
The early stages of the game were dominated by the Spirit and only some impressive defence by the Rams forwards kept the score at nil all, Jono Lance was, in particular, being very impressive and was taking the ball to the line at every opportunity.
Repeated indiscretions at the breakdown saw Senio Toleafoa receive a yellow card on 12 minutes and the impressive Lance found touch from the resultant penalty. The Spirit won the lineout and after a rolling maul moved the ball wide for Lance to cross for the game’s first try. Lance then converted for an 8-0 lead to the Spirit.
Typical of the first half, the Rams then kicked out on the full, handing possession and advantage back to the Spirit. A few minutes later Onehunga Havili made a strong run and once more the ball went wide with Ammon Matuauto breaking the line and scoring. Lance missed the conversion but it was 14-0 to the Spirit with 22 minutes played.
The Rams were giving the ball away cheaply and poor kicking was putting them on the back foot. Senio Toleafoa decided to make up for his earlier stint in the naughty chair by barging over from close range after some good work from Tupou Sopoaga. Captain Paul Asquith made sure of the extras with a drop goal to make it 8-14 on 25 minutes.
David Lolohea was enjoying his shift at the coal-face and on 29 minutes won a penalty after a great pilfer then strong run in the next phase, allowing the Rams to gain possession inside the Spirit 10 and after lock Ngaruhe Jones took good lineout ball, Brandon Paenga-Amosa went over for his 4th try of the season. Asquith got the extras and it was deservedly 16-14 to the Rams. But the Rams shot themselves in the foot once again, a poor restart allowed the Spirit to regain the ball and it was worked wide allowing Eric Vasukicakau to score. Lance converted the try and after 33 minutes the Spirit led 22-16.
The Spirit were starting to target the Rams left side with Rob Buaserau being guilty of some poor defence and it was this side that they targeted once more allowing scrumhalf Ryan Louwrens to scamper though a gap and score right on half time. Lance got the extras once more and at half time it was 30-16 to the Spirit.
The second half was an end-to-end affair with both sides trying to play fast, attacking rugby. The Spirit sensed that the next try would be pivotal and went for blood at a frantic pace, however it was the Rams that scored next, Apo Latunipulu made a break after a good Luke Smart run and substitute Mitch Walton sent fellow replacement Jack Payne over after a fantastic dummy.Walton converted and it was 24-30 with 68 minutes gone.
The Spirit then lost Havili on 73 minutes to a yellow card but poor Rams execution at set-piece gave them the ball back when they looked most vulnerable and they deservedly held on to win the match. The Spirit will be relieved to leave Sydney with the points but the Rams will be very disappointed at that performance, cheaply handing the ball to the opposition on far too many occasions. Ravouvou didn’t provide the spark the Rams needed and perhaps it’s too optimistic to have expected him to shine in his first game back but the Rams as a whole looked disinterested at times and the Spirit took full advantage.
The Game Changer
It was tough to pick a moment that decided the game so instead I’ve gone for an opportunity missed, on 73 minutes the Spirit lost Havili to a yellow card. Down to 14 and on the back-foot, however, the Rams were guilty of giving the game away with poor execution and a lack of desire. Too many cheap penalties and moves that broke-down when they could have made the man advantage count and get that game winning try.
The G&GR MOTM
Jono Lance oozed class today; his intelligent kicking game was the difference. Gaining his team territory and momentum, whereas the Rams were often making errors and handing the advantage back to the Spirit.
Ammon Matuauto was the pick of the rest, strong in defence and sparking more than a few impressive attacking moves.David Lolohea was the pick of the Rams players for me, never giving up while showing class with ball in hand and impressing at both the breakdown and tackle.
Players to watch
In a game where some of the bigger names flattered to deceive, it was left to the unsigned players to impress.
The pick of the bunch was David Lolohea, the Parramatta Two Blues prop looks right at home at this level and the Waratahs could do a lot worse than consider him for a development spot.
Both hookers today showed they are very handy, Paenga-Amosa and Harry Scoble have bright futures in front of them.
Tupou Sopoaga again impressed in the loose for the Rams.
WS Rams: 24
Asquith (3/3) 26', 31', 67'
Toleafoa 11' – YC
Lance (3/4) 14', 33', 40'
Havilli 74' – YC
Western Sydney Rams: 1. Matt Gibbon, 2. Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 3. David Lolohea, 4.* Will Skelton, 5. Senio Toleafoa, 6. Ngaruhe Jones, 7. Tupou Sopoaga, 8. Rhys Allen; 9. Scott Gale, 10. Paul Asquith (c), 11. Luke Smart, 12. Apolosi Latunipulu, 13. Denny Godinet, 14. Rob Buaserau, 15. Vatemo Ravouvou. Replacements: 16. Aaron Blacklock, 17. Andrew Tuala, 18. Jack Payne, 19. Taunaola Kei, 20. Tom Alexander, 21. Harrison Goddard, 22. Mitch Walton, 23. Albert Nikoro. Coach: John Muggleton.
Perth Spirit: 1. Laione Mulikihaamea, 2. Harry Scoble, 3. Shambeckler Vui, 4. Kieran Stringer, 5. Onehunga Havili, 6. Brynard Stander, 7. Kane Koteka, 8. Richard Hardwick; 9. Ryan Louwrens, 10. Jono Lance (c), 11. Eric Vasukicakau, 12. Bill Meakes, 13. Ammon Matuauto, 14.* Luke Morahan, 15. Manihera Eden. Replacements: 16. Tom Sheminant, 17. Mees Erasmus, 18. Chris Heiberg, 19. Russell Burgess, 20. Hadleigh May, 21. Michael Ruru, 22. AJ Alatimu, 23. Ben Tapuai. Coach: Dwayne Nestor.
* Lineup changes