Gutsy Gordon down Wicks in the wet
Photo: Ric McLallen
Gordon have pulled off a dramatic first win of their 2014 season, a penalty with two minutes left on the clock enough to defeat Randwick 12-10 at a cold, wet and muddy Chatswood Oval. While it may not have been the prettiest of wins, it must go down as one of the gutsiest in recent history for the Highlanders, as well as one of their biggest turnarounds, coming as it did off the back of a 70-12 humbling by Eastwood only seven days earlier.
On a day and a pitch that were far from conducive to running rugby, Randwick had the upper hand in both territory and possession across the 80 minutes. But their inability to build a significant lead on the scoreboard kept the home side interested, and their profligacy ultimately came back to haunt them.
Leading 10-6 at half-time through the only try of the game from captain Sam Figg, the Wicks had the chances to put the game to bed in the third quarter. But some questionable decision making and poor execution from what is still a very young side, combined to keep the score the same until the final 10 minutes and allowed Gordon to pounce, captain Terry Preston the hero as his two late penalties won the day.
For Gordon coach Geoff Townsend, the win was a much-needed shot in the arm for a club that is trying to recapture its former glories.
“I think the club needed it, not so much the team but the whole club because to win that game today means that everyone is on a high,” he said. “We were embarrassed last week, and on television as well, which was an even more bitter pill to swallow. But we had a plan all week and that was to get our defence right.
“We held them out for about 20 minutes on our goal line in that second half and that helped to build the character that ended with us scoring the points down the other end to win the game. It was a war of attrition out there and we got it in the end.”
Randwick captain Sam Figg agreed that his fellow young charges had perhaps been guilty of overplaying their hand given the conditions.
“We didn’t play the rugby that we should have played today and there’s not really an excuse for that,” he reflected. “There were a couple of poor decisions and to be honest, I don’t think a lot of us really know what it takes to play wet weather footy.
“I’m a pretty young captain and I’ve still got a lot to learn but it’s only round three, it would be pretty silly to throw all the toys out of the basket. We’ll definitely learn a lot from that one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we come back against Penrith next week and put on a good show of football.”
An uneventful opening quarter saw the scores locked up at three-apiece, a David Horwitz penalty having levelled an early score from his opposite number Henry Carmichael. But as the half wore on, it was the Galloping Greens who were still intent on trying to gallop, and setting the pace of the game for the most part as a result.
In Horwitz and halves partner Tim Donlan, they seemed to have the creative edge over their counterpart pairing. But all too often, a promising move broke down on the inaccuracy of the final pass, while the slippery pill was proving a challenge to control.
Conversely, Gordon set their stall out in defence and looked to pick up any scraps that fell their way. Clearly scarred from last week’s 10-try mauling, their main remit was to tackle anything that moved and hold their line intact, and to that end you couldn’t fault their desire and application.
However, on the rare occasions they were in a position to test Randwick’s defence, their lack of confidence with ball in hand was apparent. For a young side coming into the game on the back of two defeats, the concession of 15 tries in those losses, and the spectre of four season-ending injuries to team mates in that short time frame also hovering over them, their lack of fluidity and belief was perhaps all the more understandable.
One such foray did afford Carmichael the chance to re-establish the lead, his second penalty making it 6-3. But with two minutes left before oranges, the visitors finally got the reward their efforts across the first forty had probably deserved.
A scrum ten metres from Gordon’s line gave them the field position to strike, and a nice wraparound play off the back helped to put skipper Figg over for his second five-pointer in the myrtle green since joining from Norths in the off-season. Horwitz added the extras to make it 10-6 at the break.
It was all Randwick after the restart, for 20 minutes at least, as they looked to piggy-back off their late score in the first stanza and build a lead to put their dogged hosts out of reach. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but a couple of kickable penalties were eschewed in favour of a greater reward that, due to some tenacious goal line defence and a plague of dropped ball, duly failed to materialise.
Gordon’s resilience was further fuelled by their indignation at what looked very much like a late – and high – shot on Henry Carmichael that went unpunished, particularly since the no.10 was forced from the field as a result with claret emanating from his jawline.
As the game entered the final quarter, the reality of the situation finally seemed to dawn on the Wicks as every opportunity to go for points was gleefully accepted, Horwitz falling just wide with a long-range penalty.
Such were the fine margins in the game at that point, added to the feeling that Gordon really didn’t look like constructing a five-pointer of their own, that you do feel a 13-6 lead would have sealed the deal for Randwick. As it was, the penalty miss left the door slightly ajar, and with less than 10 minutes to play the Highlanders walked straight through it.
Having forced their way inside enemy territory for the first time in quite a while, Gordon’s breakdown work suddenly had the visitors on the backfoot. And when Randwick’s eagerness to quell the building pressure led them offside, skipper Terry Preston stepped into Carmichael’s vacant kicking boots and made it a one-point ball game.
