From the sheds… Eastern Suburbs v Eastwood
EASTWOOD 20 (Rhys Sheriff, Lachlan Shelley, Matt Gonzalez tries; Tane Edmed con, pen) defeated EASTERN SUBURBS 17 (Lindsey Stevens, Faalelei Sione tries; Nic Holton con, pen, Dan Donato con) at Woollahra Oval HT 12-7
It certainly wasn’t a classic, as two closely matched teams saw defences dominate at Woollahra Oval at the weekend, with Eastwood walking away with a 20-17 victory that leaves Eastern Suburbs’ season at a bit of a crossroads after just four rounds. At times in the third quarter the visitors really looked like a side beginning to click nicely under head coach Ben Batger, but there were patches of play from the hosts that would have given Beasties coach Pauli Taumoepeau reason for optimism going forward.
Behind the Ruck headed to the sheds for some post-match reaction from both camps…
Ben Batger (Eastwood head coach):
“We obviously played the conditions, and the idea was not to play in our own half so that’s why we kicked the ball away a lot. But probably our kick-chase let us down and put us back under pressure, and our set-piece let us down as well. We lost a hell of a lot of lineout ball and a couple of scrums as well, which again put us under pressure. But to the boys credit I thought they really dug deep defensively, and we took a couple of opportunities including a lucky intercept – you’ve got to call it what it is!
“The kicking game was based on the conditions and because they have a little bit of a shorter back three, and we actually didn’t want to kick long to them because they’re very good on the counter attack. We wanted to limit that so we thought ‘put it high’ and we executed those kicks well, but I was very disappointed with our kick-chase so that’ll have to be addressed.
“We talked about our linespeed during the week and the conditions helped us a little bit there as well because it was a bit slippery, so we wanted to get up in their faces and try and force turnovers that way. It was the type of game where if you hit around the ball it’ll probably pop out, so we did have a focus on our linespeed and the boys executed that pretty well.
“We said at half-time that we wanted to go direct at them, and we thought when we had the ball we were quite good, so it was a matter of executing off our set-piece and getting to a couple of phases so we could get into the right areas and challenge their defensive line. We probably didn’t do that well enough though, and again we were let down by our set-piece and execution.
“Chrissy [Bell] has come in and had a great effect on the team in terms of his vision and his ability to take a bit of pressure of Tane [Edmed]. We’ve got to remember with Tane that this is his fourth game against men and he’s doing really well and learning his craft on the run. ‘Gonzo’ [Matt Gonzalez] is always a running threat and I thought that try he scored today was a tremendous effort. He’s doing pretty well on the try-scorer’s list so he’s going alright.
“They certainly came home strong but the guys that came on for us I thought actually tackled really hard, and with fifteen minutes to go and them on a roll and chasing, I thought they stuck to it defensively and they only got a try off a maul. Between fifteen minutes and five minutes to go is when they had the ascendancy and we were a man down and held them to one try, so I was really impressed with their desire there.
“‘Murph’ [Tom Murphy] and ‘Ice’ [Michael Icely], they’re the sort of workaholic forwards that you need in your team, plus we’ve got Patty Sio and Sione Tau that can run through brick walls. But you’ve got to balance those out, and those workers really worked hard today and our bench certainly helped. I thought Max Stewart the hooker worked hard when he came on, so too did Rhys Sheriff, and that was only Tim Anstee’s second game of fifteens in five years or something so I thought he was really good when he came on as well.
“At the end of the day we played sixty minutes with fourteen men and in terms of our lineout we had about sixty percent, so to win this game is really pleasing, especially as we haven’t won down here for a few years. We had a real focus on coming away with a victory, and it might have been ugly but it’s a victory.
“Three wins from four is pretty indicative of how we’ve been going so far. We did start a bit slow but the big thing for me is that they are starting to gel as a team and build a bit of grit as a team. That was always going to be the key thing for us, and I told anyone who would listen that it would take a few weeks. But they are starting to gel and come together on and off the field, and we want to be peaking towards the back end of the comp and the finals, rather than in the first four rounds so it’s all positive signs for us.”
Pauli Taumoepeau (Eastern Suburbs head coach):
“I thought we troubled them with territory pressure in that first half, and I thought we forced them to play at times when there wasn’t anything on and we saw a lot of contestable kicks from ten, which I saw as pay for what we were doing. But when you have that much territory, you would have thought that constant pressure that we were applying would have turned into points but it just wasn’t to be.
