From the sheds… West Harbour v Gordon
GORDON 24 (Jack Margin 2, Jordan Goddard, James Lough tries; Rodney Iona 2 cons) defeated WEST HARBOUR 12 (Pat Pellegrini, James Turner tries; Pat Pellegrini con) HT 12-7 at Drummoyne Oval
They got the bonus point win they were after to remain unbeaten in 2020, and moved to the top of the ladder in the process. But a 24-12 victory for Gordon at Drummoyne Oval last Saturday was far from comfortable, against an improving West Harbour side that caused them plenty of problems. The real positive for the Highlanders was coming away with the choccies when they were some way below their best, a handy attribute that is often the hallmark of a side with Premiership credentials.
Behind the Ruck headed to the sheds for some post-match reaction from both camps…
Darren Coleman (Gordon head coach):
“It’s a regular trap if you’re a favourite and you score early and easily, the complacency can set in, and maybe that was it today. I was impressed with that first passage of play for the try but we didn’t get another one like that until about the 35th minute, so definitely there was some frustration. The game was in the balance for the majority of it and we’d like to execute a little bit better, but also credit to Wests, they were tough.
“They definitely tested us in the scrum, and it wasn’t until we made those front-row subs late on that we got a bit of ascendancy there, so that was a genuine battle. They’re a different team in that they play a lot of four-man lineouts, which just changes the dynamic at set-piece, and they’re offload and ad-lib breakout game was sensational. Even in the latter part of the game when we did have good scrum ascendancy, they were somehow getting the ball out of there and going offload, offload, offload, and we were back chasing our tail.
“I’d have to look at the video to see how many we left out there, but there were times where you think we’re going alright and a try is coming and it didn’t. There was a bit of similarity to the Manly game, we sort of coughed and spluttered our way through that one and it was a real contest. And then we came out and scored three tries pretty quickly in the second half. I guess there’s a little bit of luck and a little bit of karma in the fact that last year, we landed on three tries seven times, and we had all those tight games that we couldn’t close out. This corresponding game last year, we drew.
“But we’ve landed on four tries three times this season, and while we’re probably a better team now, sometimes your luck turns as well. We scored the fourth try ten minutes into the second half and maybe we put the cue in the rack a bit, but if you’d offered me five points at the start of the game and told me we’d be leading the ladder at this stage of the year, I’d have taken it.
“We’re still feeling out how to be a good team. We haven’t been favourites before and we’re still working that out but it’s hard to be at your peak every time. We’re also learning to deal with a bit of adversity. We had a few injuries last week and a couple more today, and losing Jaline [Graham] early throws your backline out a bit. But it’s all good for us. Not that it was going to happen, but I’d hate to have got to the semis having not been tested or figured out a loss at some point to really check how you’re going.
“You need adversity through the year to be able to figure out how to be able to handle it in the play-offs, and I think back to the Rats in 2017. We had so many big games that were meaningful where we came from behind and won, and also won games with injuries. You don’t win a competition by fifty points, and you don’t go through a season undefeated. I don’t think for a minute we’ll go through undefeated because we’ve got a big hard run of games to come. So we’ve got to learn how to grind and show some grit.
“I literally don’t know who from the Super Rugby contingent is going to be back for us yet, so it’s really hard to plan. But I’m not stressed about dripping them in. We’ve got a few injuries now, particularly in the backline, but I think we have the depth to cover it – it just depends how many! Two or three you can cover, another four or five and it’s starting to dig a bit deep. But our forward pack is healthy and we were able to bring on three fresh reserves, which changed the scrum battle. Jack Maguire showed some really good energy around the park and the two Tagaloa brothers [Peter Chanel and John Bosco] are great impact players, so we’ll live to fight another day.
“When I looked at the draw before the season I thought we had a tough start with Easts, Manly and Rats early. As it’s turned out they haven’t had a great year so far, but it’s a fact that we haven’t played anyone in the top six yet. People talk about Randwick’s soft draw but they’ve played a few top six teams and all we’ve played is the bottom of the ladder, so you can probably argue they’ve had a harder run than us. I’m sure we’ll have some tough days over the next two months but it’s about taking your licks and learning from them.”
Mark Gudmunson (West Harbour head coach):
“Coming off a win last week against Manly, in a game where we really had to battle for eighty minutes to win it, I think we had a big focus and understanding of what it would take to beat Gordon this week. To be honest, I think they probably thought they’d come and walk through us – I don’t know if that’s how they felt – but they were five unbeaten and won pretty convincingly in a lot of games. But we were quite confident that we had their measure in a few areas, and I need to go and do the review but I thought we had them on toast a couple of times and just didn’t finish.
“It was almost a replica of Manly the week before when they went over in the right hand corner in the first few minutes, and we really had to rebuild and take stock I suppose. But we did and we got back to seven-all and we could have been in front with a penalty, so we went in at half-time thinking that if we could start the second half well that this was our day. Unfortunately, we just didn’t do that.
“We had a couple of times where a guy carried and probably should have passed, and a couple of times where we passed it a little bit early when we should have taken them on a little bit. Scrum-wise I thought we were really good early and getting some real dominance, but unfortunately our hooker aggravated an ankle injury he picked up last week and we just couldn’t get that push in the scrum, and that’s when they started to get the ascendancy a little bit. We still won our own ball and we created opportunities off the back of it but again, we just couldn’t finish them off.
