Late, late show leaves Rats set for finals

Photo: SPA Images

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Warringah’s hopes of finals football have received a massive boost with a 36-33 bonus point victory over Randwick at Coogee Oval. With West Harbour going down to Parramatta and Eastern Suburbs being deducted four points in the week due to excessive visits to the judiciary, the Rats leapfrogged both sides to go 7th on the ladder, but they had to go the long way around to achieve it.

Trailing 33-15 with only quarter of an hour remaining, they took full advantage of a controversial yellow card to claw their way back into the game and sneak the win from under Randwick’s noses in the dying minutes. The extra experience of five Super Rugby players in those final clutch plays was crucial, and although coach Sam Harris admitted concern halfway through the second half, he believed that the better team had eventually won the day.

“I think we were the better team but I don’t know if we played well enough to win the game if that makes sense!” he said. “The first fifteen after half-time was as sloppy as I’ve seen footy played, we just lost our way. We lost our structure, we lost our go-forward, we refused to run straight ahead, and I didn’t know where we were going to get our nineteen points from, but they got it somehow. Randwick had nothing to play for but everything to play for at the same time. We gave them a sniff and they went on with it, but luckily we pulled the rabbit out of the hat.”

On a dreary afternoon in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs, persistent wind and intermittent rain whipped in off the Coogee coastline and across the Oval making kicking a lottery and – thankfully for the crowd – forcing both sides to run the ball whenever possible. And it was Randwick who came out of the blocks early, applying pressure straight from the kick-off and tapping an early penalty to put no.8 Peter Samu over from in close.

Samu, Peter runs 280412D-3048.JPG

Pete Samu grabbed a hat-trick but still ended up on the losing side – Photo: SPA Images

When Samu repeated the trick a few minutes later from a lineout, coach Harris could have been forgiven for thinking his team were still in the sheds, such was the ease that the Wicks were stretching the visitor’s defence and finding holes. Skipper Toby Browne converted before adding a penalty towards the end of the first quarter to give his side a 15-0 lead, a position they haven’t been too accustomed to in this season of woe.

The Rats simply weren’t at the races, and although the inclusions of Brett Sheehan, Richard Brown, Hugh Pyle and the Holmes brothers were an obvious boost to the team sheet, their lack of game time as a unit was cruelling their combination play. Indeed, it took a lucky break to get them into the game when a charge down from a clearing kick in the 24th minute fell kindly for flyhalf Hamish Angus to touch down, and he converted his own good work.

Ill discipline from the restart cost them as Browne slotted over another penalty to maintain the Wicks’ advantage. But from their next attack, the Rats finally cut loose. Josh Holmes – playing at 12 to facilitate Sheehan at scrumhalf – showed his impressive pace to bust the line before feeding Dave Feltscheer for the corner, but the full-back was herded into touch. However, Pyle was on hand to steal the ensuing lineout, and Luke Holmes was driven over to reduce the arrears at 18-12.

With Western Force and Wallaby backrower Richard Brown beginning to threaten around the fringes with ball in hand, the Rats started to earn some front-foot ball with which to work, and they had the better of the rest of the half as a result, despite gifting another 3pts to Browne’s lethal left foot in the process. They battered the Randwick line until the half-time whistle but the home side’s defence wouldn’t budge, conceding only a penalty. With no time left for a lineout, Angus grabbed the 3pts on offer. But the Rats were disappointed not to gain more from the exchange, and trailed 21-15 at the break.

Any momentum they had built prior to oranges was quickly diffused within 10 minutes of the restart, as they failed to switch on once again. Quite why this is the case is a mystery, but it’s one Harris will certainly need to solve before the finals series. With their defence at sixes and sevens, Randwick profited from the extra space to scythe through at will, and it was Samu again who provided the finishing touch. The speedy no.8 exploded from a host of bodies with the ball tucked under his arm, and streaked over from halfway to complete his hat-trick.

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Luke Holmes crossed twice from in-close as the Rats lineout maul excelled – Photo: SPA Images

When Tom Joseph found the chalk in the 50th minute and Browne converted, it looked all over as a contest at 33-15. But fate dealt the visitor’s another even hand when centre Finau Makamaka was sent to the bin for a late hit, which has to be placed into the ‘looked worse than it was’ basket. A tad harsh.

It was now or never for the Rats and they didn’t disappoint, punishing the 14 remaining Galloping Greens with two quick tries from winger Ed Doyle to put them within striking distance of victory. Despite the numerical disadvantage, having produced a disciplined display of goal-line defence across the match the Wicks would have been very disappointed with the missed one-on-one tackles that opened the door on both occasions.

