Dominant Two Blues go back-to-back as Emus falter

Photo: SPA Images

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Parramatta have achieved their first back-to-back victories since 2008 after downing local rivals Penrith 44-15 at Nepean Rugby Park. Having upset title contenders Northern Suburbs the previous week, the Two Blues came into the local derby keen to cement that success and never looked in danger of failing to do so. Three tries in each half was a true reflection of their dominance over a Penrith side that failed to get out of the blocks, and head coach Glen Christini was rightfully pleased with a job well done.

The writing was on the wall after a first quarter where Parramatta bossed possession and territory, and a combination of good execution and lacklustre defence saw the visitors cross twice through centre Damien Fakafanua and fullback Tom Woods. Woods also converted both tries and added a penalty to leave the Emus chasing down a 17pt deficit, but there was no real sense of urgency or desire in their play.

With emerging young flyhalf Sam Yakopo pulling the strings, the Two Blues repeatedly found holes in Penrith’s line and plenty of unmanned space in behind it, and despite the hosts getting on the board with a Fokolulu Taumalolo penalty in the 19th minute, it was only a matter of time before they were breached once more. Iese Leota duly obliged after some hesitation in the home ranks to grubber a loose ball ahead and touch down, and another Woods conversion sent them to the sheds with a 24-3 advantage.

Woods, Tom runs 140712D-5434.JPG

Fullback Tom Woods racked up 19pts for the Two Blues – Photo: SPA Images

The Emus backs were looking pretty good with ball in hand. But they weren’t seeing enough of it to profit from as their forwards simply weren’t doing the hard yards to earn them a platform, and Penrith head coach Matt Briggs left his charges in no doubt at the break as to his disappointment with their efforts. Unfortunately, his words fell on deaf ears as Parra prop Mika Polota-Nau burrowed over from in-close two minutes after the restart – much to the delight – and dismay! – of his watching brother, Waratah and Wallaby hooker Tatafu.

The Two Blues were down four injured props across the club but still had the edge at scrum time. And with the dominant lineout work of their tall timber – the impressive Adam Coleman in particular, and the accurate kicking from hand of Yakopo and off the tee by Woods, they definitely have extra strings to their bow than in previous years, which allows them to make smarter decisions around the field and maintain pressure through various means.

A penalty kicked to touch in the 56th minute was a good example, as they set up a driving maul from the ensuing lineout and rumbled forward before winger Tuineau Fa’asisila peeled off the back to glide through for try number five. The Emus briefly responded when their replacements came on and displayed the grit, determination and roll-up-your-sleeves-and-have-a-go attitude normally seen from Briggs’ Penrith. But it was a case of too little, too late.

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Junior Taavili provided a positive impact off the bench for the Emus – Photo: SPA Images

Junior Taavili was the driving force, breaking away down the flank and holding off Woods’ challenge on the line to drive over in the 66th minute. Before busting the visitor’s defence open again eight minutes later, which led to another five-pointer from Mark Murray to bring the home side back to 39-15.

The late flurry was quelled with two minutes left on the clock, when Fa’asisila was on hand again to leave the Two Blues dreaming of finals football, and Penrith in need of a rethink. Unfortunately, it looks like being another long season at the foot of the mountains.

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PARRAMATTA 44 (Tuineau Fa’asisila 2, Damien Fakafanua, Tom Woods, Iese Leota, Mika Polota-Nau tries; Tom Woods 4 cons, 2 pens) defeated PENRITH 15 (Junior Taavili, Mark Murray tries; Fokolulu Taumalolo con, pen) at Nepean Rugby Park HT 24-3

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FINAL THOUGHTS:

Parramatta head coach Glen Christini:

“We knew if we played field position that we’d get into their lineout, and then we could get our ball movement going and play it out wide, so we just did that in the right parts of the field. We knew if we let them play that it was going to be tough. But if we played our game and shifted the ball around and shifted them around, we knew we’d get on top physically – we just had to do it our way.

“It’s the closest we’ve come since I’ve been at the club to an eighty minute performance, and it was really pleasing to see. We still need to work on some of our option-taking at times in attack. We got a little bit greedy and one-dimensional, and we’ve still got another step or two in us. But that was pretty close to the mark in terms of execution. The boys are already talking about Warringah next week so we could go three in a row, and we probably should if we execute it right. But yeah, it’s exciting and the vibes are really positive, so I hope we go on with it.”

Penrith head coach Matt Briggs:

“Today was a tough one, certainly the toughest loss to have to face – not because it’s Parramatta, but because we didn’t commit. One thing we pride ourselves on is the fact that, ok, we might not be the most talented team, but we’re one of the gutsiest and I think that’s where we’ve won a lot of respect over the last couple of years. We left all the talk and all the attitude in the sheds, and we had a little bit of a debrief afterwards because we needed to. We’re better than that.

“These first three weeks, we’ve spoken about it, we’ve addressed it at training, and for three weeks straight it’s taken us twenty to thirty minutes to even be in the contest. We let Easts get out to a lead, we let Eastwood get out to a lead and obviously, the same thing has happened today. Like any competitive side in any elite competition, if you’re not switched on and you’re not applying it out on the park, you get found out, and unfortunately a few guys got found out today.

“If we play with our structure and play to space, we can be a dynamic, very exciting, very, very good rugby side. But it’s the discipline and application, the little things that matter, and they need to learn that pretty quickly. We need a little bit more size, a little bit more steel at the breakdown, and more commitment over the ball. Any side worth their salt have to contest it and we, on more than one occasion today, didn’t even compete at the breakdown, and that’s just handing possession away. I really do think that Parramatta will be a top eight and possibly even a top six side, and I’m sure that’s where they’re setting their sights. Full credit to them. Yes, we weren’t great, but that’s because they were very good.”

Parramatta captain Andrew Cox:

“It’s been four years since we went back-to-back and it feels excellent, the boys are pumped and there’s a great atmosphere going around the dressing room. Last week was a massive turning point for us, winning a close game against a side like Norths and backing it up this week is huge. Normally when we get those leads we die off. But this year we seem like we can hold out, so there’s a bit more professionalism around the place.

“We spoke before about coming here and how it turns into a tough game every time, so we had to get them out of it early and just maintain it. Sam Yakopo’s got a calm head and that’s what wins you those games, especially in a physical encounter. He can play field position, he can run it and that keeps them in two minds, but we really needed a calm head at ten and he did that today.

“Last year was a massive building phase for us and we knew we had to get results this year. We’ve got aspirations to play finals football but we’ve just got to take each week at a time. It’s a different format this year but at the end of the day, you’ve still got to win your games, and that’s what we’re aiming to do.”

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Penrith: 1. Toa Asa; 2. Kerren Straker; 3. Richard Aho (c); 4. Tyrone Emelio; 5. Konelio Burgess; 6. David Reopoama; 7. Cohen Masson; 8. Junior Tuaau; 9. Solomona Silipa; 10. Fred Tuua; 11. Tala Mapesone; 12. Chris Aunese-Scanlan; 13. Mark Murray; 14. Sam Atuau; 15. Wilson Silipa

Parramatta: 1. Nick Blacklock; 2. Matt Borg; 3. Lamarn Ma’a; 4. Ryan Aniseko; 5. Adam Coleman; 6. Evan Olmstead; 7. Matt White; 8. Andrew Cox (c); 9. Kaleb Rech; 10. Sam Yakopo; 11. Tuinea Fa’asisila; 12. Damien Fakafanua; 13. Iese Leota; 14. Mosese Tavola; 15. Tom Woods

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Original version published by clubrugby.com.au on May 1st, 2012

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