Beasts tamed as gutsy Randwick claim ANZAC Day derby spoils

Photo: SPA Images

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With a combined five losses from six to the start the season, neither Randwick nor Eastern Suburbs went into their ANZAC Day derby clash with much in the way of runs on the board for 2019. But it was the Wicks who got rid of the zero in their wins column, prevailing 23-15 in a hard-fought contest where their tenacity at the breakdown rendered them more Grappling Greens than Galloping.

Trailing 8-6 at half-time, the home side found new reserves of hunger and desire after the break, stunning the Beasts with two tries in three minutes to build a lead that they never looked like relinquishing, with 13pts from the boot of flyhalf Bryan Croke helping them over the line. The defeat was Easts’ third in a row, after a highly promising start to their campaign with an opening day dismantling of Sydney University that now seems a lifetime away.

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It was the visitor’s who flexed their attacking muscles first, Sam Fogarty dashing down the left flank before Randwick openside Jack Johnson did enough to see him into touch. But the home side were clearly fired up for the occasion, and their aggression and determination at the tackle contest soon had them asking questions at the other end of the field. And when Easts went off their feet in front of the posts, no.10 Croke opened the scoring.

A scrum penalty for Easts from the first engagement of the day saw them back on the front-foot, before handbags at twelve paces following a seismic hit from Wicks centre Nick Wilkinson, had the 3,000 strong ANZAC Day crowd baying with encouragement as vociferously as the amber nectar-fuelled revellers playing ‘two-up’ at the nearby Coogee Pavilion.

Looking anything-but a side with three losses to their name going into the match, Randwick continued to carry the fight to their arch-rivals. Thirteen phases and three minutes of ball-in-play time off some impressive carries from both forwards and backs, had everyone sucking in the big ones when Easts eventually turned over for scrumhalf Jack Grant to find touch. But after an opening quarter of blood and thunder largely dominated by the green half of the Eastern divide, they had made precious little inroads on the scoreboard.

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Sam Fogarty and David Vea discuss the weather – Photo: SPA Images

Having weathered the early storm, the Beasties began to enjoy some handy territory of their own, and when Randwick were pinged for going off their feet in the 23rd minute, Mack Mason didn’t waste a chance to level proceedings.

Buoyed by the score and the momentum generated by their fully-functioning scrum, the visitor’s went up a gear. Another penalty for angling in was ploughed into touch by Mason for a lineout on the edge of the home 22, and when the ball was shipped to the opposite flank and the lively Grant sniped his way within a couple of metres, the forwards took over to drive prop Archie Hall across the chalk for the game’s first five-pointer.

Mason couldn’t add the extras, but as the clock ticked over the half hour mark, it seemed like the Beasties had taken their opponent’s best shots and wrestled momentum away for an 8-3 lead. But as is often the case in derbies, relative dominance can ebb and flow just as quickly as player’s tempers in the heat of battle.

So it was perhaps no surprise to see the half end with Randwick back on an attacking roll, and when a high shot on Croke allowed the Irish import to slot his second penalty of the afternoon, they had edged themselves back within 2pts as both teams went to the sheds for a 10 minute respite from the Autumn heat.

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Bryan Croke slotted 13pts off the boot for the Wicks – Photo: SPA Images

It was the hosts that returned with greater fire in their bellies, and after a scrappy opening few minutes to the second stanza that saw both sides guilty of sloppy handling, it was they who grasped the bull by the horns with a well-worked try.

Easts will be kicking themselves for coughing up the opportunity, trying to run it out of their own half before losing the ball in contact and allowing Randwick to pounce. But it still took some disciplined and incisive play to take advantage, Mitch Short marshalling his troops onwards off some decisive carries, and the canny Waratahs halfback on hand to dummy and dart over from a metre.

The score seemed to imbue a palpable shift in belief that spread through both sides. The Wicks were now a collectively charged ball of passion and energy, taking a tantalising glimpse into a future where a derby win gets the monkey off their 2019 backs, and not in the mood to let anyone steal their dream.

The Beasties meanwhile, gave the impression of a side suddenly drained of confidence in what they were doing, and staring down the barrel of three losses in a row and the concession of bragging rights to their bitterest of enemies. Was this really the same side that put almost half a century of points on Sydney Uni in round one?

Those disparate emotions were only fuelled by what happened next.

A pass that fell behind an Easts support runner on halfway allowed the Wicks to pile in and muscle up at the breakdown, and the cleaners went to work to win back possession. Replacement Daniel Matthew scooped up from the back of the ruck to charge into the Tricolours line, and with Easts slow to reset on the short side, the ever-alert Short put up a glorious kick to the corner for Zac Carr to outpace Fogarty and dive for the line.

A terrific conversion from the sideline by Croke saw Randwick out to a 20-8 advantage, and the boisterous home contingent in the crowd were now fully behind their myrtle green heroes, as successive derby wins on Coogee’s hallowed turf loomed on the horizon.

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Jack Grant was one of the Beasts’ best in defeat – Photo: SPA Images

With intensity levels rising and defence increasing in brutality, both captain’s were left needing treatment as the game ticked towards its final quarter. Sam Shires – a stellar pick-up by Easts from Manly in the off-season – roused himself from the floor for some further punishment. But for opposition leader David Vea, his race was run, a situation ameliorated somewhat by the arrival of the evergreen Adam Freier.

An offside penalty then had sharp-shooter Croke lining up the posts and inflicting further damage with a routine 3pts, leaving Easts chasing at least three scores in order to rescue the situation. But they had one back inside three minutes, and it was arguably their finest and most cohesive play of the contest.

A lineout from just about their first visit to the Wicks’ 22 of the half was mauled within five metres, before the pack took turns to plough a slow but effective furrow towards the line. But when enough green jerseys had been sucked in to help the defensive effort, Jack Grant picked his moment to step in and fire it wide for Mason to use a decoy runner, and put Ned Yeomans through a gap and across the chalk.

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Randwick centre Nick Wilkinson had a terrific game in attack and defence – Photo: SPA Images

Two more from Mason made it 23-15 with just over 13 minutes remaining. Could Randwick hold on, or were Easts about to run over the top of them?

The visitor’s were no longer able to make any headway off their scrum to help their cause, Randwick having turned things around superbly in the second half to curry their own favour with the referee. And that lack of a set-piece platform, coupled with the Wick’s ravenous linespeed and continued effectiveness at the breakdown, was starving their opportunities of a late fightback.

In the end it was the hosts who had the chance to add to their tally, Croke falling short with another penalty attempt as the Wicks choked Easts into submission inside their own half. But there would be no late riposte, the game ending as it had begun with the Beasties trying to play from their own 22, and being suffocated by an exhausted but joyous green wall.

The monkey was off the back, the season has started in earnest, and Randwick get to chirp about their ownership of the east. Until next time…

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RANDWICK 23 (Mitch Short, Zac Carr tries; Bryan Croke 2 cons, 3 pens) defeated EASTERN SUBURBS 15 (Archie Hall, Ned Yeomans tries; Mack Mason con, pen) at Coogee Oval. HT 6-8

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