Polished Beasts humble Highlanders

Photo: Paul Seiser / SPA Images

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It’s only early days in the 2018 Intrust Super Shute Shield competition, but Eastern Suburbs are serving due notice that they are a team to be taken seriously after racking up their second win in a row with a resounding 52-0 defeat of Gordon at the weekend.

Whatever way you look at the game the numbers don’t stack up well for the Highlanders, with a 21-0 half-time deficit unable to be eaten into despite the Beasties being shown two yellow cards either side of the break. And with Waratahs flyhalf Mack Mason on song with the boot, the punishment only increased as the visitor’s went on to register seven unanswered tries in total, and lift themselves into second place on the ladder.

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Things may well have played out differently if Gordon had taken the half-chance that fell into their hands almost from the kick-off. A huge up’n’under from no.10 Pat Toeta was allowed to bounce on the Easts’ 10 metre line, and when the vagaries of an oval Gilbert came into play and the ball shot off at a ridiculous angle behind the last man and straight into the hands of the chasing Sy Tevita, an early try seemed inevitable.

But a scampering Mack Mason did just enough to distract the offload to the unmarked Samuel Mete, and the ball limped out of Tevita’s hand and away from the grasp of Mete into the safety of touch. Small margins.

In fact, it took almost three minutes before the visitor’s could get their hands on the ball, such was the fire in Gordon’s belly to take the game to their opponent’s. But when they did, they offered up a clear portent of what was to come, happily running the ball out of their own 22 and over halfway via several phases, some crisp handling, and a bevy of support and offload options.

They were a touch fortunate not to lose Ofa Fainga’anuka to the bin on five minutes, after the tighthead prop – possibly over eager on what was his 50th game for the Beasts – caught his opposite number Raven Nurse with a clumsy high shot.

But Easts continued to impress, and apart from that early opportunity for their hosts, they were the side who appeared to know their game plan, and thus far, had the ability to put it into action with relatively mistake-free rugby. So it was no real surprise when they opened the scoring in the 9th minute.

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Easts lock Ryan McCauley shows a clean pair of heels – Photo: Paul Seiser/SPA Images

The chance to strike was borne of their desire to keep ball in hand, work themselves into position, apply pressure to a retreating defence and force the penalty. But the build-up to that eventuality included a lovely delayed pass from Mason that opened the door for Ryan McCauley to break the line, and the pace shown by the rangy 203cm lock to go 40 metres once he’d gone through it, was one of the highlights of the match.

Gordon duly strayed offside from the ensuing breakdown, and what was interesting was the decision from Easts captain Tim Buchanan to go to the lineout rather than take the 3pts from in front. But he got his vindication when the pack rumbled forward at such a rate, the Highlanders defence may as well have been on skates as hooker Connal McInerney went over.

A spilt pill in midfield got the visitor’s on the front-foot again just before the end of the first quarter. And in a case of history repeating, slick handling and support lines had Gordon on their heels before they conceded a penalty for offside, Buchanan didn’t hesitate to go to touch again, and his pack duly executed a repeat performance with Mclnerney driven over effortlessly for his second.

At the other end, every potential avenue for Gordon was blocked by a line of tricolour jerseys that looked nigh on impregnable. Their most promising period of play just before the half hour saw them camped inside the Beasts’ half for 11 phases, but the turnover when it arrived, seemed inevitable, and the fact that the home side had failed to advance more than 15 metres for all their possession, must have been a concern for the Highlanders coaching team.

That concern would only have been amplified a few minutes later when Easts went in for their third. For once, a lineout drive didn’t go to plan, but with Mason calling the shots the ball was recycled infield for Sam Fogarty and then Piggott to have a dash. And when Gordon failed to put the pillars in place at the next ruck, the alert Rowan Perry said ‘Thankyou very much’ to go straight over the top and under the posts to cement their stranglehold on the game.

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Gordon flyhalf Pat Toeta offloads in the tackle – Photo: Paul Seiser/SPA Images

There was a slight twist in the tail right at the end of the half. Gordon finally worked themselves into the red zone, and should have scored in the corner if the right pass had been made. But after several pick and drives maintained the pressure, Fainga’anuku was shown yellow for not releasing the tackler.

Blessed with their best chance at taking something tangible into the half-time huddle, the Highlanders ramped up the pressure at scrum time. But three resets and one powerful shove later, the ball was spun inside, only for the Beasties linespeed to force a knock-on, and the sound of the referee’s whistle for oranges.

Gordon were straight back on the attack after the restart, no doubt counting down the minutes they would enjoy the man advantage. But they came up short again when a poor kick option from Toeta was easily dealt with, and their fate appeared to be sealed shortly after when yet another penalty saw lock Andrew Seton sent to the bin to even the ledger, and Mason extend the lead to 24-0.

The home side were given another offer of redemption when Fainga’anuku swapped places on the naughty chair with Tim Buchanan, the big loose forward adjudged to have been guilty of foul play to make it 14 v 14. But again they couldn’t profit, their use of wraparound plays and decoy runners in attack that paid off so handsomely at times last season, were just not quite hitting their mark on the day.

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Beasties winger Charlie Clifton celebrated his 50th game in style – Photo: Paul Seiser/SPA Images

Easts took their medicine well, stayed patient and defended their line with all the gusto and dogged determination of a side playing sudden death finals footy rather than round two. And when they were presented an opportunity at the other end, they showed their ruthlessness. Fullback Cohan Guerra took another tidy pop pass from Mason on halfway to jink his way through the line, exchange passes with Ned Yeomans, and outpace the last man to dive home for try number four.

The game looked up for the hosts before an hour had ticked over on the Chatswood Oval scoreboard. Lethal from turnover ball, Easts returned fire from their own 22, the hugely impressive Sam Fogarty stepping and powering his way over halfway before feeding Jack Grant, and he had the ever-willing Mason off his shoulder for a well-deserved try for the Waratahs pivot.

They butchered a sixth with just over quarter of an hour remaining, replacement Brodie Wilson a touch too casual with his offload to the supporting Piggott with the line open. But shortly after they were in again, Gordon’s day going from bad to worse when the ball skewed out of the side of their own scrum, and Easts’ no.9 Grant snaffling up to run in unhindered.

The Highlander’s ignominy was complete 12 minutes from time. Openside Dylan Rowe put up a clearing kick that lacked either the distance or accuracy needed to validate it, and replacement Archie King decided to highlight that fact by scooting around the slowly advancing Gordon line to find space on the short side, and then pinning back his ears to find the corner and rack up the half century.

In mitigation for Gordon, I’ve seen many teams play worse, and lose by less. They couldn’t be faulted for effort, and on another day they could have grabbed two or three tries that may have changed the complexion of the game. But they clearly have some work to do.

Two from two and only 12pts conceded is testament to the work put in by Easts in the off-season. They look fitter, smarter and very well-coached, and whilst their ability to construct points was obvious, it was their defensive effort to keep Gordon to zero that really impressed. With Randwick and Manly coming up in the next fortnight we’ll perhaps get a clearer picture of how good this side is, but this will certainly do for starters.

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EASTERN SUBURBS 52 (Connal McInerney 2, Rowan Perry, Cohan Guerra, Mack Mason, Jack Grant, Archie King tries: Mack Mason 7 cons, pen) defeated GORDON 0

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