The Canberra Royals have advanced to the John I Dent Cup grand final in scrappy yet spectacular fashion downing the Queanbeyan Whites 33-30 at Viking Park on Saturday.
The Whites dominated the Wests Lions in last week’s minor semi-final, and despite finishing the competition lower on the table than the Royals, could hardly have been considered underdogs for this clash.
But the Royals’ slight advantage in composure got them over the line, and coach Russell Ingram could not have been happier.
“Our game plan was perfect. The boys were outstanding today, stuck to the way we wanted to play,” he said.
That game plan was a defensive structure worked on all week, and without forwards Jay Cash, Tom Cusack and Jack Sutton- all casualties from last week’s loss to the Vikings.
“There’s a way that Robbie [Coleman, Whites half] plays, to the left field and the right field he attacks differently, and we knew what they were going to do, and we just had to shut down their attack system,” said Ingram.
Queanbeyan had spent most of the second half of the competition getting their combinations right, and became known as on of the best attacking units in the John I Dent Cup.
But today their forwards failed to solidify enough according to coach Adam Fahey.
“We just lacked the patience and composure we’ve shown in the last month and how to win big games. I think the occasion got to us a bit and we didn’t execute as well as we should have,” said Fahey.
He said the Royals responded to the emotions of playing finals rugby better than his side.
The Royals came off a scrappy performance in an agonising one point loss to the Vikings in the major semi-final last week.
And while Ingram was not at all impressed with that performance, he may have been even less impressed with his men’s start to this fixture.
They came up with numerous errors in the first 20 minutes, and ill discipline meant they were lucky to trail just 8-6 at the same stage.
Queanbeyan superstars Sam Windsor and University of Canberra Brumbies reserve Robbie Coleman showed their composure early, and set up winger Lachlan Freeth for the opening try.
But the Royals showed their class and composure after again conceding penalties keeping them in their own half, and a brilliant kick down field and chase was finished by winger Seth Going to get his side in the lead.
A crucial moment even before half time for the Whites, as there was noone home at fullback.
Luckily though Whites prop Chris Barbaro had other ideas, barging over to give his side a narrow two point lead at half time.
Whatever Ingram said to the Royals at half time seemed to work, as they lifted their intensity immensely and soon found themselves up 21-18 courtesy of an overlap play sprinted to the finish by winger Liam Slater.
A sensational leap in the corner minutes later had him get his side one step closer to a grand final birth, and all of a sudden Queanbeyan were truly on the back foot.
They had next to nothing field position, and twice in a row lost lineouts in their own 40 metre zone.
But reflective of how the game had been played out, Queanbeyan were going nowhere.
Out of the blue flanker Dan Penca got his side back within a point after back to back penalties got the Whites to the right end of the paddock.
A tense, grandstand finish ensued, and the Whites continued to threaten the Royals and almost broke through couple of times.
But again the Royals held strong, and two kicks in one sequence of play saw Going soccering ahead and he pounced on a try.
Whites number eight Thomas Darmody then scored, but it was not to be for the Whites, missing out by just three points.
Ingram said that his men will have to get all the little things right to win the premiership next week.
“We’ll asses it during the week and come up with a game plan to win it,” he said.
Cusack will not be back for the grand final, but Cash and Sutton are expected to return.
Canberra Royals 33 (Going 2, Slater 2 tries; McMahon 2 cons; 3 pens) bt Queanbeyan Whites 30 (Freeth, Barbaro, Penca, Darmody tries; Windsor 3 cons; pen) at Viking Park