Sydney’s city slickers too strong for Country’s challenge
Sydney maintained state bragging rights for the second year in a row after downing NSW Country 26-13 at Concord Oval on Saturday. In an open and entertaining encounter, it was Country who came out of the blocks first with a try after only two minutes. But despite having the best of the early exchanges and the benefit of an extremely lop-sided penalty count, they couldn’t prevent their city rivals from edging their noses in front by half-time.
The second half saw Sydney cut loose as their combinations gelled, and they added two more five-pointers to effectively wrap up the game. A questionable yellow card opened the door for a Country revival, but in the end, a stout defensive display and four tries to two was a pretty fair reflection of the greater quality Sydney possessed across the park.
Head coach Matt Briggs was proud of the performance his freshly assembled side had produced.
“For me, it was the defensive effort due to the passion and determination within the team that helped us to victory. A penalty count of thirteen to two against led to a huge amount of extra tackling being required to even stay in the game, and the whole team was outstanding in this department. I think we kicked too much quality ball away at critical times from the base of the ruck which played into Country’s hands a bit, but both sides were really prepared to attack with width.”
Last year’s fixture saw the likes of Dave Harvey, Cadeyrn Neville and Sam Carter on show – all now Super Rugby performers – and Briggs felt that this game again offered plenty of potential talent for watching scouts.
“In terms of player quality, the sides were very evenly matched. Oleni Ngungutau, Iese Leota, Richard Hooper and Clinton Sills showed great skill and smart running lines with some serious pace, and I also thought Country winger Damien Reti had a good game and created some good opportunities. Their outside centre Pat Dellitt showed his class all day, and Leota and Anton La Vin did a great job to contain him.
“The work rates of Phil Mathers and Greg Peterson were huge, and the back three of Pauli Taumoepeau, Mitch Lees, and in particular Miles McCaffrey, were superb. We didn’t have any capped Super Rugby players in our side, but I think that might change over the next twelve months. Both sides have players worthy of higher honours but one guy who has rep rugby written all over him was our hooker Paul Ngauamo – simply outstanding.”
Country set the cat amongst the pigeons early on when a clever lineout play – an oldie but a goodie – caught the Sydney jumpers napping as hooker Ron Hobden played a short one-two with Rory Walton and found the line. Toby Browne missed his conversion attempt but it was a positive tone Country had set, and one they followed as Sydney struggled to settle with a succession of wobbly clearances, dropped ball and misplaced passes.
They gained a foothold in the game after 12 minutes when – on their first real visit into Country’s red zone, the exciting Ngungutau took advantage of some static defence to hot step his way through the line and find the chalk.
Despite Country still looking better with ball in hand, they weren’t coming away with any points on the scoreboard, and the signs were there that Sydney were slowly gelling as a unit. Phil Mathers’ excellent lineout work was providing a solid platform from which to build, but with the penalty count heavily favouring the men in gold, Browne temporarily deviated from the unofficial gentleman’s agreement not to kick for the posts, and slotted a penalty for an 8-7 lead just before the half hour.
Anton La Vin almost found a try for Sydney after a nice kick through from Sills, but Country’s Mick Snowden dabbed down in goal first, only for Easts’ Pauliasi Taumoepeau to be driven over from the resulting five-metre scrum. His Woollahra team mate Angus Sinclair missed the conversion but Sydney – after a spasmodic half of football – went to the sheds with a 12-8 lead while Country must have been scratching their heads and wondering how, having been awarded eight penalties to nil and enjoyed almost 60% possession.
Sydney refocused during the break and came out a different side, and it didn’t take long for them to exert some authority on the scoreboard when a powerful slalom through Country’s defence from West Harbour hooker Paul Ngaumo helped pave an opening for La Vin to cross out wide. When the elusive Ngungutau then jinked his way into the red zone a few minutes later and fed the predatory Taumoepeau for his second, it looked like being the decisive score, leaving Country chasing down an 18pt deficit at 26-8.
However, a decision to send Ngungutau to the bin in the 55th minute changed the landscape. Trouble is, no-one is quite sure what he was supposed to have done. AJ Gilbert certainly wasn’t hanging around to debate the matter, and soon brought the Cockatoos back in it when he crossed in the corner. And with Western Force centre Pat Dellitt proving a class act and a real handful with every touch of the football, hopes grew of a revival.
But it wasn’t to be as the game unfortunately petered out in the final quarter with both sides making a raft of changes. Combinations suffered as a result and – perhaps with one eye on the resumption of Shute Shield hostilities the following week – a distinct drop in pace and intensity was also tangible. It stayed at 26-13, leaving Country to rue some of the missed opportunities that five more minutes in the twenty-two than their opponents should have created for them, but Sydney’s defensive efforts and heavier artillery in the backline won the day.
SYDNEY 26 (Pauli Taumoepeau 2, Anton La Vin, Oleni Ngungutau tries; Angus Sinclair 3 cons) defeated NSW COUNTRY GOLD COCKATOOS 13 (Ron Hobden, A.J Gilbert tries; Toby Browne pen)
Sydney head coach Matt Briggs:
“We didn’t have a lot go our way with the whistle and some days are just like that but what it allowed us to do was show our superiority in defence. This only comes about when the attitude is spot on and it probably reflects how close the boys became with only three night’s preparation. They worked hard together all week and we spoke about being selfless and really playing for each other, taking pride in representing your club and embracing the whole experience.