The incessant rain abated just long enough for Horwitz to try his luck from distance once again when Gordon infringed after the restart. But despite another narrow miss, the clock was now firmly in the visitor’s favour.
However, a game that had failed to provide any real drama of note still had a twist in the tail. Gordon found good field position with less than two minutes to go, muscled it up in the forwards, and to the delight of the home faithful were rewarded with a penalty and a chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Up stepped Preston, on the opposite side of the pitch to that which is favourable for a leftie. But one firm and accurate swing of his boot later, and it was Highlander arms that were raised in elation, while Randwick were left to rue the one that got away.
An elated Preston admitted it hadn’t been the cleanest strike of his career but it sure felt sweet. “As a kicker you look forward to those opportunities to make a difference, and you’ve just got to treat it as another kick and go through your process,” he smiled. “It was a bit uneasy underfoot so it wasn’t a complete effort or a full kick, I was just trying to knock it over. Sometimes that works against you, but I just made sure I followed through properly and had my head over the ball and thankfully, it worked out.”
GORDON 12 (Henry Carmichael 2 pens, Terry Preston 2 pens) defeated RANDWICK 10 (Sam Figg try; David Horwitz con, pen)
Gordon head coach Geoff Townsend:
“There wasn’t a lot of rugby played I suppose. They still tried to play their expansive game early and then about 15 minutes before half-time, David Horwitz started plugging the corners and realising the conditions weren’t really conducive to playing that type of footy. He’s probably the best ten in the competition and he runs a great show, but we were able to – most of the time – shut him down. They had a few moments where they got behind us, but in all I think we probably made about 150 tackles out there and only missed a dozen.
“We’ve had four season-ending injuries in the first three weeks of the season – all to forwards, so our depth is being truly tested. But we’ve got guys out there that are putting their hand up and having a go, and we’ve got to try and make as many first graders out of them as we can. Today was a big test of their character and credit to them.
“We’re going to have bad days, I know that. But we’re also going to have some good days, and if we can build our defence to the point where, maybe in the middle of the season we’re one of the better defensive teams in the competition, then our attack can flow from that. We’ve got enough weapons out there to use the ball when we do get the chance, and that’s something that we’re building up to.
“Our lower grades were all competitive today, which is great, but without getting the results they wanted. So for us to win that game today means the whole club is on a high. We go into Souths next week full of confidence knowing that we can win games against good teams.”
Randwick captain Sam Figg:
“To be honest, turning down the kicks at goal was about trying to go for the Galloping Greens style of footy, hold momentum and take it on the front foot. But there were definitely a couple of times where I should have gone for the points. I think it was a result of a pretty young side still trying to figure out exactly how rugby flows and how the game works.
“We were trying to play a style of footy that suited a dry day and if it had been, we’d have run away with that game and it would have been a repeat of last week for Gordon. But I think it came down to poor decisions by us, a lack of execution of opportunities, and we kept them in the game the whole time. It was just a lack of discipline, especially in the red zone, and Gordon didn’t score a single try, they stayed in it with kicking.
“We definitely play a game style which does promote running rugby, but we did have a game plan today to punch corners, and that last 10 minutes of the first half was a perfect example of how we wanted to play. We held Gordon down in that corner and we got our first try from it, and it was brilliant rugby. But we just didn’t carry that momentum into the second half. We switched off and then Gordon just out-enthused us for about 25 minutes and that’s what kept them in it.”
Gordon captain Terry Preston:
“Having the wind against us in the first half, and having to get through that and keep the score down low and keep moving forward, really helped us when it came to the second half. We were able to play with the wind and that took a little bit more pressure off us.
“We spoke during the week and our main focus was our defensive structure and just putting in a performance for 80 minutes, and that’s exactly what won it for us today. The forwards were just working hard the entire game, pushing up and making sure that we closed down on the inside, and at the end of the day that’s what worked for us.
“They still tried to pass it wide a few times, which created lots of mistakes for them. But we had lots of mistakes in our backs as well so like I said, I think the credit goes to the forwards today because they were the ones who controlled it for us.”
Gordon: 1. Nick Fraser; 2. Ron Hobden; 3. Tobias Gukibau; 4. Ruairidh Wilson; 5. Andrew Chapman; 6. Mark Williams; 7. Mitch Greenway; 8. Johnno Broome; 9. Terry Preston (c); 10. Henry Carmichael; 11. Matt Gordon; 12. Tom Matthews; 13. Nathan Scarano; 14. Matt McDougall; 15. Sione Ala
Randwick: 1. Toa Asa; 2. Alex Walker; 3. Tristan Goodbody; 4. Alfred Pinomi; 5. Ned Hanigan; 6. Tom Bennett; 7. Tom Connor; 8. Sam Figg (c); 9. Tim Donlan; 10. David Horwitz; 11. Pieter Englebrecht; 12. Bennett Leslie; 13. Kuki Ma’afu; 14. Tim Wright; 15. Ethan Ford
Original version published by Rugby News on April 15th, 2014