What they said… Round 9 – Northern Suburbs v Eastwood

EASTWOOD 21 (Tom Hill, Liam Windon tries, Tom Hill con, 3 pens) defeated NORTHERN SUBURBS 20 (Josh Noonan, Jordan Heyer, Gary Bautz tries; Angus Sinclair con, pen) HT 3-5

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Eastwood arrived at North Sydney Oval off the back of an encouraging victory over Southern Districts, as they try to put their injury concerns behind them and mount a serious title challenge. In their way were a Northern Suburbs side who were coming to terms with a second successive defeat after a previously unbeaten year of Shute Shield footy. It promised to be a tight one, and that was very much the case until the final quarter, where the lead kept changing hands before a last gasp Tom Hill penalty earned the spoils for the visitors. Behind the Ruck got the post-match reaction from both camps…

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Jed Gillespie (Eastwood captain):

“We didn’t execute well enough in the first 15 minutes. We had a five-metre scrum and a five-metre lineout maul and we just didn’t get our execution right, which hurt us a little bit because we let the pressure off. We need to come away with points when we get inside the 22, but we were still able to stay in the fight and it was nice to go in ahead at the break. Obviously, intercepts can sometimes misrepresent what’s happening. But I feel like our defence was good, we were able to defend for 10-15 phases, so it was nice to get a little reward for that.

“Last week against Souths we had 30% possession, and we’re going to be based on grinding out games and defending from now on. If we don’t have the ball that’s when we really perk up, and we know that we can put the other team on the backfoot with our defence. That was our focus today and we’re glad that they didn’t get any cheap tries. I think in the past we relied on flair and scoring cheap tries. We don’t get those tries as much now, but that’s alright, we’re just going to have to smash teams and use our experience and our size and our set-piece to work them out of the game. We want to be tougher than other teams and defend them until they don’t want the ball anymore.

“It was a tough spot to be in (after Angus Sinclair’s 77th minute penalty put Norths 20-18 ahead) but we weren’t going to give it up. They tried to play the game out, which is always hard to do and the referee is always really on point with ruck stuff when you’re trying to see the game out through 10 phases or more. All we could do was ‘d’ up as we had done for the rest of the game, chop low, and the penalty came our way. Norths are a great team, and they play as a team, and we knew that they would play for 80 minutes, so it was nice to see Tommy Hill kick the penalty at the end. He’s a good kicker of the ball and it was a great strike, he deserves it.

“It was a big win for us points-wise obviously, but it was also big for our momentum. We’re still playing a lot of footy without the ball, we haven’t clicked into our attacking game plan yet and we’re not in top gear. So, to come here and beat the reigning Premiers with an 80 minute performance, I think we’ll take a lot out of that and it will be good for us.”

Will Eggleston (Norths assistant coach):

“We felt we defended pretty well and they didn’t look like breaking us through the middle or out wide, so we were ok with that part of the game, we just let ourselves down in other areas. If you look at when we built our attack around phases and keeping the ball, we either got good pay or they gave us a penalty to get territory. We just didn’t capitalise as well as we would have liked, especially when they had a man in the bin and I think we got a little ahead of ourselves and forced it a little, instead of backing our process.

“I don’t think either team will be overly happy with how they attacked. We were sloppy at times but when we held the ball and built phases and pressure we looked good, and they struggled to keep up with the pace of the game. At half-time we felt we were on top but not on the scoreboard, and we still had our best rugby in front of us. We took confidence from our defence that the only way they were on the board was a gift from us.

“It’s never over until it’s over and we play for 85 mins, not 80. We didn’t complete our process at the end of the game to close it out and we got punished, so we only have ourselves to blame. If you can’t concentrate for 85 mins at this level you shouldn’t be playing, so we have to look at ourselves on that one. The penalties really hurt us, and a bit of inaccuracy around the breakdown and some brain collapses probably cost us the game.

“It’s been a tough period without a host of players due to Super Rugby call-ups and injuries. Having said that, we’ve been able to blood young guys and expose them to 1st grade, and to what comes with keeping the jersey. That will be invaluable experience for those guys later on in the year. Looking back we’re currently sat in a better position than this time last year, so watch this space.”

Tom Hill (Eastwood centre and match-winner):

“We knew their defence was going to be good and ours has been fantastic the last few weeks, but it’s tricky in that opening 20 minutes because both sides are fresh. If we could’ve stayed a bit longer with the ball I feel we could’ve breached them. But it was stop-start and there were lots of penalties from both sides, which meant it was hard to make any inroads and wear them down. We’re still a little clunky in attack at times, but that will come. But credit to Norths, their defence was outstanding.

“We knew it was going to be a grind. They’re not the Premiers for no reason, so to go in two points up wasn’t a bad result. Both teams were very physical at the breakdown and very good at slowing the ball down. It might’ve looked a bit dour but it was pretty fierce in the middle, and it was good fun. We’re really backing our defence at the moment. It’s something that takes very little talent, just a heap of desire, and that’s what we’ve been building our team around the last few weeks. So whilst it was unfortunate to get a yellow card, it’s not the end of the world. You just have to front up and make your tackles.

“I had a feeling ‘Gussy’ (Angus Sinclair) would get the one that mattered and to be honest, I did think it was all over, but you never know in the last few minutes. I think Norths went in to that conservative ‘one pass of the ruck’ too early. Two minutes is a long time and as a result we got a penalty, so happy days. I’ve got some and I’ve missed some – that’s the way it is. To be fair, the one at Coogee was a long way out and last year I hit the cross bar against West Harbour from 45, so I haven’t had any easy ones!

“I got some match winners when I played in Italy last year, which gave me a heap of confidence. But of course it all plays on your mind. I just didn’t want to let the boys down. We worked so hard for that and I think we deserved to win, I just had to put it over. It’s one of those situations you dream about as a kid – a big game and it all rests on you. If you don’t enjoy that there’s no point playing rugby. You’ve just got to trust the process, block it all out and kick the ball like any other kick. It all sounds good doesn’t it, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous!  

“I think this win will give us a lot of confidence, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. Every week is tough in this competition, so we’ll just continue to keep working away and trying to improve. There’s still plenty to work on in attack but we’re winning tight games against good teams, so you have to be happy with that. It did feel good to leap the Premiers and get into second spot though.”

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