Eastwood humbled by free-running Beasts

Photo: SPA Images

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Table-topping Eastwood have suffered a surprise loss at home to a determined but very attack-minded Eastern Suburbs outfit, going down 28-25 in a nail biting finish at TG Millner Field. The Woodies came into the contest on the back of six straight wins and an average of almost 41pts per match. But they found the visitor’s defence a tough nut to crack as the Beasts won only their fourth game of the year to sneak back into the all important top eight.

Tries from Anton La Vin, Henry Hudson and Will Fay had opened up a healthy half-time lead for Easts as they unsettled their opponents with a fierce approach at the breakdown and no little intent out wide. But a second half fightback from Eastwood looked like it might bring home the points. However, Easts’ defence held firm and a last minute penalty miss from Ben Batger, who had a rare off-day with the boot, consigned the home side to only their fifth regular season defeat in almost two and a half seasons.

The result was a just reward for a positive approach from the visitors. “We definitely wanted to play attacking rugby,” said jubilant Easts captain Pauli Taumoepeau afterwards. “We didn’t plan on winning the game defensively because although that part of our game needed to be strong, we felt a lot of teams play too defensively against Eastwood. We thought we’d have the fitter pack so we wanted to work their forwards, and that meant playing a little bit wider off the ruck. But we didn’t want to go too wide too soon, we had to get momentum going forward first.”

The opening 40 minutes was as enterprising a half of football as you could hope to see, with both sides attacking at will, putting width into their game, and running freely. But it was Eastwood who settled the quicker and dominated the early exchanges.

They would have had the opening try inside three minutes if Nick Reily’s foot hadn’t shaded the sideline chalk before he offloaded to Batger for a free run to the line. And barely a minute later, a Batger penalty slammed back off an upright to further frustrate.

Then, having barely ventured out of their half in the opening eight minutes, Easts put together one of the tries of the season. A succession of probing phases kept Eastwood pinned, and when the time was right, they sent it wide to give their backs the opportunity to surge towards the corner in tandem, with great hands and textbook support play combining to put Anton La Vin over to applause from both sets of supporters.

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Not his day: Ben Batger rues another missed kick – Photo: SPA Images

Henry Hudson couldn’t convert from out wide, and what would turn out to be a day to forget for the kickers continued when Batger incredibly hit the same upright as before with another penalty opportunity after the restart. However, the Woodies soon conjured up a sublime retort, as the impressive Reily kick-started an attack from inside his own half that ended with Michael McDougall going under the posts as the Beasts’ defence parted like the Red Sea.

Batger finally succeeded at the third attempt to add the extras. But the home side were guilty of admiring their good work as they let Easts back in within two minutes of the kick-off, Hudson dotting down in the corner and cementing his score with a terrific touchline conversion. The two kickers then traded further penalties as neither side seemed able to concentrate after taking points.

Both sides were happy to run the ball out of their own half, which made for a free-flowing spectacle – the first scrum came in the 29th minute! But when Easts did get on the front-foot, they were hard to contain. They found great continuity with ball in hand and made few errors, while the Woodies were missing tackles, being outmuscled at the breakdown, and conceding penalties as a result. The tackle contest was clearly a facet of the game that Easts had targeted.

“We knew they’d be big in that area so we attacked it,” admits Taumoepeau. “In the past few weeks we’ve found ourselves in a bit of bother with too many blokes playing the ball and getting penalised, rather than blowing past it and doing the hard work. So our focus was on letting Andrew Shaw and Ryan Hodson do the ball work cause they’re good at it, and it worked well.”

‘Wake up Woodies’ was the cry from the local faithful, but the support was in vain as their heroes coughed up another soft try before the break, Shaw popping up a pass up for the arriving Will Fay, who dissected a static Eastwood line to cross.

The only way was up, and a few minutes into the second half they started the fightback. Veteran Gareth Palamo crossed after a nice delay on the pass from Shanin Proctor kept the defence in two minds, and Batger converted to make it a 5pt ball game at 22-17. Another Hudson penalty then extended Easts’ advantage, but a Reily intercept in the 51st minute drew the Woodies to within 2pts with half an hour remaining. Game on.

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Beasties no.12 Angus Sinclair clears his lines – Photo: SPA Images

The home side’s cause wasn’t helped by a yellow card for McDougall on the hour, after he took out his opposite number Angus Sinclair without the ball as they chased a bouncing pill into the 22. Hudson made no mistake.

From there, Ben Batger took centre stage, but unfortunately for the former Waratah, it wasn’t a show reel he’ll be revisiting too often. Missed penalties in the 62nd and 70th minutes sandwiched a successful three-pointer, but with Easts holding firm and time running out, frustration was growing.

This could hurt: Eastwood’s Marty Plokstys takes on fellow prop Clay Brodie
Photo: seiserphotography.com

Hudson missed a penalty to seal it with four minutes left before confusion reigned as the full-time siren sounded. Easts kicked to touch, but their celebrations were premature as referee Nathan Pearce informed them he still had 30 seconds left on his watch due to an injury break.

The miscommunication almost ended in disaster as Eastwood played on from the lineout for another two minutes, before a ruck infringement 10 metres in from halfway gave Batger the chance to salvage a draw. However, in keeping with what had gone before, the kick sailed wide and Easts held on for a win that skipper Taumopeau knew they had within them.

“While I’m so proud of the boys today, to be totally honest, that level of play from us didn’t surprise me,” he reflected. “We showed against Uni we can play against the best, it’s just been our own undoing that’s cost us games. Attitude and discipline is an area we’re working on, and with guys gaining confidence in their roles I think we’re close to seeing some consistency. We have a lot of potential in this team and I have so much faith in the fourteen guys I run out with every week. We just have to stay humble now.”

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EASTERN SUBURBS 28 (Anton La Vin, Henry Hudson, Will Fay tries; Henry Hudson 2 cons, 3 pens) defeated EASTWOOD 25 (Michael McDougall, Gareth Palamo, Nick Reily tries; Ben Batger 2 cons, 2 pens) at T.G. Millner Field HT 22-10

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Eastwood: 1. Jed Gillespie; 2. Hugh Roach; 3. Dylan Brass; 4. Jared Barry; 5. Mitch Lees; 6. Gareth Palamo; 7. Hugh Perrett (c); 8. Sione Tau; 9. Shanin Proctor; 10. Jimmy Hilgendorf; 11. Nick Batger; 12. Tom Hill; 13. Michael McDougall; 14. Nick Reily; 15. Ben Batger

Eastern Suburbs: 1. Cooper Chapman; 2. Alex Walker; 3. Rob McMickan; 4. Keliti Vaingolo; 5. Richard Stanford; 6. Pauliasi Taumoepeau (c); 7. Ryan Hodson; 8. Andrew Shaw; 9. Luke Irwin; 10. Henry Hudson; 11. Damon Anderson; 12. Angus Sinclair; 13. Kuki Ma’afu; 14. Anton La Vin; 15. Will Fay

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First published by Rugby News on May 29th, 2013

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