Country swept away in Coogee downpour as Sydney prove too strong
Sydney has seen off a determined NSW Country side 42-17 at Coogee Oval, in the first meeting between the two representative teams since 1995. On a rain-soaked and windswept day, hardly conducive to rugby at all let alone running rugby, both sides should be commended for putting on as much of a show as possible, before conditions deteriorated to such a point in the 2nd half that merely holding onto the ball was an achievement.
By that time, Sydney had rebounded from a 17-14 half-time deficit to score four tries and 28 unanswered points after the break to seal victory. Gordon’s Dave Harvey picked up two tries, 22pts and the Man of the Match honours, and there were plenty of strong performances across both teams to catch the eye of any Super Rugby scouts.
With eleven of the Shute Shield sides being represented across both teams (those chosen from Sydney University’s ranks either injured or called up to Super Rugby duty), there was plenty to enjoy for partisan club fans and neutrals alike.
Pacesetters Eastwood had their joint-top try scorers facing each other, with Tim Bennetts donning the blue shirt of Sydney, while John Grant turned out in the gold of Country. And it was the lightning-fast winger from the Central West of the state who set the ball rolling early on, stepping through some soft defence to touch down and give Randwick’s Toby Browne the chance to convert on his familiar home ground.
Dave Harvey struck back within minutes from a charge down, and then made a line break which eventually led to Northern Suburbs’ Henari Veratau crossing for the hosts second. The Shute Shield’s leading point scorer, Harvey made no mistake with the conversions to make it 14-7.
However, any thoughts of Country Gold (effectively the NSW Country Cockatoos plus invited players) taking those setbacks lying down, were soon dismissed when Illawarra winger Chris Jack took it to the line, span and stepped off both feet to crash over and give Browne the task of levelling the scores once more.
Four tries in the opening quarter was a promising start, but when the first rain clouds arrived and duly delivered their payload, the slippery conditions cruelled much of the game’s fluidity. Sydney looked the most likely to produce something, with the work rate of Bennetts and Easts’ backrower Talalei Gray, and the accuracy of Harvey’s boot, earning them plenty of go forward ball and good field position. For the visitors, Country Player of the Year Sam Stewart impressed in the centres, while captain Jeff Wilson showed deft hands in commandeering his fair share of lineout ball.
Both sides had honoured the fixture with attacking intent and a refusal to kick for goal from penalties. But when Sydney strayed offside after the buzzer, Browne had no choice but to point to the posts, and a clean strike on the breeze sailed through to give Country a slender 3pt lead at oranges.
With Sydney head coach Bob Dwyer unable to attend due to a prior commercial engagement in Perth, the baton passed to his two appointed assistants, Penrith head coach Matt Briggs, and former Randwick head coach Mark Giacheri, who’s now in charge of the Junior Waratahs. Briggs was impressed with what he’d seen from the visitors in that opening stanza.
“I thought Country were fantastic in the 1st half. We threw everything at them for a 10 minute period going into half-time and they were steely, they just did not falter and ultimately, forced a turnover. I reminded the boys in the sheds that we were in a game, and if ever any of them thought that they weren’t up against a strong side or a steely side, that passage of play and the half-time score certainly proved that they were.”
Still smarting from the wake-up call, the hosts set about imposing themselves to a greater extent after the break. And although Country held out for the first eight minutes, they eventually buckled under the weight of possession and pressure they were faced with. As the heavens well and truly opened, so too did the floodgates, Sydney’s combinations starting to bear fruit as they crossed twice in quick succession, first through Gray, and then a neat run from Harvey for his second to open up a 28-17 lead.
With visibility fading and a deluge swamping the pitch, Country found it difficult to get out of their 22. Harvey’s kicks from hand were pegging them back, and the increasingly superior line out work of captain Phil Mathers – following in the footsteps of his Wallaby father Mick, who played in the corresponding fixture some 30 years previously – maintained possession and kept Sydney firmly on the front foot.
Exciting young Southern Districts scrum-half Dewet Roos had been a thorn in Country’s side all game, and it was his snipe and fleet of foot that earned try number five to confirm the victory. But there was still time for Penrith’s Richard Aho – on as a replacement – to pile over in the corner and put the icing on the cake.
Dave Harvey finished with a 100% conversion rate, and his 22pt haul, two tries and a hand in two more, meant he was the obvious choice for Man of the Match. A terrific advertisement for a player whom many believe could hold his own at the next level.
