Randwick into semis after edging ‘Battle of the East’

Photo: SPA Images

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Eastwood will face Randwick in next Saturday’s Shute Shield semi-final, after the Galloping Greens held out neighbours Eastern Suburbs 28-26 in a fiery encounter at Coogee Oval. The Beasts had won five of the last six encounters between the bitter rivals, and went into the game as slight favourites having finished one place higher on the final ladder. But in a see-sawing local derby, it was the Wicks’ resilience and a much improved defensive display that saw them home.

In a similar pattern to the previous day’s other Elimination semi-final, Easts had built up a 16-0 lead in an impressive opening quarter, only for Randwick to step it up and score 25 unanswered points in the next forty minutes. The Beasts recovered to lead 26-25 with eight minutes remaining, before conceding the match-winning penalty, and failing to convert pressure into points in the closing minutes.

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The question on everyone’s lips before kick-off, was just how would last week’s loss to wooden spooners Penrith affect Easts for this clash? Would they be mentally scarred, or it would it fire them up?

We had our answer from the opening whistle as the Beasts played near faultless rugby, coming off their line as one in defence to smother Randwick’s attack, and playing a smart field position game that garnered early success.

Ill discipline from the Wicks conceded two penalties, which were punished by the boot of Dion Taumata, before a rare handling error from Ben Mowen allowed Anton La Vin to scoop up the loose ball and race away to the line. Taumata added the extras for a 13-0 lead.

With Matt Hodgson and Andrew Shaw getting plenty of pay at the breakdown, and full-back Eddie Paea using some measured touch finders to pin back a Wicks side that was struggling to settle, it was looking good for the visitors. And when Taumata stroked over his third penalty and the Galloping Greens lost both Seilala Lam and Adam Freier to injury within two minutes of each other, Beasts supporters could be forgiven for thinking it was going to be their day.

It’s possible that the same thought crossed the players minds as they subsequently switched off for the first time in the game, and opened the door for their hosts. In what was essentially their first period of pressure inside the opposition 22, Randwick went close when Nio Halangahu was almost driven over under the posts. However, the pill was recycled wide, and Finau Makamaka put Ethan Ford across in the corner.

Ace goal kicker Toby Browne narrowly failed with the difficult conversion. But the score had fostered some important belief in the home side, and reminded Easts that they would be in it for the long haul.

Taumoepeau, Afusipa passing 160711D-0540.JPG

Afusipa Taumoepeau was a threat with ball in hand, and off the tee – Photo: SPA Images

A few minutes later and a match that was always a potential powder keg, blew up with a late hit from Shaw on Josh Valentine, which led to a bout of handbags between Paea, Tim Maxwell and others. Easts were guilty of allowing themselves to be rattled, and when Hodgson was pinged for not rolling away and Browne reduced the gap to 8pts, there was plenty of baiting thrown in the Beasts’ direction.

In the shadows of half-time Taumata fell short with a penalty into the breeze, before an exciting break from their own goal line by the Wicks was eventually brought to a halt by an accidental obstruction. That left them 16-8 behind on the scoreboard as they went to the sheds, but with an ominously gathering momentum.

The comeback was complete ten minutes after the break. Impressive centre Makamaka stepped off one foot to break the line, and offloaded to Shaun Foley for the Wicks’ opening try in the 45th minute. Browne converted, and then put Randwick in front five minutes later from a penalty, after good work from Makamaka and Atieli Pakalani in attack.

Unfortunately for Pakalani, it would prove to be the last contribution from the Waratahs flyer as he then suffered a dislocated shoulder. And with both Taumata and Paea hobbling off for Easts as well, a physical game was truly taking its toll.

The Galloping Greens had their tails up, and it was no surprise when they extended their lead in the 57th minute. A box kick from Valentine down the line saw possession gained by a chasing Ethan Ford only ten metres out. Halangahu was quickly there in support for a dab at the line, before Mowen took over to stretch his lengthy frame and dot down, Browne again successful with the kick.

