Last Gasp Connolly Earns Rebels A Maiden Win

Photo: SPA Images

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Southern Districts have got their season underway at the second time of asking, with a narrow 24-19 victory over Eastern Suburbs. Having gone down heavily to Eastwood in last week’s opener, the boys from the Shire were keen to get on the board at Forshaw Park. But in a game that failed to reach any great heights, it took a try after the bell to earn the home side the spoils.

Locked at 19-all, the Rebels launched a final assault on the Beasts’ 22 as the clock ticked over for full-time. And with the home crowd finally on its feet, Ben Connolly was the hero, dotting down from close range to seal the victory.

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Having led 19-7 early in the 2nd half, Souths captain Josh Gamgee sung the praises of his young charges for remaining focused as Easts came back to level the scores, and for having the mental strength to then go on and win the game.

“We’ve got a very, very young side so I think credit must go to the team for sticking it out right ‘til the 80th minute to score that try,” he said. “They’re talented players right across the paddock, but they’re so young and coming up against some 1st Grade players that have been there for a few years. Experience does count in just knowing what to do, and when to do it.”

His head coach Darren Bray concurred.

“The five-eight is 18-years-old, the inside centre’s 18, the outside centre’s 19, and the full-back’s 19. All four go tomorrow to the AIS for the Under 20’s, so there was the possibility of them imploding when Easts got a try to get to 19-all. It’s a learning experience, there’s not a lot of that out there at the moment and having so many blokes not available, I was very happy for them and for the effort.”

Gamgee, Josh passing 020411D-1626.JPG

Josh Gamgee is adding some much-needed experience to the Rebels – Photo: SPA Images

Neither team were at their best on the day, but both showed enough glimpses to suggest that there are plenty of good times ahead this year. Souths paraded a clutch of young signings in front of their home faithful, and while the Beasts also had some new faces on display, it was the familiar name of Anton La Vin that appeared on the scoreboard after he crossed for the first five-pointer of the match in the 3rd minute.

Junior Waratah Rohan Saifoloi had already kicked Souths into a 3-0 lead, when La Vin chased a kick downfield and showed more desire for the ball than his Rebel opponent to dot down for his first of the season. The centre-turned-winger crossed 17 times last year to finish 2nd on the Shute Shield try scoring ladder, and looks in the mood to repeat that success in 2011.

Former Rebel Kurt Morath plundered the extras, the Beasts led 7-3, and from the evidence shown in the next 10 minutes, appeared to have the game to go on and dominate. They were winning the battle at the breakdown, had eager ball runners across the park, and were using quick offloads to put support players through gaps. However, they simply couldn’t finish their promising approach play, and head coach Lachie Fear was frustrated by his side’s profligacy.

“We had a plan that we didn’t execute well enough,” he reflected. “We were close but never took it upon ourselves to do different things when we got a chance to finish it off, and as a result, we missed opportunities. Guys were running lines or passes were getting thrown that were either away from it, or the support was away from it, in what we were trying to do. So we just weren’t connecting with what we were trying to achieve.”

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Easts head coach Lachie Fear – Photo: SPA Images

Bemused by their inability to stretch their lead, the visitors rapidly descended into a torpor from which they refused to raise themselves until well into the 2nd half. By which time their opponents had gained a foothold in the game, grown in confidence and taken the points on offer through some poor Easts discipline. Two penalties from Saifoloi put them back in front before a dazzling break from new speedster Ryan Shortland eventually led to a try from centre Nicky Price, and a 14-7 half-time advantage.

A long, floated sidewinder from Gamgee had released Shortland initially, and the no.10-turned-scrum-half revealed the game plan the Rebels had devised to try and create such opportunities.

“Teams like Easts and Sydney Uni, they actually like playing wide but they don’t like defending wide, they start coming in. So you can almost play the same game against them as they do against you. Getting a few long balls out wide to our outside centre, full-back and wingers, that’s where we caught them out a couple of times.”