SYDNEY 42 (Dave Harvey 2, Henari Veratau, Talalei Gray, Dewet Roos, Richard Aho tries; Dave Harvey 6 cons) defeated NSW COUNTRY GOLD 17 (John Grant, Chris Jack tries; Toby Browne 2 cons, 1 pen) at Coogee Oval. HT 12-14
SYDNEY: 1. Simon Norris (Eastwood); 2. John Fonokalafi (Randwick); 3. Rob McMickan (Eastern Suburbs); 4. Tom Alexander (Eastwood); 5. Phil Mathers [c] (Eastern Suburbs); 6. Mitch Greenway (Gordon); 7. Sam Latunipulu (Southern Districts); 8. Talalelei Gray (Eastern Suburbs); 9. Dewet Roos (Southern Districts); 10. Dave Harvey (Gordon); 11. Dylan Smouha (Warringah); 12. Tim Bennetts (Eastwood); 13. Henari Veratau (Northern Suburbs); 14. Dion Berryman (Gordon); 15. Tyler Stevens (Parramatta)
Replacements: 16. Elvis Levi (Penrith); 17. Barry Fa’amuasili (Eastwood); 18. Richard Aho (Penrith); 19. Cadeyrn Neville (Manly); 20. Seilala Lam (Randwick); 21. Jeremy Su’a (West Harbour); 22. Maurice Kennedy (Warringah); 23. Anton La Vin (Eastern Suburbs)
NSW COUNTRY: 1. James Smith (Northern Suburbs/Illawarra); 2. Anthony Allport (Woonona Shamrocks/Illawarra); 3. Shannon Beavan (Kariong/Central Coast); 4. Rory Walton (Northern Suburbs/Mid North Coast); 5. Ben Matwijow (Northern Suburbs/Newcastle Hunter); 6. Jeff Wilson [c] (Lennox Head/Far North Coast); 7. Alex Burnheim (Coonamble/Western Plains); 8. Lachlan Brown (Walcha/Central North); 9. Mick Snowden (Eastwood/Central North); 10. Toby Browne (Randwick/Central West); 11. Chris Jack (Avondale/Illawarra); 12. Sam Stewart (Lennox Head/Far North Coast); 13. Shaimus Lautimi (Hamilton/Newcastle Hunter); 14. Henry Seavula (West Harbour/Southern Inland); 15. John Grant (Eastwood/Central West)
Replacements: 16. John Adams (Moree/Central North); 17. Matt Liddle (Lennox Head/Far North Coast); 18. Chris Plunkett (Bathurst/Central West); 19. Matt Dun (Newcastle University/Newcastle Hunter); 20. Josh Stewart (Tamworth Pirates/Central North); 21. Tom Hollis (Bathurst/Central West); 22. Ben Damen (Wollongbar Alstonville/Far North Coast); 23. Jay Strachan (Merewether-Carlton/Newcastle Hunter)
Sydney assistant coach Matt Briggs:
“I’d love to know what the statistics for the territory were, but I don’t think they spent a lot of time in our 22 in the 1st half. That was all part of the game plan, just keep them camped down well inside their half, put a bit of pressure on their outside backs and see how we end up. Playing with the ball in hand in those conditions was always going to be a risk, we opted not to do that too much and I think that, as we built pressure, Country felt that they had to play that way and we pounced on a few mistakes.
“We probably got a little bit smarter in the 2nd half. I thought Dave Harvey had an excellent game and just guided us around the park, and I think that was probably the difference. I don’t think the scoreline reflected how tough and how tight it was. We obviously managed to open up in the 2nd half but full credit to Country, it was a fantastic performance and I hope those boys get looked at for the next level as well.
“We went out with good intentions and we didn’t take too many shots at a penalty goal, we did try and put it in the corner or pack a scrum down. We wanted to honour the Sydney v Country tradition and play it willingly and go for it and back ourselves, and I think we did that. They were trying, terrible conditions for rugby, but I think to score that many tries in the 2nd half, it’s full credit to our patience and our skill level.”
Sydney captain Phil Mathers:
“I think in the 1st half we were a little bit rusty. It’s hard coming in not having played much together as a team, but we clicked a bit more after the break. The ball was like a little cake of soap in the 2nd half, and the last 20 minutes was just a series of knock-on’s. So the conditions probably didn’t suit us as much as we would have liked, but you’ve just got to deal with that.
“Country got a little bit tired and lost some of their players to injury, and you could see in that last 20 minutes that physically, our fitness helped us to get over them a little bit. So we were pretty happy with the way it turned out.
“A lot of us had played together in the Sydney game in pre-season against the Rebels Rising, and we went down to Melbourne together and stayed overnight and had a bit of a bonding session down there. We haven’t mixed socially during this week apart from a barbeque on Wednesday night, and I guess with a bit more time, we would certainly have liked to. But we’re definitely going to go and have a beer after this!”
First published by clubrugby.com.au on June 23rd, 2011