Rats and Beasts all tied-up under the lights
Eastern Suburbs let slip an opportunity for a precious away win last Saturday night, as Warringah fought back from 27-10 down to draw 27-all under the lights at Rat Park. An impressive performance from the Beasties for the first hour saw them take advantage of a misfiring Rats outfit to seemingly put the game out of reach. But the home side rallied in the final quarter, led by the Holmes brothers, Luke and Josh, who contributed three tries and paved the way for a stirring comeback that only fell short of victory by the paint of an upright.
It was the hosts who came out firing, a Dave Smerdon penalty after only three minutes settling the Pittwater faithful in their seats, and the nerves of the young flyhalf making his run-on debut. And when a searing dart across field and along the flank from Tyson Davis finished with a bullet pass inside for the predatory Josh Holmes to race home five minutes later, it looked like being a long night for the visitors.
The tempo at which the Rats were playing, and the speed injected into their attacking play by the likes of Davis, Holmes and the returning Dave Feltscheer at the back, was proving to be a real handful for the Beasts, who were also coming off second best in the physicality stakes early on.
Having got on the wrong side of referee James Quinn twice in the first three scrums, Easts made amends with a penalty of their own just as the first quarter ended, and Archie King kicked them into a handy field position from which to plan a rare attack. Those plans hit an immediate snag when a soaring Sam Ward stole the lineout and the ball was cleared. But they got it right at the second time of asking from the next put-in, and when Warringah then strayed offside, Tom Pincus stepped up to get his side on the board at 10-3.
When Smerdon’s restart went out on the full, any momentum Warringah had fostered suddenly evaporated. But they were still getting the rub of the green at scrum time. An Easts put-in was picked up at the back by no.8 Lachie Pigott, only for ref Quinn to block his pass and force a retake, duly won by a powerful shove from the Rats for yet another penalty. The protestations from the Beasts coaching team hung in the cold Narrabeen night air like the steam from each player’s exertions.
But the visitors, forced to defend their line for the next few minutes, held firm, exited well and put the shoe on the other foot when a penalty – Rats’ centre Seb Wileman perhaps a tad fortunate to escape a yellow card after a deliberate knockdown – finally got them back inside the opposition 22 on the half hour.
A further penalty was again kicked to touch for the Beasts to set up a lineout drive, but the Rats forwards muscled up superbly to force a knock-on. However, all their good work was soon undone when a loose pass from Josh Holmes hit the deck, Wileman got caught in possession behind his own posts, and the alert Mason pounced on the unattached ball to dab down for a gift five points.
Tom Pincus added the extras from in front to level the scoreboard, and rubbed further salt into Warringah wounds with another penalty after the half-time siren. Somewhat rattled, the Rats’ discipline had suddenly deserted them as they coughed up four penalties in the closing four minutes – one more than they had conceded in the rest of the first half – to piggy-back Easts upfield, and allow former Queensland Country tyro Pincus to put his side into an unlikely three point lead at oranges.
Clearly enthused by the way the first stanza had ended for them, Easts came out with plenty more fire and brimstone for the second forty, shutting down Warringah’s time and space and forcing handling errors with the combative Fergus Lee-Warner leading the charge.
Blessed with three genuine ball-players in Mack Mason at 10, Archie King at 12 and Tom Pincus at 15, the visitors could sniff blood in the water, and began to flex their attacking muscles. That paid dividends in the 47th minute, when a neat reverse pass from King put winger Joe Pincus through a hole created by the dummy run of Pigott, and the winger raced 30 metres and under the posts.
A trademark quick-tap from Josh Holmes after the restart, tried to reignite the Rats from their slumbers. But the Beasties defence was warming to the task now, and each incursion from the home side was met with increasingly hostile resistance. Sam Ward was doing his best to break down the doors for the hosts with his typically high workrate, but his efforts were cruelled once too often by an untypically loose carry, as Easts ramped up the pressure.
Warringah made life even harder for themselves on 55 minutes, a miscommunication at the lineout seeing hooker Luke Holmes gift possession to Easts, and they took full advantage. Blindside Clarrie Moore decided to lay waste to the green and white jerseys stacked up in front of him, swatting aside two Rats in midfield before ploughing 40 metres down the flank and bouncing fullback Feltscheer out of the road. When the cavalry arrived to clean out, the ball was recycled coast-to-coast and Jack Grant popped a pass for King to bundle over from a metre. Pincus made it 27-10, and an upset was very much on the cards.
A somewhat harsh lineout call a few minutes later – an Easts throw adjudged to be crooked but sitting right in line, I’m really not so sure – released the mounting pressure on the Rats inside their own 22, and proved to be an unwitting turning point in the match.
A rare mistake from Tom Pincus in the 65th minute, dropping a high ball straight into Warringah hands, gave the Rats possession on halfway and finally, they clicked into top gear and punished it. Replacement Paula Kaho rampaged forward like a raging bull and sucked in defenders, creating space out wide for Luke Holmes to seagull in off the right wing and crash across the chalk.
Smerdon couldn’t add the extras but momentum had visibly swung, and with Easts suddenly on the backfoot, cracks began to appear. Four penalties in a row soon had Warringah back in the hunt and camped on the opposition line, and Ward got his reward with seven minutes remaining, when he proved simply too big and too strong to hold from a metre, and his young flyhalf made it 27-22. Game on.
With renewed confidence coursing through their veins, the re-energised Rats were suddenly running from everywhere, while a shell-shocked Easts began slipping off tackles and leaving holes. And when the seemingly inevitable happened, and the home side went in again with four minutes left on the clock, it was a showcase of the very best that this Warringah side can offer with ball in hand.
Fielding the restart, they went through 12 phases to work their way from one end of the field to the other, using brute force from the forwards, allied to some dazzling footwork from both Tyson Davis and Dave Feltscheer. Josh Holmes had already had nine involvements in the passage of play by the time he got his hands on the ball again a couple of metres out, and his 10th proved to be decisive, the halfback doing what he has done better than any other no.9 in the Shute Shield in recent years by sniffing out another five-pointer.
All eyes suddenly fell upon Smerdon. From a 17 point deficit with quarter of an hour to play, he now had the opportunity to kick his team to an unlikely victory. But it would have been particularly cruel on Easts to come away as losers, and maybe the footy gods decided to smile down on them at last as Smerdon’s kicked drifted to the right and cannoned back off an upright, ensuring the draw.
So what did we learn? That Easts are a coming force if they can maintain concentration levels and back themselves to see out a game, and that if Warringah can put together a full 80 minutes, they’ll be bloody hard to live with. But then, that’s nothing new is it?
Warringah 27 (Josh Holmes 2, Luke Holmes, Sam Ward tries; Dave Smerdon 2 cons, pen) drew with Eastern Suburbs 27 (Mack Mason, Joe Pincus, Archie King tries; Tom Pincus 3 cons, 2 pens) HT 10-13