Free-scoring Rebels back in the winners circle

Photo: Jessica Reading

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After two losses in a row, Southern Districts got back to winning ways in style last Saturday with a 59-24 victory over Parramatta at Forshaw Park. The Two Blues didn’t die wondering, racking up four tries and showing plenty of positives in attack. But a leaky defence was their undoing, and a Rebels side desperate not to lose touch with the teams at the top of the ladder, didn’t need a second invitation to run riot. The home side were up 33-12 by the break. And despite the visitors fighting fire with fire in the second half as the scoring flowed at either end, they didn’t have enough to hold a Souths outfit in need of a confidence booster ahead of a tough run-in to the finals.

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The tone of the afternoon was set in just the second minute. A booming clearing kick from fullback Jamie Verran put Parra under pressure when it found touch just 20 metres out. The Two Blues defended the lineout pretty well, but as soon as flyhalf Sam Hayward ran it back into traffic, he was turned over with aplomb by Rebels openside Conor Mitchell, and when the ball went four passes down the line, skipper Paul Asquith had the skills to show it in both hands, shimmy and slice through a gap for the opening score.

Five minutes later, they had their second, and it was the Two Blues shooting themselves in the foot once again. A knock-on, on halfway, was scooped up by Souths winger Ben Connolly, who kick-started the cavalry charge with a powerful carry into enemy territory. From there, the Rebels showed admirable patience, handling skills and ball retention, to march 15 phases towards the line for hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa – on what was his fourth carry of the play – to smash his way over near the posts for his sixth try of the season.

Parra’s first significant possession, and some sloppy play at the back from Souths, gave the Two Blues a platform to work from with a 10 metre scrum on 11 minutes. And when the ball was retained with a powerful shove, three surges from the forwards opened the door for NSW Waratahs prop Dave Lolohea to drive over from a couple of metres for a much-needed response.

Souths v Parra_scrum_2017_JR

The Rebels forwards laid the platform for a talented backline – Photo: Jessica Reading

Bizarrely, it took 14 minutes for the first penalty of the game to be awarded – wouldn’t that be a nice average – but it didn’t hold the Rebels flow as they went in search of another. With the forwards making easy metres – Paenga-Amosa and fellow front-rower Duncan Chubb getting through plenty of work in the loose – it was only a matter of time before they got within range again, this time scrumhalf Eli Pilz sniping off a scrum and somehow finding the chalk whilst pinned under two Parra tacklers.

The frustration for the visitors was that, when they did get possession they looked genuinely dangerous. They simply weren’t mustering enough of it. And when they did get another opportunity to trouble the scoreboard from an offside penalty in the 24th minute, Jaline Graham’s shanked conversion from in front was a miss they could ill afford.

It came back to haunt them three minutes later when Souths went in for their fourth. A scrum penalty on halfway was the catalyst, the ball sent wide off the ensuing lineout for rangy winger Luke Smart to make inroads, and when the ball was sent back to the right flank after the forwards had softened the defence, Ben Connolly was on hand to dive for the corner.

When fullback Verran then went in on 35 minutes, following more good work from the forwards and an unselfish looping pass from Smart, Parra seemed in danger of capitulation. They simply had no answer to the pick and drives of the Rebels pack, and every time they threw bodies in to help out, they left themselves vulnerable on the fringes.

Rohan Saifoloi’s fourth successful conversion piled on the misery at 33-7, but credit to the Two Blues, who dusted themselves off and had the final say before the break. Imposing no.8 Tyrone Viiga got them on the front foot with a typically rampaging carry off a scrum in the shadows of half-time. And after a few more thrusts had Souths hanging on, a quick-tap penalty from former Rebel Waldo Wessels, gave halves partner Hayward the time and space to pick a path to the line.

 

Rd 10_Souths v Parra Scoreboard_2017

The positive end to the first stanza seemed to reboot Parra’s confidence, and when they returned for the second forty, they promptly produced their most consistent period of footy thus far. Pretty much four minutes of possession followed, and two penalties from Souths, the second a lifting tackle from Apo Latunipulu that could well have seen a harsher outcome, had the Two Blues in a position to strike. And they did so in fine style, the awareness of Dave Lolohea alerting his scrumhalf to an opportunity, and a tidy reverse pass from Wessels putting the impressive prop through the line and under the posts for his second of the day.

But just as you thought we had a ball game all of a sudden at 33-19, Parra undid all their good work from the restart. A loose carry on the edge of their 22 was punished by a turnover and a barnstorming run from no.8 Albert Hemopo, and when Souths patiently worked an overload, prop Conor Young smashed over from a metre.

Souths went in for the kill, and just under 10 minutes of pressure inside the opposition half paid off with a rare first-phase try off a lineout, Jamie Verran swerving his way to a double off a decisive final pass from Ben Connolly. That was soon countered by a similar five-pointer at the other end, Souths guilty of switching off after scoring to let in a soft one, with Robert Duff on the end of the line to grab his seventh of the season.

But that was that for the Two Blues, their resistance permanently ended by the Rebels’ eighth of the afternoon with seven minutes remaining. Blindside Alex Perez strode over halfway and popped the ball inside for Luke Smart to race forward and offload superbly in the tackle for his skipper Asquith to dot down.

Rohan Saifoloi_Souths v Parra_2017_JR

Rohan Saifoloi on the charge – Photo: Jessica Reading

There was still time for further punishment, the dancing feet of Apo Latunipulu seeing him cross in the closing minute after the forwards had done the hard yards at scrum time, and Asquith rubber stamping matters with a conversion to leave a final scoreline of 59-24 to the hosts.

A touch harsh on Parra perhaps given their efforts across the 80 minutes, and this is a side fostering combinations that should see continued improvement in the second half of the season. But an average concession of almost 43pts per match is no foundation for match-winning rugby.

Given they were coming in off the back of two losses, this was an important win for Souths in the context of their season. The fact that they played for the full 80 and put Parra to the sword despite a healthy half-time advantage – something this Rebels side has struggled with on many occasions in recent seasons – was a positive. But they will also be aware that the lapses in concentration, particularly after scoring points themselves, would have been punished to a much greater extent by those sides currently sitting above them on the ladder.

Consistency has been their downfall thus far. They have a talented squad, dominant forwards and points aplenty, but are yet to register more than two wins in a row in 2017. With Easts and Eastwood to come in the next fortnight, that record needs to change if they are to stay in touch with the leaders.

Southern Districts 59 (Paul Asquith 2, Jamie Verran 2, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Eli Pilz, Ben Connolly, Conor Young, Apo Latunipulu tries; Rohan Saifoloi 5 cons, Paul Asquith 2 cons) defeated Parramatta 24 (Dave Lolohea 2, Sam Hayward, Robert Duff tries; Jaline Graham con, Joey Leatigaga con) HT 33-12

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