What they said… Round 12 – Sydney Uni v West Harbour

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

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Sitting in the unusual position of seventh on the ladder before kick-off, Sydney University knew that a home win over West Harbour was a virtual must if they were to keep pace with the top six. But they were facing a Wests side that are slowly showing the benefits of the guidance of former Uni head coach Todd Louden, and also had the confidence of a win over the Students just a month ago. As it transpired, a positive start for the home side was undone by an early red card to hooker Folau Fainga’a, and the Pirates took advantage to run out 40-31 winners in a see-sawing game of attrition with some scintillating tries. (Check out the in-depth match report here) Behind the Ruck got the post-match reaction from both camps…

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Todd Louden (West Harbour head coach):

“There were probably a lot of turning points in the game. It see-sawed, and sometimes when a team loses a player like that they actually lift, so as soon as that happened early on, I just went ‘Oh no.’ We then had some silly discipline in the first half and our ‘A’ defender around the edge of the ruck was really poor. Whether that was from being too enthusiastic, and trying to get our spacings on our wide edges because we knew Uni were trying to move us around I don’t know, so that’s something I’ll have a look at. But we just didn’t lock down our pillar defender very well.

“I guess the real turning point for us was our ability to hustle, and that we didn’t drop our heads. We just hustled them all game because we knew that it wasn’t going to be pretty – and it wasn’t. Then there were two key points for us in the second half. One was that even when we were down, we didn’t try and go away from what we do well as a team, which is carry, and then, when we got up on the scoreboard, we just kept playing, we didn’t try and defend the lead. When we hold the ball, and don’t try and throw all these rugby league offloads, I think we are a different team. And what we did well when we did come back was hold possession better, rather than kick them the ball, which is what they wanted.

“At the moment in grade we have 45 players out, which is three teams in terms of playing depth, and we just felt that our 4th grade and our 3rd grade – no matter what the score – they just kept turning up today. So we had a big discussion about character in 1st grade, and that no matter who we were up against, we owed it to our lower graders to show some character.

“With six games to go, it’s now about finishing as well as we can and keeping this group together. If you have a look at Manly, Norths, Souths and Eastwood, they’ve all had a core group of players together for a number of years. We haven’t, so we’re all about building right now. I’m not writing this season off, because we’ve got a lot of lessons to learn about getting that discipline around our game – not in terms of the laws of the game – but in playing to our parameters and our game plan.

“I know teams are struggling with us a little bit because when we do play to our game plan, we’re hard to contain and we’re very physical. We’ve got a big pack and we’ve got backs that can light you up when they are on, and when they dig in like they did today in patches, and then continue on and play to the game plan, you can see that it’s starting to come good.”

Tim Davidson (Sydney University head coach):

“I guess whenever you are planning a game you don’t ever envisage that type of scenario. You can plan for it but you don’t ever want to hope that it happens at that point in the game, with 70-odd minutes remaining and after you’ve obviously started well. Folau is not that type of player, it’s not like he maliciously goes out to do that. I just think it was a poor decision that has cost him and cost the team, which is probably the hardest to digest. He doesn’t want to be branded with that reputation so it’s something he needs to work harder on, because when he does remove that from his game, he’s an incredibly effective player and very mistake free. So it’s disappointing for him and also for the team because it put us in a tough situation on the weekend, and will continue to put us in a tough situation for the rest of the season.

“We didn’t help ourselves at all. We scored points but let them back into the game through mistakes deep in our half, and it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, if you continue to do that and you don’t exit, you’re just inviting teams back into the game. Full credit to Wests, they managed to turn the momentum of the game on its head and take full advantage. It’s one thing for a team to have the opportunity but it’s another to capitalise on it, and they did that really well.

“What makes the loss even harder is that we were still in it. Full credit to the character of the team to want to fight back and not use the excuse of losing a player, which is easy to do. They did well to grind that game out, I just think we failed to capitalise on a couple of key opportunities that we created. Tom Kingston had a clear break with one defender to beat and an inside and outside option, and the ball went to ground. Declan Moore dropped the ball five metres out, and I think there was another lineout where we didn’t throw straight. So we created enough opportunities to take that game, or at least put us in a position where it was difficult for us to be run down. But failing to take opportunities against anyone at that level, you pay the price.

“Looking back tactically, making a few substitutions at certain times as well probably failed to give the impact I thought it would because we had a couple of set piece issues that cost us 10 points, and that was the difference in the game. The Waratahs guys weren’t under any instructions regarding playing time, but I think we had the benefit of having some really good depth on the bench and we wanted to inject some energy at that time. We had seven forwards playing eight, which was virtually six playing eight given that Declan Moore had already played 80 minutes in second grade. So it was more about getting some energy back into that forward pack to try and close the game down and continue to play at pace. We did that last time we played them and we scored 30 points in 15 minutes, so I was pre-emptying the possibility that that might happen again.

“We probably could have put a back on to try and lock the scrum down, but would I have changed my decision if I had my time again? No, because in the context of the game and using the experience that I’ve got – which I am gaining all the time – you can’t look back and say what if, because it’ll haunt you for the rest of your life. The decisions you make with the information you’ve got at that point in time, you live with them, you put your hand up, and you move on and be better for it.

“Taqele [Naiyaravoro] is fantastic in terms of getting them over the advantage line and getting go forward. He’s a very hard man to stop. I just think it’s great that he wanted to come back and play for West Harbour in the time he had, and I think that’s a reflection of all the Waratah players. Paddy, Dean, Will and Dave McDuling were all outstanding, and their effort and intent to want to come back and play at this level is greatly appreciated, and also reflective of the types of people they are.”

Jack Corry (West Harbour captain):

“Our physio was saying to us that he can’t remember beating Uni twice in a year in the last 20 or 30 years, but geez, it’s a great feeling – especially to do it on their home ground. A big focus this week at training was just to forget the names, they’re just 15 men in front of us and we’ve just got to beat them at the physicality. We always knew our attacking structures would get them in trouble, and we stuck to it, and I bet there’s a few sore boys in their sheds now but there’s a few sore in ours as well.

“We were still confident at half-time, because Uni are a quality side and we knew they were always going to come back at us. It happened in the first game against them as well after we’d gone out to a good lead. But we were confident in ourselves, we knew that we were going in with our tails up and we could play some good footy in the second half, which we did. We’ve found in a couple of games this year that we’ve just been defending, and once we get the ball we kick it back and just defend again. So we had a lot of focus on what we call ‘possession blocks’, where we don’t kick, we just keep possession and keep running at them, hit them through the middle, hit them wide and just keep the ball in hand, and it seems to work.

“Paddy Ryan went off soon after his second try, and we started to focus on their scrum. We knew there was a big weakness there because they were one man down, they’d got new guys on, and now there was no Paddy Ryan, so we targeted it and it ended up working wonders for us. We’ve been working really hard with the scrums all week, and all season to be honest, and the boys are just going up and up. Andrew Tuala, Rhys Brodie and Jay Kay in the front row -they’ve just been phenomenal, and keep producing 80 minutes after 80 minutes every week.

“Last year, in the last four rounds, we had our 4th graders playing 4th grade, 3rd grade and 2nd grade. Now we’ve got the numbers, everyone’s happy at training, and it’s a lot of fun. We’re also a more rounded West Harbour side this year and that’s the influence of Toddy Louden. This season we’ve still suffered from inconsistency, but in the years to come we’re going to become a real force, and you can see that in these last six rounds we’re going to stop some teams going to the finals hopefully. Mathematically I think we can still make it, but we’ve got to come in with the right attitude next week and just get to work again.”

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