Pirates at the double as Uni fall again
Photo: J.B Photography
If one win over Sydney University in a season is cause for much celebration for West Harbour, who knows how the Pirates are feeling this week after knocking off the Students for the second time in 2017, coming from behind three times to triumph 41-30 at Uni Oval No.2 last Saturday.
Their cause was helped by a 10th minute red card for a tip tackle from Uni hooker Folau Fainga’a, and the fact that the home side were still able to rally themselves into a 28-23 lead with half an hour to go was a tick in the box marked ‘gritty’. But on a day when Uni’s returning Super Rugby stars had grabbed the pre-match limelight – and favouritism, it was the Pirates new Waratah Taqele Naiyaravoro that had the last say, charging down the touchline in the 76th minute to finish in trademark style, and seal a victory that will live long in the memory for the boys from Concord Oval.
It didn’t start so well for the visitors however. A second minute penalty conceded by an over-eager Kelly Meafua was kicked to touch, and some slick Uni handling and a potent carry from fullback Tom Kingston got them firmly in position. And when the ball was sent back across field for Tom Carter to unleash Paddy Ryan at the line, the Waratahs prop barrelled his way through three tackles and drove Tayler Adams over his own chalk to claim the opener.
The early onslaught from a fired up Uni continued, and when a botched lineout gave halfback Theo Strang a clear run to the posts, it looked like the visitors were going to be staring down the barrel of a second five-pointer. But a fantastic diving tackle from opposite number Nathan Lennan saved the day and the cavalry arrived to keep the line intact.
With Ryan, Dean Mumm, Dave McDuling and Will Skelton all packing down in the tight-five, it was perhaps no surprise that Uni finally forced a scrum penalty – after a couple of restarts – and Kagiassis kept the scoreboard ticking along at 8-0 after just nine minutes. So far, so good.
But the pattern of the afternoon was turned upside down within a minute. Dean Mumm lost the restart in the winter sun and the loose pill was scooped up by Wests centre Ben Cotton. Covering in defence was Folau Fainga’a, but quite what he was thinking as he hit Cotton low, lifted him into the air and above the horizontal, before dropping him down onto his head, I’m not sure even he could explain.
The red card produced by referee Michael Hogan was inevitable, Adams stepped up to punish Uni further with the Pirates’ first points of the day, and it was game on.
The home side remained unbowed, Kagiassis dispatching another three points after Strang was taken out illegally to make it 11-3. But it proved to be a false dawn for Uni as the Pirates hit back from the restart, and kicked on in some style to rack up 17 scintillating points in the next eight minutes.
The first was an absolute doozy, and vintage West Harbour. Flyhalf Adams was the instigator, catching Uni napping when he grubbered along the floor to himself from the kick-off and made good yards before being wrapped up. And when the ball was recycled across field, he was back in the line for a second touch to help set centre Cotton through a two-man tackle and to within five metres.
Adams got his third touch from the ensuing ruck, somehow slipping but still managing to get a no-look reverse pass off the floor to his fullback Kodie Drury-Hawkins, before a long, looping pass from lock Joshua Redfern sent Albert Tuisue down the left flank, and a one-handed basketball pass from the big no.8 put the supporting Meafua over.
I think I counted nine passes, eight different player involvements and only three phases. It was a cracker.
And they were at it again from the restart. A rampaging Meafua returned the kick-off with interest, Taqele Naiyaravoro swatted Tom Carter aside to open a space for Jack Corry to run through and carry 40 metres, and the skipper had Lennan and finally Drury-Hawkins in support, the fullback going under the posts for his sixth of the season.
Only a terrific last-ditch tackle from Matt Hood stopped Elliot Hagen from a third in as many minutes after Naiyaravoro – playing an unfamiliar role in the centres – tore a path through the Students defence from his own 22 to put his winger away. At this stage, Wests were in full throttle and clearly enjoying themselves, while Uni were being run ragged.
A portent for later troubles was set on 26 minutes, when former Student Rhys Brodie popped his opposite number Ryan up out of the scrum and Adams extended the lead to 20-11. But just as Uni were in danger of crumbling, they regrouped and fought back with a five-pointer of their own, and it was no surprise to see the old war-horse Carter leading the charge.
He was involved three times in the build-up; helping to free Tom Kingston for an initial surge over halfway; carrying deep into the heart of the Wests 22 a couple of phases later; and finally, pouncing off the back of another strong carry from Ryan to drive over the chalk from a couple of metres.
When Kagiassis dissected the uprights again four minutes before the break, Uni had somehow worked their way back into the lead against the odds. Only for a breakdown penalty to go the way of Wests on the siren, and the Shute Shield’s leading points-scorer Adams, to edge the visitors back in front at 23-21 as they went to the sheds.
Jake Gordon was introduced to the fray for the second stanza, and his trademark zip offered an immediate injection of pace into Uni’s play. But the opening 10 minutes was played out mostly in the middle third, both sides cancelling each other out in midfield, although, Kingston will be berating himself for finding the feet of Gordon with a loose pass when the Students had a three-on-two.
But there were no mistakes from Paddy Ryan when he powered his way through for a double on 51 minutes. Uni’s best to that point, the burly prop hit a pass from Gordon on the edge of the 22, put in a neat step, shoved one Wests tackler aside, and showed a bit of gas to crash over the line before the cover defence could reach him.
Kagiassis added the extras, and when Naiyaravoro saw yellow for a clumsy, rather than malicious high shot on Kingston just before the hour, the tide seemed to be turning the way of the hosts. Setting up camp in Wests’ red zone, they probed for another try and some breathing space on the scoreboard. But the Pirates defence was up to the task, and with Tayler Adams calm and composed with his exit plays, there was an impressive lack of traditional panic about the visitors.
They were in this for all money and they weren’t about to give it away. But it wasn’t through traditional means that they turned the screw in the final quarter. With Ryan and Mumm now off the field, and Uni still packing down with seven forwards at the scrum, the Pirates went in for the kill, and one powerful surge earned them a 67th minute penalty to allow Adams to do the rest.
And from the next scrum, five metres out from the Uni line after a loose pass from an under-pressure Gordon went in-goal and out of play, they made an even bigger statement. Marching the Uni pack back at an alarming rate of knots, a pushover try seemed inevitable, but replacement Harrison Higgins didn’t hesitate to pick up from the back and dive for the line just in case.
The clinical Adams slotted his seventh successful kick to take Wests out to 33-28 with just under 10 minutes to go, only for a penalty after the restart to allow Kagiassis to make it a two-point ball game.
But it was left to the man they call ‘Big T’ to have the final say, and secure a historic victory. Trying to create something from his own half, Greg Jeloudev chipped ahead to look for territory, only for his kick to be plucked out of the air by the 6ft 4in, 123 kilo Naiyaravoro. The ball bounced to the floor, cries of ‘knock on’ were waved away, and the big unit pounded down the sideline and dived into the corner with a smile the width of Parramatta Road.
Two wins from two against Uni for the Pirates then, and two from two for coach Todd Louden, who returned to haunt his former side. Finals footy may be a step too far for this season, but on this evidence, Louden is slowly weaving his magic at Concord Oval.
For Uni, now five points outside the top six with only six games remaining, a very different and unwanted kind of history beckons. Can they turn it around in time?
West Harbour 40 (Kelly Meafua, Kodie Drury-Hawkins, Harrison Higgins, Taqele Naiyaravoro tries; Tayler Adams 4 cons, 4 pens) defeated Sydney University 31 (Paddy Ryan 2, Tom Carter tries; Christian Kagiassis 2 cons, 4 pens) HT 21-23