Ratu dominates as slick Wicks overwhelm Shoremen

Photo: SPA Images

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A long overdue visit to one of the most picturesque grounds in the competition – North Sydney Oval, saw Northern Suburbs with the tough task of knocking over high-flying Randwick. But with wins at their historic home over both Manly and Eastern Suburbs already this year, no-one was ruling out an upset. The Galloping Greens meanwhile, were looking to continue their recent run of good form and rack up another victory on their march to the finals, but were suitably wary of their hosts ability to turn the form book upside down.

The opening period was quite bright with both sides looking to play fast, enterprising football, only to nullify each other in the midfield. Ratu Nasiganiyavi was a presence early for the Wicks, and in tandem with Bernie Orbell, gave the visitors a menacing look on the counter-attack.

After seven minutes, a break on halfway saw a cute reverse pass from lock Steven Brennan put Patrick Phibbs through a gap. The Brumbies scrum-half went straight at the posts, but couldn’t find the hovering Ratu with his offload as he was tackled five metres out. However, referee Ian Smith had already awarded a penalty, and the reliable Marshall Milroy stepped up to claim the opening points of the game.

Three minutes later it was all square, Randwick guilty of foul play at a line-out and Norths flyhalf Chris Burnett restoring parity. And with ill discipline for the Wicks costing them possession and position on a number of occasions in the opening encounters, the home side began to settle into the contest.

The visitors were also reliant on too many kicks, particularly down the throat of the reliable Andrew Smith. Returning to full-back this week after a few of games in the centres, Smith was kept busy with a succession of bombs and territory finders requiring his attention, but all were capably dealt with and returned with interest. Unsurprisingly, it was not a tactical approach Randwick head coach Gary Ella had laid out for his side.

“There was way too much kicking!” he bemoaned afterwards. “It’s funny, this was a game where we wanted to keep the ball in hand because they have a very good fullback who either kicks very long or runs it back very well, so kicking the ball to him definitely wasn’t part of the game plan.”

By the end of the first quarter however, Randwick had started to find themselves, dictating the tempo and playing a more natural game with ball in hand. Unfortunately for Norths, that spelt danger.

A Wicks scrum win inside their opponents 22 saw the ball go wide to an eager Frankie Fainifo. The elusive winger set off on a mazy, twisting run before popping off a short ball for the waiting Ratu to swat the last couple of tacklers away effortlessly and touch down in the corner.

Latunipulu, Sam runs 110409D-6295.JPG

Sam Latunipulu was arguably best on ground for Norths in defeat – Photo: SPA Images

Five minutes later they crossed again. Nice interplay from skipper Atonio Halangahu and Phibbs opened up another hole for the no. 9 to exploit. He was taken down by a high-shot, but with the referee playing advantage, the Wicks recycled the ball at speed and moved it through the hands to an unmarked Ratu, who literally flopped over for an easy second which took him into double figures for the season.

Straight from the restart, Norths were caught out once more with a terrific break from Shaun Foley. He had Ratu looking for his hat-trick on his outside but cut back in and fed Orbell instead, who was arriving at pace. The slippery centre ran hard at the defensive line before drawing the tackle and feeding inside to Toby Browne, who went under the posts to giving Milroy an easy conversion for 24-3.

The Shoremen were looking a little shellshocked. They weren’t doing an awful lot wrong, they were simply being carved up by a well-oiled machine that was clicking firmly into top gear. They’d had a fair amount of possession but hadn’t spent anytime in the Randwick 22, and were now facing an uphill task even at this early stage of the match.

Their cause wasn’t helped any further when the all-action Fainifo started and finished a passage of play to really take the game away from the hosts and give Randwick the bonus point in the process.

The flying winger broke through three tackles before being hauled down about 10 metres shy of his objective, before the forwards came in to drive the ball towards the line with Norths rallying their troops into action to try and prevent the inevitable. But with the back-line set and waiting for the ball too be fired out from the ruck, the forwards burrowed ahead once more and Fainifo, who’d hung around at the back of the pack, swooped like a veteran frontrower to find the line.

