With a place in the finals on the line, the Canberra Vikings travelled to a sodden Easts Rugby Club in suburban Brisbane to take on home-town Brisbane City. Which team would handle the conditions best? Who would emerge with a daunting semi-final trip to Fiji?
As the game started, it was obvious that whoever adapted first to the diabolical wet would probably end up on top. Standing water was everywhere and much of the touchline closest to the clubhouse was a line of dirt and mud.
So it was the Vikings who made the first error, with Hawera kicking the ball dead in goal from half-way, giving City an early scrum. Off the feed, City couldn’t get a strike on it and the ball hung there tantalisingly until the Viking pack folded. This scrum pressure exerted by City was a continual feature of the game against what had been, until today, an equally strong Viking pack.
After around ten minutes of loose play, misfiring lineouts and loose carries, it was the Vikings who seemed to be warming to the task a little better, and indeed they struck first.
A Scott Gale box kick was counter attacked and the ball quickly went wide left where Len Ikitau strolled through a yawning gap and went over. Hawera converts and it is 7-0 Vikings after 13 minutes.
The Vikings continued to win the territory and possession battle through most of the first half, and they weren’t afraid to spread it and Hope and Ikitau were making some serious metres in the centres, and both Vikings wingers were also seeing a lot of ball. Brisbane City in contrast looked to work it through the middle when they had it but struggled to hold ball in contact and continually put themselves under pressure.
As the half hour ticked by, City’s scrum reasserted themselves as a series of penalties saw them piggybacked downfield, A scrum close to the Vikings line saw another penalty and in the resulting confusion, Quade Cooper took the quick tap and dived over in the left corner. He pushed the resulting kick right and it is still anybody’s game.
Right before the break the Vikings earnt a penalty for the jackal right in front of the posts, and Hawera puts it through and we go into the sheds with the Vikings holding onto a 10-7 game.
The second half began and the showers and strong wind continued. The Vikings won an early penalty and Hawera stepped up to take a 35m kick from the right of the posts, which was a bold call in the conditions. Off the boot though, it never looked like missing and the Vikings were out to an eight point advantage, vital given the weather.
Brisbane City began to play like they needed to score twice and began to take the ascendancy across the park. Some fierce defence from the Vikings with Valetini and Ikitau in particular putting on some big hits.
City took advantage of some of this field position and after a series of dives at the line it was Brandon Paenga-Amosa who crossed and City was right in it. Cooper missed the relatively easy conversion but at 13-10, it was still anyone’s game.
Another couple of scrum penalties saw the Vikings pack get a warning and it soon saw someone in the bin, with tighthead Tom Ross earning a spell, wiping a big clod of mud from his eye as he made his way to the naughty chair.
If City were going to win it, this was their time to do it but they simply couldn’t take advantage of the situation, with some dedicated Vikings defence and the injection of wily half Joe Powell seeing the Vikings actually come closer to scoring. Powell was excellent in his limited time on the field, marshalling the troops and holding out the City attack.
Eventually, Damon Murphy had enough of the bog and blew his whistle and it was the Vikings who booked their ticket to the semi finals and left Brisbane City wondering what might have been. To their credit, the Vikings probably deserved to win, they controlled the game better and overcame a wonky set piece to edge out a gallant, but perhaps a little too one dimensional City outfit.
The Game Changer
City had the chance to win the game when they had the man advantage and just couldn’t do it. Other than that it was a tight affair that was hamstrung by the diabolical weather.
The G&GR MOTM
In such a tight affair, it was not an easy job to pick. Len Ikitau was strong and dangerous as was Tom Banks, but for my money it was Wharenui Hawera who controlled the pace of the game and spun it wide when needed. His goal kicking was the ultimate difference in a game where City scored more tries..
Rising Star Watch
To fit in with the new award being awarded by the NRC for those with limited Super Rugby (or test in the Drua’s case) experience, the brains at GAGR will also be picking their Rising Star in each game. Both City and the Vikings put up contenders today but it was City number 8 Sam Wallis who stood out today. He got through a mountain of work and was solid in defence. The City game plan demanded a lot of the pack today and Wallis delivered in spades.
Scores and Scorers
Brisbane City: 10
Tries: Quade Cooper, Brandon Paenga-Amosa
Conversions: Quade Cooper 0/2
Canberra Vikings: 13
Tries: Len Ikitau
Conversions: Wharenui Hawera 1/1
Penalties: Hawera 2/2
Photo Gallery (courtesy Stephen Tremain)