Hamish Angus – striking the ball beautifully in the enveloping drizzle – added both extras to set up a grandstand finish. And with Randwick now reeling on the ropes, it was no surprise when the knockout blow was delivered, Luke Holmes plundering his second after another powerful lineout drive. The salvage mission was completed by Angus’ boot to leave Warringah one win away from guaranteeing finals football, and Randwick wondering quite how they managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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WARRINGAH 36 (Luke Holmes 2, Ed Doyle 2, Hamish Angus tries; Hamish Angus 4 cons, pen) defeated RANDWICK 33 (Peter Samu 3, Tom Joseph tries: Toby Browne 2 cons, 3 pens) at Coogee Oval HT 15-21

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FINAL THOUGHTS:

Warringah head coach Sam Harris:

We got away with that one and we needed to. We haven’t won a lot of close games this year, and we’ve lost a lot more than we should have by giving teams easy points and that was no exception today, but when we needed to turn it on we did. We got the five points which we wanted and that’s put us ahead of both Easts and Wests, so now we’re in control of our destiny as opposed to two weeks ago where it was looking really bleak.

“I know we’ve got the structures to make a dent in this competition and we’re going to get a lot of personnel back on deck, so we’ll be there or thereabouts. We fiddled around a little bit and it took a while to get rolling, but I think coming into the first week of finals – if we get there – I think we’ll be alright.”

Randwick Director of Rugby Stephen Hoiles:

“That game just typifies our season unfortunately, we showed glimpses of really good footy for a while and then we just struggled to close things out. It’s probably down to a little bit of inexperience, and the ability to close out a game is definitely what we’re lacking. You look at their side towards the end of the game, they had some very experienced players who knew what their options were to keep them in the game and they closed it out better than us, it’s as simple as that.

“There were probably half a dozen fifty-fifty calls that we didn’t get, and the bounce of the ball and all that sort of stuff and yes, the yellow card didn’t help us and it was probably the turning point. Sometimes in footy you walk in and say ‘You were really unlucky today’ and that’s what we were. They tried really hard and all had a really good crack, but we just got a bit unlucky. Sometimes you make your own luck and we’re not doing that at the moment.

“We’ve improved in areas but not necessarily on the ladder. I know this sounds funny but I’d probably say that was our best defensive effort, and there were defensive aspects that we can be really proud of today. Earlier in the season teams were going through us and Warringah didn’t do that, they scored a charge-down, two rolling maul tries, and two tries around us. So they didn’t get through us too often, which is a good sign.”

Warringah scrumhalf Brett Sheehan:

“The forwards won the game for us today and that’s good to take into next week. We can build on that, and I think it was great for the guys to have ‘Browny’ [Richard Brown] to look up to and follow. I think with him and myself coming into the team it was a little bit unstructured for us to start with, and the whole team took a bit of time to adjust. But once we got on a roll and worked out what was going on, the team adjusted and went well.

“I keep a keen eye on club rugby from the west and I was following the boys’ game against Parramatta the other week, and at one point when they were behind I was thinking ‘What’s going on?’. But like today they came back to win, which was great and shows that the team doesn’t give up, and that’s what you need going into the semis. The desire’s there, it’s just a question of getting those starts. If we can go from the start then we should be a force to be reckoned with.

“It’s always great to get back to club rugby, get back with the boys and have a bit of fun, it was very enjoyable. All the Warringah boys in the Super 15 love to come back and play for the club, and if we can come back and help out in any way then we enjoy doing that and who knows, it could be a good little semis run for us.”

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Randwick: 1. George Fifita; 2. Nio Halangahu; 3. Lotu Taukeiaho; 4. Bryce Speechley; 5. Lai Vatadroka; 6. David Parsons; 7. Steve Bennie; 8. Peter Samu; 9. Nathan Sievert; 10. Toby Browne (c); 11. Tom Joseph; 12. Terrence Hepetema; 13. Finau Makamaka; 14. Apaola Tea; 15. Tim Wright – Coaches: Maxwell/Ella/Munday

Warringah: 1. Luke Preston; 2. Luke Holmes; 3. Ray Brown; 4. Ben Adams; 5. Hugh Pyle; 6. Pierce Howell; 7. James Casey; 8. Richard Brown; 9. Brett Sheehan; 10. Hamish Angus (c); 11. Ed Doyle; 12. Josh Holmes; 13. Dylan Smouha; 14. Michael Dalton; 15. Dave Feltscheer – Coaches: Harris/Highfield

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Original version published by clubrugby.com.au on August 13th, 2012

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