“Where I think we lost it in the first half, and take nothing away from Eastwood because you still need to take those opportunities, but we overthrow a lineout and they get it and score, and then throw an intercept and they score, and we go in behind at half-time. So I thought tactically we were fine and the boys were executing, it was just those two moments that kept them in the game.
“We did feel hard done by at half-time, but it still seemed pretty positive because what they were trying to do from the areas they were trying to do it from, was exactly what we wanted them to do. And then the second half I thought it was even really, they were ahead by five at the break and we ended up losing by three. We just had some lapses in attack, but I thought Eastwood took their opportunities, and that’s part of it.
“We’re not out here trying to do anything out of the ordinary, we have a really simple game plan and system. We either play off nine or ten; if we have a scrum we try to dominate; and we want enough motion in the lineout to keep the opposition weak around the defensive edges. But we just didn’t take our opportunities. I think it’s going to come, we’ve just got to keep punching on.
“Never take anything away from our opposition, but barring the Gordon game where they were just the better team, I just think we’ve had little lapses where we aid other teams with their opportunities. I still think we could have beaten the Rats last week, we had those opportunities and we lost those lineouts, and we had our opportunities today and didn’t take them. But the sign of a good team and a team that is progressing is that they win those moments, so we’re owning those errors and we’ll just keep working at it.”
“I sit down in October and look at how we’re going to attack and how we’re going to defend, and you build it from there. As guys come in you tweak it a little bit but I believe in what we’re doing so much. We have little lapses here and there and we’ve been playing some really good opposition, but there will be pressure on us, and on me. Even though we’re one and three, I love it. I’m going to walk towards that pressure and keep answering it.”
Tom Murphy (Eastwood captain):
“We went into this game with an emphasis on our blitz defence off the sidelines to really try and get up and limit their big ball carriers, because they’ve got a couple of big boys and if you give them a bit of space and time they’ll build up a head of steam. And we’ve really been working on developing that kicking game, particularly the contestables with a greasy ball in those conditions. But our set-piece was pretty average from a forwards point of view and we turned over a lot of first-phase pill, which is something we’ve been trying to work on. So from that first half we weren’t particularly happy. In saying that, in these games you’ve got to take what you can as things often don’t go to plan and we were five points up at the break.
“At half-time we talked about how our kick-chase needed to improve drastically, which I think we did to a degree. Our kickers were kicking well, both Tane [Edmed] at ten and Chris [Bell] at fullback, and I think that kicking game developed well as the game went on and we showed a little bit more maturity putting the ball into the corners and trying to play the game at our temp, especially when we went down to fourteen on two occasions.
“It’s great having Chris at fullback because he sees the game very well and having that second playmaker has helped us a lot, particularly having two big centres in ‘Nox’ [Enoka Muliufi] at twelve and Devan [Stoltz] at thirteen. They’re the first to admit that they’re not ball-players as such, so having a nine, ten and fifteen spine that can play ball-play and ad-lib as well is really beneficial.
“You’d be silly not to try and get guys like Nox and Dev and Fabian [Goodall] involved in that tough, hard work because they’re such big bodies and it’s a point of difference. If you compare us to that Easts backline they are all sort of the same shape and they’re very elusive with good footwork. But we’ve got to play to our strengths, particularly on a day when ten-man rugby was probably the route to success, so you’ve really got to have those guys injecting themselves and playing in tighter.
“We definitely wanted to control possession a lot more in the second half. I think Norths in 2016 really perfected playing without the ball and defending and it’s something that Uni have done quite effectively as well, but it’s not something that’s really in our mantra as such. So we definitely wanted to play with territory and possession, and play down their end more than we did. We didn’t string too many phases together in their twenty-two, which is something that we’re going to have to go away and look at.
“We were fairly fortunate five out to win a scrum penalty, which was very brave of the ref to award it! But I think we showed a lot of fortitude, especially at that point in the game, and I think sometimes that’s something we’ve lacked a little bit in the past. It’s nice to see that from a younger nucleus this year, because generally that grit and determination comes with more experience. I know we allowed them to score that rolling maul but to ‘d’ up like that with fourteen men under sustained pressure, and to finish that game with some good examples of cover defence and close it out with such maturity, I was very impressed.
“We’ve got Western Sydney next week, which will be a big challenge, and then we’ve got Uni after that. And for us this year, a lot of it has just been about building because we started with such a young and inexperienced team as opposed to last year, where we maybe already had that high base level and it was a case of sustaining it. But we’ll be harsh on ourselves when we go through the video and look to see where we can improve.”