From the sheds… Southern Districts v Randwick
RANDWICK 34 (Kristian Jensen 2, Dylan Pietsch, Simon Kennewell, Maurice Longbottom tries; David Horwitz 3 cons, pen) defeated SOUTHERN DISTRICTS 5 (Joe Cotton try) HT 22-5 at Forshaw Park
Randwick continued their impressive start to the season with a sixth win in a row over Southern Districts last Saturday, running out comprehensive 34-5 winners on a day when managing the conditions was as much of a challenge as anything offered up by the opposition. (Check out the in-depth match report here)
A litany of injuries certainly didn’t help Souths’ cause. But just a week after they had prised the Sir Roden Cutler Shield away from Sydney Uni’s grasp, they were handing it over to a well-drilled Wicks side that is balancing nicely the basic tenets of dogged defence with smart game management, and embellished by a backline that can score from anywhere.
Behind the Ruck headed to the sheds for some post-match reaction from both camps…
Ben McCormack (Randwick head coach):
“It was probably our biggest test since the Rats and I thought we responded well. I was always confident that as the standard rose we’d rise with it, and in the last few weeks we’ve probably started and waited to see what the opposition standard was going to be like and our starts have been slow as a result. But today they brought a fast pace and a high standard and I thought we matched them pretty quickly and played well in that first twenty minutes, which was good.
“Tactically it was a bit of a hard game to go into because Souths, if they get territory, are really, really hard to beat. Once they get into your twenty-two they’re really clinical and hard to stop, so tactically we just needed to make sure we played in the right areas of the field and I thought Dave Horwitz and Kristian Jensen at ten and twelve did that really well.
“Full credit to them both because we spoke a lot about our kicking game during the week, and we spoke a lot once we got here about the wind and how that was going to play and how strong it was. But it’s one thing to talk about it, it’s another thing to do it, and when you compare the two kicking games, Souths probably overcooked a few kicks and didn’t adjust for the wind as much as my two boys did, which was really telling in the end. When you put them out on the full or don’t put your penalties out, it can really hit you.
“It is hard to play a territory-based game for eighty minutes, and we tried to stress the importance of not getting bored winning that field position battle. There were always going to be periods where we didn’t stay on top of that, but we minimised them to probably two ten-minute periods throughout the game where they got the ascendancy and territory and if you can do that, it goes a long way to winning I think.
“Our defence held up really well and that desperation is an attitude that we’ve focused on and pushed really hard throughout all of pre-season and all the training that we do, and it’s just nice to see the desperation from every individual on the field to not let them cross the line. I think we’ve only conceded three tries in six rounds and I’m really pleased with that effort. It’s pretty remarkable to keep a side like Souths, who are pretty potent close to the line, to just one score.
“In that second half we had a hooker in Dave Vea taking a quick tap and running thirty before putting our loosehead Jake Turnbull away, who put our number six Kyle Harris into space before we released one of the backs, so it’s good to see all the boys trying to buy into that intelligent footy that we’re trying to play.
“We can only play who the draw puts against us but we know some of the bigger tests are still to come, so we’re not going to get carried away. We’ll keep our feet on the ground and keep working hard. Souths was our biggest test since round two but we responded to that and I’m confident we’ll keep responding as the challenges get harder.”
Todd Louden (Southern Districts head coach):
“It’s kind of a hard one, because when you lose so many players during a game, especially your halfback who controls your tempo within eight minutes, as a coach you’re thinking how hard you should go at a young group outside of just getting them to learn from it. We got frazzled by the amount of changes going on, and it’s been a long time since I’ve coached a game with that many changes. But how we approached it from there and how we went about things was most disappointing, and our game management was pretty poor in the windy conditions as well.
“We ran slightly into it in the first half and then it actually switched around about ten minutes into the second half and we didn’t manage that at all with our kicking game, but to Randwick’s credit they played exactly how they should have. They didn’t do anything necessarily smart, they just played to their strengths and we gave them the opportunity to do that. We kicked to midfield, which we’d talked a lot about not doing prior to the game, and they punished us for it. They’ve got five professional backs out there, four of which are Sevens players, and you’re going to get punished if you kick loosely to them, and we did.
“A few shoulders dropped after that third try and that’s the thing that I’m most disappointed about from the whole game. I don’t know whether that’s a compounding factor like a hangover from Uni last week, or a hangover from losing two players early, but even three tries down I thought we could claw our way back, that we had that potential in us. But the body language was pretty poor, and from that point on we didn’t really have the urgency or the discipline to stay with it.
“We talked at half-time that if we were running into the wind again that we needed to keep it closer in and we needed to keep the ball, and I thought we started to make some real inroads there, which would freshen up our backs. And I thought our two centres played quite well considering who they were up against and having to manage, they gave a much better performance defensively and were sweating on any ball or scraps that we could get. But I thought our forward pack didn’t stand up. It’s hard when you lose Isoa (Nasilasila) and your halfback who’s your eyes and ears, but that’s just where we’re at at the moment.