Having failed to trouble the scoreboard for over 40 minutes, Easts finally awoke from their slumber with quarter of an hour remaining. But they were given more than a helping hand from Randwick’s disintegrating pack. Three collapsed scrums on their own five-metre line led to prop Steve Noriega heading to the bin, and a penalty try being awarded after a similar outcome from the next put-in.

This in turn, kick-started a further melee between both sets of forwards as tensions boiled over. But when the dust settled, Afusipa Taumoepeau showed another side to his game by slotting the conversion. When he then dissected the posts with a penalty from just inside halfway with eight minutes remaining, you wondered why he hadn’t been handed the kicking tee before.

Mowen, Ben tackled 110911D-2245.JPG

Ben Mowen was at his inspirational best for the Wicks – Photo: SPA Images

The match entered its final phase with Easts a point to the good. What they required to see the job through was cool heads, smart thinking and simple execution. What they achieved instead was the concession of a needless penalty – superbly dispatched by Browne – and a final four minutes where they failed to convert twenty phases in the red zone into either a try, a penalty or more obviously, a match winning field goal.

Great credit for that must also go to a superb rearguard action from the home side. But as much as not coming away with any points at the end to steal victory clearly hurt, Easts head coach Lachie Fear felt that failing to hold what they had in the first place was perhaps the greater crime.

“We just needed to stay down their end,” he rued. “They were coughing it up, they weren’t getting good pay out of their kicks, and we just needed to stay in their zone. In the last five minutes we were scooting from the ruck and playing around the edge of the ruck, and we just did not need to play in that area of the field.”

The last word went to Ben Mowen, when he effected the turnover that brought Easts’ fruitless onslaught to an end. The ball was kicked dead, and the Wicks had reclaimed bragging rights over their rivals in the best way possible – by knocking them out of the competition.

Randwick 28 (Ethan Ford, Shaun Foley, Ben Mowen tries; Toby Browne 2 cons, 3 pens) defeated Eastern Suburbs 26 (Anton La Vin try; Penalty try; Dion Taumata con, 3 pens, Afusipa Taumoepeau con, pen) at Coogee Oval. HT 8-16.

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Final Thoughts…

Randwick loose forward Ben Mowen:

“We like keeping them on the edge down here! This ride’s been pretty similar to our ride the last three or four years coming into the finals. Around a fifth place finish and then three tough games to make it in, so that showed huge character and we’ll take a lot out of today.

“It’s going to need a huge effort next week, and I think all the guys are across that. Eastwood have had an outstanding year and are deserved favourites to win the comp, but us Randwick boys wouldn’t have it any other way. We want to beat the best to try and finish on top, so it’s a perfect game for us.”

Eastern Suburbs head coach Lachie Fear:

“If I said we let it go, that could be interpreted that the guys didn’t put in but jeez, they put in. I thought that was a pretty good effort by both teams in terms of the willingness in the game and yeah, we had everything set up to win the game and we couldn’t do it. We’re probably not technically and tactically sound enough as a team, but effort-wise it was definitely strong, and it’s just disappointing.

“The first 20 we probably didn’t put a foot wrong, and then we did a couple of things where we just went off path a little bit and it gave them some options. The last 40 minutes weren’t too smart. We’d done so well in that first half with minimal possession through good kicks and a good chase, and we struggled to put a kick on in the second half. That was our plan and we just couldn’t execute it unfortunately.”

Randwick head coach Craig Morrison:

“We were guilty of giving it up too easily in the first half, not going on with it when we did get it, and they obviously contested very hard and poured some turnovers on us. We had to work a lot harder when we had it. and we came out in the second half and did that. But I certainly wasn’t panicking at 16-0, we just hadn’t had the ball.

“In the first round against Eastwood we had plenty of ball, and had we had a backline at the time that could have done something with it, we probably should have won that game. The second game down here, we were all over them for 20 minutes. But we lost eight players during that game and emptied our bench well before the last quarter, and they came over the top of us.

“You can always make excuses but they were two games that, had things gone differently, we were in both of them. Eastwood’s just another team, the reason they’re where they are is they’ve had pretty much the same fifteen on the park all year, so good luck to them and well done to their medical staff. But there’s two teams on the day and anything can happen.”

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First published by clubrugby.com.au on September 16th, 2011

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