Many sides would have thrown in the towel at this point. But the increased adversity seemed to galvanise the home team, and to their great credit they roused themselves from the ensuing kick-off to build their most consistent phases of play thus far, and finally earn themselves some time in the red zone.

Conversely, the Wicks were perhaps guilty of still celebrating as some soft defence allowed Norths to pick and drive their way towards the line, and with one final shove the ref’s whistle indicated a try for the Red and Blacks through Sam Latunipulu.

Burnett never looked like missing the conversion, and a rare glimmer of hope still flickered amongst the local faithful. But that was extinguished very quickly, when the Galloping Greens pulled out the try of the half a few minutes later, off the back of a promising Norths attack.

Smith set off on one of his bulwarking runs down the right flank and earned a line-out, taken quickly. But in their haste to proceed, the pass was forced and possession lost. The ball was spread across the centre of the park to Phibbs, who read the situation perfectly to put up a crossfield-kick over the heads of the advancing last line of defence, and straight into the arms of a sprinting Fainifo, who hit the accelerator and touched down unchallenged for his second and a commanding 36-10 lead at the break.

Fainifo, Francis passing 110709D-2741.JPG

Frankie Fainifo was everywhere for Randwick – Photo: SPA Images

It was perhaps inevitable that the scoring rate slowed down a little in the second half, but the status quo on the scoreboard for 20 minutes was the least that Norths deserved for a spirited effort. They were the better side in many facets of the game, and managed to stem the flow of Randwick’s football without ever really looking threatening themselves. They were helped by plenty of disruptions to break up play, either from poor execution or an over zealous whistle, which saw the crowd unite in their frustration.

Latunipulu was as busy as ever for the hosts, leaping into every breakdown like a coiled spring, and often doing enough to win ball or prevent it being used to any effect by his opposite numbers. Special mention too for prop Tai Vea, who carried a lot of ball for a big man and was a force to be reckoned with in both the scrum and open play, where it often took two or three guys to bring him down.

The introduction of Josh Valentine added a fresh injection to the visitor’s, although it wasn’t without any help from Norths, who gave away cheap possession whilst on the attack and were rapidly punished on the counter by the precision and pace of the Wicks backline.

It was the new man who snaffled up a loose ball and fed Fainifo in his own half, the winger setting off on a dazzling run up the right touchline and jinking his way past four defenders before heading infield and offloading to Stephen Hoiles. The ever-available Brumbies captain carried it another 10 metres before he found traffic in front of the posts, but the ball was squirrelled away out the back to the advancing Phibbs who scooted over for the try.

Norths did have their moments in the closing stages. They worked the short side well through some gritty work from their tight five, while Smith and Chris Moore’s hard running and ability to break the first tackle got them close on a couple of occasions – a last-ditch effort by Valentine preventing a certain score from the hardworking centre. But they would pay a heavy price for their poor execution in the last 10 minutes, gifting two tries which gave an unbalanced look to the final scoreline.

Latunipulu broke down the right flank for the Red and Blacks, looked for his support runners, didn’t find them and the ball ran loose. Quick as a flash, Nasiganiyavi assessed the situation, scooped it up inside his twenty-two, grubbered it past two opponents, ran around them hugging the touchline as he went, picked up the bouncing ball in one hand, palmed off another tackler, then outpaced the last man in a foot race to the line.

Exhilarating stuff, and I’m sure Waratahs coach Chris Hickey will be drooling in anticipation of what he might produce in the Cambridge Blue jersey next year when he sees the video.

Three minutes from time the big winger had his fourth, although, in much simpler fashion. This time Smith broke through for Norths but his offload from the floor went straight into the hands of the giant no.11, and he had the length of the pitch to negotiate before touching down to rubber stamp the victory, and complete a miserable afternoon for the Shoremen.