It was kiwi Shortland who did the damage again in the 50th minute, breaking the line at pace from halfway to get within 10 metres. But instead of backing himself – when he does, he’ll be devastating – he took the tackle, the ball was recycled, and big Lopeti Timani stretched his imposing frame to get the ball down with his fingertips.

With the game running away from them at 19-7, Easts suddenly awoke from their self-imposed slumber to find some structure, and show that if they’d maintained the required effort and desire across the 80 minutes, victory would surely have been theirs. Sticking the ball up their jumper and using the forwards, they repeatedly gained metres through a succession of rolling mauls and pick and drives to cross twice and level the scores, through Tom Coolican and skipper Phil Mathers.

However, Saifoloi missed two penalty chances to re-establish a lead for the hosts before Connolly’s decisive intervention three minutes after the bell.

Southern Districts 24 (Lopeti Timani, Nicky Price, Ben Connolly tries; Rohan Saifoloi 3 pens) defeated Eastern Suburbs 19 (Anton La Vin, Tom Coolican, Phil Mathers, tries; Kurt Morath 2 cons) at Forshaw Rugby Park. HT: 14-7. Referee: Angus Gardner

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Southern Districts: 1. Tetera Faulkner; 2. John Ulugia; 3. Duncan Chubb; 4. Rome Nifo: 5. Hoani Matenga; 6. Sean Doyle; 7. Sam Latunipulu; 8. Lopeti Timani; 9. Josh Gamgee (c); 10. Ben Volavola; 11. Ryan Shortland; 12. Apo Latunipulu; 13. Nicky Price; 14. Ben Connolly; 15. Rohan Saifoloi – Coaches: Darren Bray/Cam Blades/Matt Barr

Eastern Suburbs: 1. Campese Ma’afu; 2. Tom Coolican; 3. Rob McMickan; 4. Matt McGann; 5. Phil Mathers (c); 6. Jordan Brown; 7. Andrew Shaw; 8. Tala Gray; 9. Luke Irwin; 10. Kurt Morath; 11. Kuki Ma’afu; 12. Dion Taumata; 13. Anton La Vin; 14. Jonnie Morath; 15. Junior Puroku – Coaches: Lachie Fear/Tim Wallace/Dave Dinning

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Final Thoughts…

Southern Districts captain Josh Gamgee:

“Last year we started with a more experienced side, this year they’re much younger and really, that’s only our second game together. There’s so much talent there, we’ve just got to keep improving week in, week out and we’ll get there.

 “Easts were one of the top teams last year and we’ve knocked them off, we’ve got a tough game next week against West Harbour at Concord, and then we have Parramatta down here. So if we can get over the Pirates next week, I think we’ll be taking the right steps forward for a good finish.”

Eastern Suburbs head coach Lachie Fear:

“We didn’t play in the 1st half at all, got our stuff together a bit more in the 2nd half and played for about 20 minutes and were right on top, and then just sat back and said ‘We’re going to win this game’ but did nothing to actually create that opportunity. I’m extremely disappointed.

 “We trained really well during the week, so it’s definitely there and I’m still happy. We’ve just got too many people going off on tangents. We need people to go down the one path, and I believe that we can achieve that by next week. Are we in good shape? Ask me in three weeks.”

Southern Districts head coach Darren Bray:

We talked all week about what we needed to fix, and that included our mistake rate and our turnover rate, and we did that to an extent. I was very happy with the defence. You wouldn’t say it was an ‘A’ game by any of them, but it’s a lot better than last week and we’re heading in the right direction.

 “Ryan Shortland came in and played outside centre last week – that’s what he wants to do. But he made a meal of it and his confidence was down, so we moved him to the wing and he’s just said to me that was the best game of footy he’s played in 18 months. The boys aren’t used to the lines he’s running or when he’s going to do it, so it’s just a matter of us playing together a little bit more and that’ll come over the next few weeks.”

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First published by clubrugby.com.au on April 13th, 2011

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