Determined Rebels grind out vital win at icy Granville

Photo: Debbie O’Connor

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“We ground that one out,” admitted Southern Districts’ coach Matt Barr, after watching his side defeat Parramatta 27-17 in difficult conditions at Merrylands RSL Rugby Park on Saturday.

Not that that’s a negative thing. Too often this season the Rebels have come unstuck when it came to getting down and dirty. But their drive, determination and application couldn’t be faulted on this occasion, their sheer bloody-mindedness and dogged defence setting the platform for a vital win that lifts them above the Two Blues into 5th place on the Shute Shield ladder.

The dominant side in the opening stanza, they led 20-10 at half-time before fighting off a late Parramatta revival to gain revenge for the one-point loss at the hands of their hosts a mere five weeks ago. A certain Taqele Naiyaravoro had grabbed a hat-trick at Forshaw Park that day, and with Parra’s usually potent backline misfiring for most of this afternoon, they could have done with the giant Waratahs’ prodigious talents as he prepared to face the Brumbies a few miles down the road at Homebush later that evening.

New South Wales team mate and Souths flyhalf Ben Volavola certainly wasn’t complaining at Naiyaravoro’s absence. “I don’t even want to see him coming towards me at Tahs training, let alone in a proper game!” he joked.

Ben Volavola_Souths v Parra_2014_DOC

Ben Volavola brought some of his stellar repertoire to the party against Parra – Photo: Debbie O’Connor

If it was the Rebels defence and forwards that had set the platform for victory, it was the silky skills of Volavola that decided by how much. On the comeback trail from injury, the 23-year-old impressed, and while he was simply pleased to be back in the fray – “I’ve had a few injuries so I’m just happy to be on the field and playing,” – he paid tribute to the hard yards put in by his team mates.

“We’ve got a very young side and probably a smaller side compared to previous years, and I was very proud of the boys, especially our defence close to the line. They just dug it out and got that win,” he said.

With both sides looking to tie down a place in the top six over the next five weeks, it was no surprise that the opening 10 minutes saw little between the two. Souths held sway territorially, while Parramatta were happy to feed off scraps and go through the hands when the chance arose.

Turnover ball led to the first points, Parra soaking up pressure to clear downfield and construct their own period of pressure, which eventually led to a Tom Woods penalty.

Souths almost hit straight back with a five-pointer, Luke Smart, moonlighting in the unfamiliar no.14 jersey, made the initial line break but a dropped ball eventually cruelled a Rebels try. However, a number of Two Blues were offside and Volavola levelled matters.

Parramatta were struggling to build phases but still managed to create some danger inside Souths’ 22. Poor decision making when it mattered wasn’t helping them unlock the door, but the visitors’ goal line defence was certainly up to the task, a succession of scrambles and last ditch tackles thwarting the home side.

The Rebels suffered a setback when Apo Latunipulu left the field for a blood bin and didn’t return. But it didn’t stop them forging ahead, Volavola playing a part as they went coast-to-coast to create an opening for Smart, who had too much pace for the cover defence to find the corner.

Luke Smart_Souths v Parra_2014_PD

Converted winger Luke Smart prepares to take on Parra’s Larry Hermens – Photo: Pat Dunne

Volavola added the extras from out wide, no easy task given the swirling breeze that was building, and he soon extended his side’s advantage with a penalty. But just as the game seemed to be drifting away from Parra, they hit back.

Kaleb Rech had been the orchestrator of the majority of his side’s most promising plays up to that point, and it was the dynamic scrumhalf that broke Souths’ resistance. Taking it to the line just outside the 22, he broke through a couple of soft efforts from Rebel jerseys to run home and give Woods a simple conversion.

However, two minutes before the break Souths struck again to restore their advantage, and once more it was Volavola’s class that shone through. The utility back doesn’t so much run with the ball as glide, and it was a typically stylish carry that saw him hold the ball in both hands, fox the Parra defence with a shimmy, and release fullback Ben Connolly to the corner.