“Once they scored a couple early in the second half we changed our game plan a little bit, and I suppose the good teams don’t necessarily do that because there’s still plenty of time left, it’s about backing what you’re doing and executing it better. We talked at half-time about how we were seeing the pictures that we envisaged before the game, like opportunities down the short side, but we weren’t getting there. We lost the ball on the first or second phase and lost the opportunity, and as much as you can see what you can do, there’s no point if you don’t win the ball. Our focus for the second half was catching the ball, exiting back down their half and playing from there, because they weren’t exiting all that well and we saw that as an opportunity. But we decided to have a couple of phases and then turn the ball over instead. They’re the little things that are the difference between us and the Gordon’s and Uni’s and Randwick’s at the moment, they take those opportunities.
“We’ve worked really hard in the last couple of weeks on our breakdown work, and that’s key for us because we’re just getting ball that’s too slow. It’s not just the cleaners it’s the ball carrier working on the ground, you can’t just carry and flop and think you’re jobs over. These are all effort things. Our structure works, our players are good and the opportunities are presented, it’s just our effort.
“I think if you speak to most of the clubs that we’ve played against, they’ll say that’s the hardest game they’ve played. Our scrum is good, we’re matching scrums and that’s something that West Harbour haven’t done for two or three years, and we’ve got a couple of guys coming back that had a run in second grade that will make it stronger. For teams to have to make changes against us to stop our ascendancy we must be doing something right. But if the forwards are working their arses off to win good ball for us, our backs have got to finish.
“You can see the development in these guys, they just need more game time and that’s not an overnight thing. We’re still coming together and still learning as a team, and we probably had five or six guys out today from our starting team – Nigel Vaifale, Rod Davies, Carlo Tizzano, Josh Coward and Sam Wykes, who has yet to play at all with his foot injury. We’re getting a little bit frustrated with where we’re at but we just haven’t had the cattle on the field. We’re starting to get a little bit of consistency, and I think over the last two weeks we’ve probably showed where we should have been, and if we’d taken our chances today we could have won that game.
“Do I see signs of progress? Yes. Do I think it will come quickly enough for us to make the finals now? I don’t think it will. But people who were talking about West Harbour in the pre-season and all the new guys we had, were talking about a West Harbour with those seven or eight guys on the field too, and we just haven’t had that. That’s over half a team missing. I think the key for us is finishing the season as strongly as possible, and we’ve got Sydney Uni next week so it doesn’t get any easier. If they have a few Tahs boys back then that’s a challenge for us and we have to lift for it, but that’s what these guys should want to play against.”
Jordan Goddard (Gordon captain):
“At the start of the week we likened this game to a bit of a banana skin. Wests had won against Manly and got their tail’s up, and they’ve got some dangerous players across the park, so we knew we couldn’t just rock up here and put in a five out of ten performance and expect to get the five points. But that’s the first time we’ve been under that pressure, so as long as we learn what we do when we get put in that position that will give us confidence going forward in every game.
“Everyone had been talking about Wests in the Covid break and how they’d recruited well, and were then surprised when they weren’t winning games early on. But it was just a matter of them clicking and getting that first win and then they’d be firing, so we definitely knew they were going to bring it this week. We got the win but we’ve definitely got to get better and there’s definitely areas to improve on, which I suppose is a good thing because you don’t want to be playing your best footy in round seven, you want to be playing it in round twelve and thirteen and then the finals.
“I think maybe we got a bit complacent. Sometimes when you see a lot of holes in attack you expect other guys to do the job for you, and you don’t do your job as well or to the best of your ability, and that’s definitely something in terms of mindset that we’re going to have to address. At half-time we just said that we had to get down their end of the field, minimise our mistakes and work hard getting around the corner. They’ve got some really big boys so if we could get around the corner and make them work hard, we were making some easy metres by running straight and direct. We felt that if we could build three or four phases we were confident that we’d either get a line break or score some points, so it was just a matter of getting back to that and executing it well.
“We haven’t really been in this position before, so it was a question of working out what we needed to do and how we could get out of it, and that was a good game for us in that sense. Our leaders and game controllers know what to do next time now, like getting back to our set-piece and what lineouts to go to at certain times. So it was definitely a good learning experience for us for sure.
“Every game we just want to go and get the five points, but we’ve also got aspirations to get better every week. And whilst every game we want to have the expectation that we can win fifty-nil, we also have to realise that’s not always going to happen and that we are going to be tested, especially if we are not all on board in terms of our execution. This team is good mentally and emotionally, the boys really get around each other, so I have no doubts about us turning up switched on every week, it’s just that sometimes our execution lets us down and that’s something we’ve got to work on.
“We lost some guys from last year but got some good guys in like Rodney Iona and Harrison Goddard, guys that have played and experienced footy at the next level and know how to win and how to play big games. And having DC, Liam [Winton] and Billy [Melrose], they’re just really good coaches that instil confidence in the playing group, so I think that’s where the improvement from last year comes from. A lot of the competition are putting the pressure on us but we’re not buying into it too much. We have our own standards and expectations so what other people are saying is their opinion.
“We haven’t played anyone in the top six so we’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves. The wins we’ve had have been good but every week we’ve got to strive for perfection, so that when we do play the tougher games we know what to do. But we’re looking at reality, and those top six games are going to be a whole different ball game. The heads were down a little bit after today but as I said to them afterwards, ‘We’ve won, we’ve got the five points and that’s what we came for.’ You’ve got to celebrate the wins.”