“We were able to dominate their lineout all game, mainly thanks to the work that Ross Hopkins [assistant coach] did with the boys all week. It was an area we targeted and we stole three or four critical lineouts on their throw deep inside our twenty-two, which took a lot of pressure off. They’d been kicking the ball into the corners on most penalties and backing themselves, so when they took a penalty shot for goal some five minutes before halftime I sensed that we’d won that battle. This allowed us to gain some field position from the kick-off and a very dominant five metre scrum allowed us to go into the break with a big psychological advantage.
“Going into the sheds at half-time, the players could see on the big screen the first-half stats and noticed the penalty count. We spoke about eliminating the referee from the equation by being really disciplined and not infringing – or be perceived to be infringing – at the breakdown. We really did this well in the second half and achieved our goal by reducing the amount of whistle and giving ourselves a chance to win the game. It was only when we had a man down that they crossed our line in the second half, proving that yellow cards really do hurt you.
“With about fifteen minutes to go it was time to bring on some fresh legs. There were a number of guys cramping up and the last thing I wanted was an injury due to fatigue. Most of the club coaches have been so supportive and you have an obligation to look after their players, they are only on loan for the week. I felt it was also important to give all our players a Sydney cap as they’d worked really hard all week and even our back-up prop – Wayne Borsak – who nearly scored on the bell, really enjoyed the experience.”
Sydney no.8 Pauliaisi Taumoepeau:
“It’s probably the oldest line out trick in the book but they used it well and caught us cold. We were getting ready to counter their drive and they threw us a curve ball and scored. We conceded a lot of penalties but most of those were on the defensive side so it would’ve halted their continuity, it was more a case of us letting them get easy field position after good defensive efforts. When we had the ball we made good use of it, which is probably why we went into the break with a lead despite the penalty count. It’s always the aim to head to the break in front, we felt pretty early in the game we could out muscle Country but the penalties we committed allowed them to camp in our half for most of the first period. We just executed well with the little possession we had.
“With Oleni Ngungutau, Richard Hooper and Clinton Sills in the side, we knew if the forwards got good metres we’d be able to swing it wide after a few phases and have those guys finish it off as there’s some serious speed between those three. I’d also say we just knew each other better than they did. When you play against people for long enough you get to know them a bit, the Shute Shield has that sort of environment. Angus Sinclair and Phil Mathers did a great job in organising us as a team, we had a simple game plan and had the right people in the right positions making the calls. I don’t think playing defensive was on anyone’s mind, we were always playing to score points and as we saw, we almost had a replacement score at the end.”
Sydney: 1. Clay Brodie (Eastern Suburbs); 2. James Hilterbrand (Manly); 3. Richard Aho (Penrith); 4. Greg Peterson (Manly); 5. Phil Mathers [c] (Eastern Suburbs); 6. Mitch Lees (Eastwood); 7. Miles McCaffrey (Eastwood); 8. Pauliasi Taumoepeau (Eastern Suburbs); 9. Dewet Roos (Southern Districts); 10. Angus Sinclair (Eastern Suburbs); 11. Oleni Ngungutau (West Harbour); 12. Anton La Vin (Eastern Suburbs); 13. Iese Leota (Parramatta); 14. Clinton Sills (Randwick); 15. Dave Feltscheer (Warringah) – Replacements: 16. Pato Noriega (Randwick); 17. Paul Ngauamo (West Harbour); 18. Adam Coleman (Parramatta); 19. Jason Peseta (Penrith); 20. Richard Hooper (Manly); 21. Chris Burnett (Gordon); 22. David Fong (Sydney University) – Coaches: Matt Briggs/Ross Hopkins
NSW Country Gold Cockatoos: 1. James Smith (Northern Suburbs/Shoalhaven); 2. Ron Hobden (Gordon/Robb College); 3. Joey Lynch (Southern Districts/Maitland); 4. Rory Walton (Northern Suburbs/Coffs Harbour); 5. Jeff Wilson (Lennox Head); 6. Gavin Holder (Camden); 7. Josh Stewart [c] (Tamworth Pirates); 8. AJ Gilbert (Northern Suburbs/Dorrigo); 9. Mick Snowden (Eastwood/Tamworth Pirates); 10. Toby Browne (Randwick/Cowra); 11. Donny Nepia (Wollongong Univeristy); 12. Sam Stewart (Lennox Head); 13. Pat Dellit (Eastern Suburbs/Maitland); 14. Damien Reti (Manly/Tamworth Pirates); 15. Harry Bennett (Eastern Suburbs/Scone) – Replacements: 16. Billy Johnston (Colleagues/Wollongbar); 17. Shannon Beavan (Kariong); 18. Va Talaileva (Hamilton); 19. Mike Te Mona (Armidale); 20. Jake Robinson (Lennox Head) / Liam Walker (Northern Suburbs/Taree); 21. Alex Gibbon (Southern Districts/Wollongbar); 22. Tom Azar (Eastern Suburbs/Warren); 23. Kevin McNamarra (Warnervale) – Coaches: Col Jeffs/Mark Giacheri
First published by clubrugby.com.au on June 11th, 2012