RANDWICK 57 (Ratu Nasiganiyavi 4, Francis Fainifo 2, Patrick Phibbs, Toby Browne tries; Marshall Milroy 7 cons, pen) defeated NORTHERN SUBURBS 10 (Sam Latunipulu try; Chris Burnett con, pen) at North Sydney Oval HT: 36-10

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Randwick coach Gary Ella:

“We played pretty well in patches, again we’re still playing about sixty minutes out of the eighty. But there were some outstanding individual performances out there and from most of the team.

“I think our back three were outstanding, you know when you look at Marshall Milroy, Ratu and Frankie, I think they all had great games. If you look in the forwards, I think that (Daniel) Spencer had a great game, I think that Ben Mowen’s probably played his best game for us this year, so a lot of good performances.

“We’ve got a pretty difficult period coming up when we lose our Brumbies players for three matches. When you look at who we play during those games it’s Gordon, Manly and Sydney Uni, so it’s obviously important that we continue winning and keep the momentum going. It’s an old cliché but we just play who we play next week and take it one game at a time.”

Northern Suburbs’ coach Tony Horan:

“They thrived off our mistakes didn’t they? You look at that second half, they put 21 points on us and there was nothing constructed, it was all off our mistakes. You know, we were attacking and throwing the ball around at will and you pay the price for playing catch up football don’t you?

“Today was all about attitude and while we’re not happy with the scoreline, the attitude of our guys was pretty good to be honest. We didn’t dog it, we played to the best that we could and a couple of tries they scored in the first half were very good. I think analytically, you could probably say that in the second half there wasn’t a great deal between the sides. They scored off their opportunities and as you saw, we didn’t.

“We’re probably about where we thought we’d be at this stage. We knew we weren’t going to get a great deal back as far as professional players go, and we’ve held together reasonably well injury wise – we could be in a lot worse position had we had a horror run with injuries. But we’re about where we thought we would be. We’re looking to knock someone off in the next week or two and we’ll build on that if that’s the case.”

Randwick captain Atonio Halangahu:

“We started really well but then those guys fought back and they played how we knew they were going to play. So we’re not happy with not really playing an eighty minute game, but they were probably a lot better than the scoreboard showed.

“When you put points on early it comes back to attitude, and we probably dropped off there with ours and we did talk about that at half-time. It was a good finish for the last fifteen minutes but the first twenty-five before that was probably a bit disappointing.

“It’s hard down at Randwick, our expectations are always high so looking at the table and obviously not getting too far ahead of ourselves we’re still shooting for a top two. I think that if we can put out performances like our first 40 minutes today for the rest of the year, I think we’ll probably end up in the top two and then anything can happen in finals footy.

I think we’re quite an adaptable side. We’ve got some really good players at the moment with Pat Phibbs and Steve Hoiles who can control a game really well, so I think we can adapt. The finals is knockout footy and bonus points don’t count, so I think those guys can control the game and play the tempo we need according to how the game’s going.”

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Northern Suburbs: 1. Nick Lah; 2. Ryan Dalziel; 3. Tai Vea; 4. Brian Doyle; 5. Pat Maile; 6. Matt Lamont; 7. Sam Latunipulu; 8. Al McFarland; 9. Steve Evans [c]; 10. Chris Burnett; 11. Dan Watson-Wood; 12. Chris Moore; 13. George Hughes; 14. Anthony Shortis; 15. Andrew Smith.

Randwick: 1. Daniel Spencer; 2. Atonio Halangahu [c]; 3. Lotu Taukeiaho; 4. Steven Brennan; 5. Tim Maxwell; 6. Ben Mowen; 7. Rodney Voullaire; 8. Stephen Hoiles; 9. Patrick Phibbs; 10. Toby Browne; 11. Ratu Nasiganiyavi; 12. Shaun Foley; 13. Bernie Orbell; 14. Francis Fainifo; 15. Marshall Milroy.

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First published on http://www.clubrugby.com.au on July 13th, 2009

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