‘Feltsch’ flies again as off-colour Rats down gutsy Two Blues

Photo: Karen Watson

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Warringah’s blushes were spared by a couple of veterans last weekend, as a brace from Josh Holmes and a runaway try to 200-gamer Dave Feltscheer, helped the team at the top of the table, eventually see off an impressively gutsy and spirited performance from the team at the bottom, Western Sydney Two Blues, 34-17 at Pittwater Rugby Park. Here’s how it all played out…

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A frantic opening saw Warringah set their stall out early, setting up camp inside the Two Blues’ 22 with halfback Holmes using a myriad of ball runners to batter down the visiting defence. And they looked to have struck inside five minutes when a lovely pop pass from lock Sam Thomson put Austin Fa’amausili through a hole and away to the posts, only for a terrific try-saving tackle from the much-smaller Daniel Tully to stop the prop a metre from the line.

However, they had been playing a penalty advantage, and when the ball was duly kicked to touch, the Rats forwards rumbled towards the chalk with healthy progress, and hooker Rob Kelly dotted down for his third of the season to provide exactly the start the ladder leaders had been seeking.

But if they thought that was the opening of the floodgates against a side sitting firmly at the opposite end of the table, they were in for a rude awakening. A steal on the floor from the restart earned the Two Blues possession, which they maintained for seven phases before inside centre Zac Campton grubbered in behind for a kick-chase to apply pressure.

Not only did it achieve it’s aim, another textbook pilfer from hooker Jordan Ieremia won the ball back off the isolated Ben Marr in prime position. And after another set of pick and drives, a dart infield by fullback Tully got them within range, and quick hands out wide and a deft pass from winger Tailiki Nadredre, sent lock Tuitakau Kioa crashing over.

The boys from Western Sydney had come to play.

Shute Shield 2019

Two Blues lock Tuitakau Kioa offloads in the tackle – Photo: Karen Watson

Rats’ blindside Max Girdler was on a one-man mission to restore his side’s advantage, with a barrage of damaging carries at the heart of the Two Blues defence in response. But just as the home side looked to be building up another head of steam, they shot themselves firmly in the foot.

Tyson Davis, a welcome return from injury just the week before, had been a prominent figure in the early exchanges, often the line breaker or go-to man to open up space out wide. But it was an involvement he’d rather forget in the 16th minute, trying to create an overlap for his outside runners as Warringah clicked through the gears on halfway, only to see his pass picked off in mid-flight by Hayden Cole, who hit the afterburners to race home and give the visitor’s a shock lead.

Warming to the task and no doubt buoyed by the scoreboard, Western Sydney were not found wanting in the collision stakes. Time and again they stepped up into the line of fire to shut down a Rats surge at source with a seismic hit, and with 25 minutes gone on the clock, the body language was distinctly rosier at the blue-striped end of the field. The question was, could they keep it up for another hour?

Warringah weren’t helping themselves with a litany of loose carries, knock-on’s, turnovers at the breakdown, and unusually for them, lineout errors. With an obstruction and an overthrow sullying what is normally a reliable platform from which they build.

Shute Shield 2019

Max Girdler put in a phenomenal shift for the Rats – Photo: Karen Watson

Having already lost enforcer Sam Ward to a strain in the warm-up, the hosts got another jolt when both Rob Kelly and Liam Windon left the field through injury in quick succession. But it did induce the biggest cheer so far from Hillbilly Hill, as local favourite Dave Feltscheer joined the fray at fullback to mark a return to the Intrust Super Shute Shield after a season running around in lower grades, and his 200th appearance for his beloved Rats.

He almost broke free for a sprint to the line in trademark style within a couple of minutes, only for the Two Blues to scramble well and spoil. But the visitor’s were back under their posts shortly after, a high shot gifting the Rats a scrum option in prime position, and Josh Holmes rolling back the years to peel off, engage the outside channel defence with a show for a wide ball, before carving inside them to cross the chalk.

Hamish Angus’ reliable right foot made it 14-all, but a half that had proven to be somewhat problematic for the table-toppers didn’t get any easier when the perennially unlucky Harry Jones was forced off, and the bench was called upon yet again.

It looked like they may have even more to bemoan at the break when Western Sydney probed for a third. But just as they appeared to have opened the door on the flank, the rugby gods levelled the favours from on high with the final pass plucked from the air for an intercept by – who else? Dave Feltscheer.

He may not quite have the blistering top-line speed of his pomp, but the sight of that wispy fringe and those willowy legs pumping like crazy to go 80 metres and dive home, brought back many a happy memory to those who have watched their fair share of Warringah footy down the years.

Shute Shield 2019

Dave Feltscheer marked his 200th grade game for the Rats with a trademark try – Photo: Karen Watson

It was a cruel blow for the Two Blues, and possibly a 14pt turnaround to add to the ignominy. But going to the sheds just one score behind must have given cause for optimism for the second half, and they were almost back on level terms from the opening whistle.