“It wasn’t our day but we didn’t make it our day, and I think from a coaching perspective that’s the big thing. We didn’t do anything to help ourselves. We missed a couple of gimmes and another couple of tries through really lazy work. We’re one of those teams that can claw our way back into a game quite well, but not with a lazy attitude and execution, and that was the picture of the whole day. Our whole club didn’t turn up, and that’s full credit to Randwick because they turned up hungry and desperate. In this competition, everyone can beat everyone, it’s about making sure you turn up on the day.
“I think people will definitely say that this performance was a by-product of the Uni game last week, and that does weigh into it. I feel that sometimes this young group forget to compete coming off a good win. If you look at the stats for the Uni game we were a lot more dominant than the scoreline suggests, so maybe a lot of these young guys got ahead of themselves and went out lacking aggression and just went through the process, and didn’t manage the conditions or the opposition very well.
“Does the loss do us any good? Yes, it’s a sobering lesson for a young group, and as much as I hate losing, we needed a loss. We’re going to be far better for it because we’ve got a lot that we can now go away and work on, and I think we’re probably only at thirty percent of our development for this year. They’ve got a lot of improvement in them, which is exciting. Are we finals ready? Not at the moment we’re not. Can we be? There’s no reason why not, but we’ve got to get back into that mode. We’ve only got seven games left so it is quite cut-throat, but one loss isn’t going to end your season and one win is not going to create it either. I’ll be surprised if any team goes through undefeated this year.
“For us it’s about getting back to basics, which is very cliche I know. But we’ve got Warringah next when we’re under duress with the amount of injuries that we’ve got, so that will be a test of character. On our day we can beat anyone, and I think we’ve proven that, but we have to be a lot more consistent in our preparation and the way we approach things. So we’ll hit the reset button and head up to Rat Park for what will be a tough game.”
David Horwitz (Randwick flyhalf):
“We had a focus going into the game of playing a highly-structured field position game. We thought Souths were very dangerous inside the twenty-two, that was their strength, so we tried to limit that as much as possible, and the weather probably complemented that more because there was a bit of a prevailing breeze across the field and into that back right corner, which obviously helped because I’m a right-footer. Plans don’t always go that well that often, but that was a good one, and that’s credit to the coaching staff who have analysed all that off the field. We were lucky enough to be able to execute it.
“Once you have a lead and the other side has to chance their arm from a bit further out and chase the game, especially in conditions like that, it definitely played into our hands. Not to necessarily sit on it, but play the percentages and play similar amounts of field position and have the confidence that they’re going to have to run it back and not be able to use the wind as much, and it worked out well for us.
“It’s really nice as a ten when you try and control that field position and get into that battle of give and take, but when some of our backs and our Sevens boys can just score tries and win matches as easily as that, it makes my job very easy. Probably our biggest strength is the source of possession that doesn’t come from set-piece like turnovers, and if you’re a team that has to chance their arm through more expansive play or flashier kick-off options, there’s always the risk that you’re going to land the ball on the floor for a Maurice Longbottom or a Simon Kennewell and get punished – I think Maurice had scored that third try before I’d even crossed halfway! Maybe that’s something that will creep into other team’s mindsets going forward, not to play that expansively just in case there’s an error and we try to capitalise on it.
“I was remarking after the game that we haven’t had any tough chats under the posts this year and we haven’t really spent much time camped on our line. We’ve only conceded three tries all season and that’s massively down to our forward pack, because that area of the field involves defending a lot of pick and drives and putting your body on the line one-on-one so it’s congratulations to them. It’s quite demoralising for another team, especially when they’re in your twenty-two, if they feel they can’t get points or are not rewarded for their field position. It’s not only a blow on the scoreboard, it’s a blow on momentum, and that’s been the cornerstone of our year so far and the reason why we’ve been successful I think.
“There’s obviously no disrespect to the teams we’ve played recently, but the seven games we have left are going to come against seven of the top nine teams as it stands, so we’ve won a lot of games that at the start of the season we would have expected to. In one way we’ve been lucky that the draw has been kind to us at the start of the year, but the other side of the coin is that it means we now have a finals standard of footy for the next seven weeks before, hopefully, a finals campaign, which will really make or break our year.
“Whilst I’ve never been part of a Randwick team that have gone six from six or had this feeling inside the dressing shed, we also haven’t done so by knocking off last year’s winners Sydney Uni or an impressive Gordon side every week, so we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. It is a short season so while it’s a cliche, you can play it week by week because you don’t have to look too far into the future.
“This was by far our biggest test and our best performance and I think this game will do more for our confidence than the five previous weeks combined, although we did have a really good win over Warringah in round two. But in saying that, if we slip up in the next two weeks at Coogee against Eastwood or Gordon, a big win at Forshaw becomes largely irrelevant. We’ve got to stay within ourselves because we haven’t accomplished much yet, and at the end of the season if we look back and this is all we’ve done, nobody is going to say that Randwick have had a good year.”