NSW Women begin title defence with solid win in Canberra

Photo: AJF Photography

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Reigning champions New South Wales Women have kicked off their title defence with a comprehensive 26-0 defeat over Brumbies Women in Canberra at the weekend. The first game of the new Super W season was played as a curtain-raiser to the Brumbies v Chiefs clash, and the visitor’s played up to the bigger arena of GIO Stadium, controlling large periods of the match to run in four tries whilst also leaving several opportunities out on the field.

Try-machine Grace Hamilton bagged a brace in her trademark style, with debutant Sera Naiqama and Wallaroo star Mahalia Murphy also chipping in as NSW enjoyed the majority of possession and territory. The home side fought hard with precious little ball, and did well to stem the flow of points in the second half. But they never looked like troubling the champion’s defence, and in the end it was a case of not if, but how many.

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A few early season cobwebs were blown away in the opening exchanges, both sides guilty of dropped ball and misplaced passes. But a tidy set-piece platform off the back of a dominant scrum, gave the visitor’s the chance to build some pressure at the right end of the field.

They had a couple of good go’s at the line from a lineout maul and a quick-tap penalty, as the Brumbies Women coughed up successive penalties under stress. But given the lop-sided scrum contest, it was no surprise to see the first five-pointer come off the back of another powerful shove, Hamilton peeling off the back to go close, and Naiqama on hand to drive the ball onto the base of the post.

Sera Naiqama_NSW Women v Brumbies Women_2019_AJF

Sera Naiqama gave an all-action performance on debut – Photo: AJF Photography

A penalty count of seven to one in NSW’s favour wasn’t making it any easier for the home side to get into the contest, and after 15 minutes they were yet to get out of their own half. But they were fighting hard, and on several occasions their gutsy goal-line defence thwarted a further dent on the scoreboard as NSW began to cut loose.

However, that scrum was still squeaking, and just before the end of the first quarter, it enabled the reigning champions to get the reward their superiority deserved. Mirroring the previous score, it was Hamilton again tearing a path from no.8, this time targeting an undermanned short side to power her way past three tacklers and find the line.

They were almost in again shortly after, a lovely dummy from Chloe Leaupepe slicing the Brumby defence apart, only for her pass to 2018 Wallaroos Player of the Year Emily Chancellor to drift forward. But with the balance of power and finesse in the forwards – some lovely offloading skills in the tackle on display from Emily Robinson in particular – and the pace and evasive running skills of players like Murphy at fullback – the blue wave was proving hard to repel.

And twenty-six minutes in, it was the elusive Murphy who added a third. Yet another penalty gave veteran skipper Ash Hewson the no-brainer of a scrum option, and when she switched to first-receiver from her inside centre position to open up space for Leaupepe, the Warringah Ratette glided wide and held onto the pill long enough to take out several defenders, before releasing Murphy for the corner.

Mahalia Murphy_NSW Women v Brumbies Women_2019_AJF

Mahalia Murphy slides home for the third – Photo: AJF Photography

They should have made it four before the half-hour, a turnover won by the forwards shifted wide at pace, only for Leaupepe to hit Shannon Parker’s feet with the killer ball and the line begging.

A couple of barnstorming runs out of her own 22 from Brumbies Women’s no.8 Tayla Stanford, offered some brief respite for the hosts and maintained some rare possession. But if they weren’t being laid siege to at scrum time, they were also struggling to punch their way over the gain line as a team, or come up with the exit plays to prevent the ball coming straight back at them as well.

It took them until the shadows of half-time before they mustered seven-plus phases, but that period of ball retention finally got them into the opposition half, and provided some much-needed confidence. And when they went to the sheds with no further damage on the scoreboard, it was something of a minor victory.

That small foothold in the contest could have subsided straight after the restart. A terrific play from NSW Women saw Alexandra Sulusi bust the line off a reverse pop pass from Leaupepe, and the predatory Hamilton was in support to suck in defenders. But when it went to the wide channels where they looked to have numbers, Brumbies fullback Rachel Crothers flew out of the line to stymie Wallaroo Murphy before she could shift it to her outside runners.

Jane Garraway_Brumbies Women v NSW Women_2019_AJF

Brumbies Women’s scrumhalf Jane Garraway clears the ruck – Photo: AJF Photography

Having enjoyed a whopping 90% possession after 50 minutes, the only question mark hanging over the visitor’s was why they weren’t already over the horizon on the scoreboard. Too often they wasted some brilliant build-up play with a poor decision or sloppy final ball, with forward passes and overrunning support the order of the day. But woe betide their opposition when they fully click.

However, with a pack going forwards and a finisher like Grace Hamilton in your line-up, you’re not likely to draw a blank for too long. Leading try-scorer in last season’s Sydney Women’s Rugby competition as her beloved Sydney University reclaimed the Jack Scott Cup, it was her eye for the line that came to the fore again in the 52nd minute, as she skittled several Brumby defenders to smash over from 10 metres for her second.

After a couple of warnings from referee Amy Perrett, penalty no.16 conceded by the home team brought with it a yellow card for openside Georgia O’Neill. And with a full quarter still remaining and half of that to come with a numerical advantage for NSW, you feared for the final punishment to be meted out by the Premiers.

But the introduction of replacement scrumhalf Remi Wilton for the Brumbies Women gave them a bit of extra zip in attack, the 22-year-old asking a few more questions with ball in hand, and the backline getting a bit more time with the pill, and wind through their hair, as a result. Their scrum had also improved in the second stanza, while their lineout was actually gaining the upper hand, and that, alongside some better clearing kicks and NSW Women’s continued profligacy, saw them manage to get through the sin bin period with no further damage on the scoreboard.

Chloe Leaupepe_NSW Women v Brumbies Women_2019_AJF

Chloe Leaupepe ran the ship at 10 with skipper Ash Hewson outside her – Photo: AJF Photography

The last 10 minutes saw both benches emptied, and fatigue set in amongst those still standing from the opening whistle – both of which contrived to reduce the spectacle to an error-ridden tussle with precious little creativity, and no further score.

And while the Brumbies Women were no doubt hurting after a first-up defeat, the fact that they walked away from the game with just four tries against them given the one-sided nature of the contest, should be enough to suggest better days lie ahead with more time spent together.

From a New South Wales Women’s perspective, the inaugural winners of this competition will know that they have plenty to work on over the next fortnight before they entertain an ominous-looking Queensland Women side at Leichhardt Oval. But to pick-up a bonus-point win and keep a donut on the ‘points conceded’ tally without ever shifting much above 3rd gear, has to be considered a job well done in round one.

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NSW WOMEN 26 (Grace Hamilton 2, Sera Naiqama, Mahalia Murphy tries; Ash Hewson 3 cons) defeated BRUMBIES WOMEN 0 HT 19-0 at GIO Stadium, Canberra

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