Another successful conversion from out wide made a mockery of the increasingly blustery conditions, affording the Rebels a handy 20-10 lead at half-time.

That Volavola subsequently missed his next attempt at the posts, from a penalty awarded five minutes into the second half, was no surprise given the sudden downturn in the weather. What had been a brisk breeze amidst the winter sunshine, was usurped with devastating haste by what felt like a Force 10 howling gale that left supporters – and your reporter – running for cover, as flying tree branches threatened to maim limbs and laptops alike.

Josh Kaifa_Parra v Souths_2014_PD

Two Blues flanker Josh Kaifa sets off – Photo: Pat Dunne

Just as an Arctic chill enveloped the ground and the temperature seemingly dropped about 10 degrees in five minutes, things were hotting up on the pitch. An overly enthusiastic tackle led to a bit of handbags all round, and an unlikely culprit in Parra flyhalf Chris Nay, seeing yellow.

Trailing 20-10 and with a man in the bin, the Two Blues’ cause was becoming increasingly forlorn. And when Souths lock Ed Falkingham plucked an intercept on halfway to show a clean pair of heels and race under the posts for 27-10, it looked to be well and truly lost.

But with Nay back in the fold and their backs to the wall, they suddenly produced their best period of pressure in the match. Having shown precious little of the attacking guile with which they have concocted a host of impressive tries this season, they suddenly rediscovered their mojo, threw caution to the wind and looked like the real Parramatta.

Nay thought he was over after a dart from 10 metres got him across the line, but he was ruled to have been held up. However, a great run, step, and offload from the dangerous Larry Hermens put Tomu Mataika over, and Woods added the extras to make it a 10pt ball game.

Unfortunately for them, the full-time siren halted Parra’s building head of steam only five minutes later – a case of too little, too late for a generally misfiring Two Blues outfit on the day. They now have the chance to get back on the horse against West Harbour next weekend.

Souths meanwhile, continue to enjoy their away day adventures. That’s five wins from seven on their travels now, compared with only two in front of their own fans. Skipper Marcus Carbone laughingly agreed that they might stand a better chance of finals footy if they played every game away from home in the last four rounds.

“It seems to be our best opportunity!” he said. “We seem to be winning our away games and fading at home, but with four games to go, we really need to build some momentum going into the finals. If we can win our next couple of games, we can really cement a spot in that top six.”

A challenging trip to second-placed Warringah will test that theory next weekend. But if they can approach that game with the same grit and determination as they did against the Two Blues, they may just have the strike power to upset the Rats.

“It’ll be tough next week at Rat Park,” Carbone admitted. “But if we bring out or best effort and the right attitude, I think we can give them a touch up.”

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SOUTHERN DISTRICTS 27 (Luke Smart, Ben Connolly, Ed Falkingham; Ben Volavola 3 cons, 2 pens) defeated PARRAMATTA 17 (Kaleb Rech, Tomu Mataika tries; Tom Woods 2 cons, pen)

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Parramatta: 1. Nick Blacklock; 2. Liu Taituave; 3. Joe Dakuitoga; 4. Sakaria Noa; 5. Evan Olsmtead; 6. Andrew Cox (c); 7. Josh Kaifa; 8. Sililo Savea; 9. Kaleb Rech; 10. Chris Nay; 11. Moses Tavola; 12. Tom Woods; 13. Larry Hermens; 14. Alex Samoa; 15. Tomu Mataika

Southern Districts: 1. Tim Metcher; 2. Maile Nguamo; 3. Cameron Betham; 4. Ed Falkingham; 5. Jake Douglas; 6. Andrew Leota; 7. Jono Hayes; 8. Marcus Carbone (c); 9. Chris O’Reilly; 10. Ben Volavola; 11. Jonathan Brown; 12. Apo Latunipulu; 13. Denny Godinet; 14. Luke Smart; 15. Ben Connolly

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First published by Rugby News on July 1st, 2014

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