Starting as they’d almost finished the first stanza, a devastating line break from Tevita Vaea saw the lock show a clean pair of heels to race half the field, before a last-ditch effort from the covering Ben Marr brought him to the floor. However, they did reduce the deficit by 3pts shortly after, when a breakdown penalty from in front was punished by the boot of Graham to make it 21-17.

Once play resumed, a thunderous impact in open-field between the opposing no.7’s Luke Reimer (Rats) and Liam Tully (Two Blues) – like rutting stags clashing antlers for supremacy – initially sent both veering worryingly to the floor. But thankfully, they somehow got straight back to their feet, and sportingly head-tapped in acknowledgment of each other’s bravery and fortitude. Gotta love this game.

Warringah started to ramp up the pressure in search of a score to break their opponent’s gallant resistance, and back-to-back penalties gave them the chance to strike again from a 10-metre lineout drive. This time however, Western Sydney’s maul defence was on point, and they not only quelled the Rats progress, they forced a turnover as well – much to the delight of all in blue.

Having breathed a sigh of relief, the visitor’s went again, their clean-out work at the contact zone consistently winning back ball and frustrating their hosts. And after some jinking feet from Tailiki Nadredre got them back on the front-foot, replacement hooker Matt Borg powered his way within a couple of metres. But when the ball went wide for Nadredre to finish in the corner, there was the timely presence of Marr once again to shepherd him into touch.

Shute Shield 2019

Tevita Vea was one of the best on-field for Western Sydney with a bevy of impressive runs – Photo: Karen Watson

Another Hillbilly favourite then took to the field to the sound of respectful applause, as Sam Needs made his return from long-term injury – the Premiership-winning prop having been sidelined for three months. But he joined the fray at a pivotal point in proceedings. Western Sydney weren’t going away, and with one quarter remaining, the Rats were well and truly up to their eyeballs in the contest. Enter stage left a couple of veterans to steady the ship.

A lineout just inside the Two Blues’ half led to a reverse pass from Marr sending Feltscheer screeching through a gap. And his looping wide ball opened up the field for Josh Holmes to pin back the ears and run in his second of the match, to the backdrop of unheeded cries of obstruction from irate Western Sydney skipper Adrian Musico.

Yet still they came, regrouping to set up another terrific break after the restart from Borg, Nadredre and Vea, whose leg drive almost saw him stretch for the line. But the referee had seen an infringement in the build-up and Ben Marr, much to his incredulity, saw yellow for slowing down the ball. Game on.

Taking the scrum option, the Two Blues shifted it infield for centre Willie Tooala to hit it up on a nice line and carve a path towards glory, only for Luke Reimer to pull off another much-needed tackle, and the support to come in and force a penalty the way of the Rats. It proved to be their last genuine chance.

Shute Shield 2019

Josh Holmes added another two tries to his impressive Shute Shield haul – Photo: Karen Watson

Warringah looked for a knockout punch, and perhaps should have got it when a lovely ball from Ruaridh Mackenzie sent Wes Thomas away on a gallop, and if the replacement rake had seen Holmes on his right shoulder, the prolific scrumhalf would have been away for a hat-trick. And they were unfortunate that the referee was unsighted when he gave a penalty after they dominated the next scrum, considering the ball came out the side and Max Girdler had a clear run to the line.

But with under 10 minutes to go, skipper Hamish Angus paid their opponent’s the ultimate respect – and ran down the clock with a man in the bin – by choosing to take the 3pts on offer from in front to open up a two-score advantage at 29-17.

Two Blues loosehead Airi Hunt then earned a well-earned rest, but not the way he had intended, as he was pinged for a questionable high shot and sent to the sin bin. The largest man on the field, Hunt’s performance brought to mind the early glimpses of Will Skelton in clubland – a big-bopper with the softest hands – and his repeat efforts across 75 minutes given his size, suggest there is much more to come as his body adjusts to 1st Grade footy.

Time was running out for a late comeback from the visitor’s, but a further five-pointer in the last minute for the Rats – Wes Thomas on the end of a pinpoint cut-out pass from Holmes to make the final score 34-17 – was a particularly cruel blow to impart on them given their efforts.

In the end, the Rats survived a major scare to maintain their push for a Minor Premiership, and may well reflect on this as a wake-up call ahead of the bigger challenges to come. But this was a bloody good effort from the Two Blues. A performance that makes a mockery of any calls to see them suffer the same fate as Penrith, and offers plenty of promise of what may be achievable in the years ahead.

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WARRINGAH 34 (Josh Holmes 2, Rob Kelly, Dave Feltscheer, Wes Thomas tries; Hamish Angus 3 cons, pen) defeated WESTERN SYDNEY TWO BLUES 17 (Tuitakau Kioa, Hayden Cole tries; Dominic Graham 2 cons, pen) at Pittwater Rugby Park. HT 21-14

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