From the sheds… Southern Districts v Eastwood

EASTWOOD 28 (Michael Icely 2, Max Stewart tries; Chris Bell 2 cons, 3 pens) defeated SOUTHERN DISTRICTS 25 (Penalty Try, Ryan Menzies, Phil Potgieter tries; Christian Kagiassis con, 2 pens) at Forshaw Park HT 22-10

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It was a blood and thunder clash under the power lines at Forshaw Park last Saturday, as Southern Districts and Eastwood went toe-to-toe in a physical and feisty encounter that saw three yellow cards and one red for the visitor’s after just seven minutes. But last year’s grand finalists held their nerve and put together some decent footy to lead 22-10 at the break, before Souths hit back in the second half to edge 25-22 in front. Successive penalties to the impressive Chris Bell – one from over 40 metres out – gave the Woods the lead once, more before the usually reliable super-boot of Christian Kagiassis missed the chance to earn a draw for the home side.

Behind the Ruck headed to the sheds for some post-match reaction from both camps…

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Ben Batger (Eastwood head coach):

Shute Shield season launch

Ben Batger – Photo: Stu Walmsley

“I’m really pleased. I said to the boys that I think that’s one of the top five wins I’ve had in club rugby in the last twenty years. You don’t often see a team win when they’ve had fourteen men for seventy-three minutes so I’m super proud. I know it’s only round two but that kind of effort was incredible and can make a team’s season.

“Souths wanted to play to their scrum or driving maul and play a territory-based game, so we thought that we wanted to put it in their half where we should be able to manage them. They’re very dangerous once they get inside your own thirty, so we didn’t want to be mucking around there.

“Belly’s [Chris Bell] done a really good job at ten. He and Tane [Edmed] did swap a lot last year, and while he may have had fifteen on his back we played duel-playmakers. But he was excellent today – his kicking game in the first half in particular. And to then hit that last kick from forty-five metres out with the crowd giving it to him showed he can step up when it matters. He had a good game and I’ve got a lot of faith in him. He’s a good footballer.

“The three tries we scored with a man down were pretty incredible, it was just really good execution. On the flip side of that we probably went into our shell a little bit in the second half because we were actually playing some really good football. They were down a man at one stage and there was maybe a bit of a lesson for us there in that we’ve got to get that balance right between playing territory but also taking our opportunities. We were obviously concerned about tiredness as the game wore on but we’ve got a really good bench and we have a lot of faith in them. I did a bit of quick math with the boys and figured that if twenty players all do five percent extra, that’s a hundred percent to cover for the red card!

“I guess we were maybe a little bit lucky because they did miss a penalty goal at the end there to draw, and it was a bit of a strange game all round. It was certainly refereed a little bit differently to last week’s game in terms of the breakdown, but I think it kind of evened itself out for both teams across the eighty minutes. Neither of us got an advantage I thought. There were four cards today and you’ve got to adapt on the run and to give our boys credit, they adapted pretty well. There may well be more cards handed out this year, so today might be a blessing in disguise in the fact that we got to learn how to play with fourteen men.

Fabian Goodall_Souths v Eastwood_2021_SG

Fabian Goodall chips ahead for the Woodies – Photo: Serge Gonzalez

“Souths are a really tough team to get a win off. We got belted here last year and they can really suffocate you, so if you go down to fourteen I reckon most teams would just worry about hanging in there. We decided to go up-tempo at first and then hang in there at the end when we needed to, so it was a good one to get a win out of. They’re a tough team and they’ll beat some top sides this year. Uni next week will be a big test. They’re always the benchmark so I guess we’ve been building into that and I think it will be one hell of a game.”

Todd Louden (Southern Districts head coach):

Southern Districts head coach, Todd Louden with the 1st grade coaches.

Todd Louden – Photo: Malcolm Chuck

“A few minutes after the red card we got a sin bin, which I think a lot of people missed, so we were fourteen men each for a while. And when you get a red card, more often than not a team lifts, and the other team – and it’s not an excuse – but they have this perception that they should win easily from there. And on a lot of occasions that’s not the case.

“But full credit to Eastwood, they played smart and in Chris Bell, they have the best game manager in the competition. He took the game by the scruff of the neck at that point and his kicking game and game management were just outstanding. Hit midfield, kick to corners, try and pin us down and then get possession back, and we just didn’t touch the ball first half. Conversely, our kicking game was atrocious, and that was the worst game that I’ve seen ‘Kaggs’ [Christian Kagiassis] play – and he would openly say that too. So from my perspective, I’m happy for him to get that out of the way.

“The tries we conceded were disappointing. For the lineout maul we had one senior guy that missed his assignment and ended up on the ground, and in this comp now, you make one mistake you get scored against. On the other ones, I felt there was a lot of illegal checking going on in front of the ball. In fact, a lot of stuff happened off the ball and it was a very physical, niggly game and a lot of penalties were handed out. Both sides were trying to understand the referee, and there was a lot of talk at the referee, for the referee and to the referee. And when you’ve got two pretty heavyweight packs going at each other, they start to get niggly.

“We didn’t take our chances, and we didn’t execute in key areas and at the key times that you need to at this level. Sometimes you have these games, and we happened to have it and just lost by three points. But I think we have a lot of growth in us as a team, and that’s the exciting bit. Our biggest thing has always been about cohesion and getting the right combinations, and we’re going to build through this season. We’ve played Easts – who are competition favourites if you ask most people – and Eastwood, who were grand finalists last year and have a very mature backline that have been together for some time now, and also the makings of a very good forward pack. And in both games we had our destiny in our own hands and enough opportunities to win them, but we didn’t play with discipline around our game plan.

“We’ve got a resurgent Warringah next weekend and that’ll be a close game too. Whether it’s a ‘must-win’ depends on how you look at it and whether you’re sitting in the coaches box or sitting in the stand, because they both offer a different perspective. If you’re in the stand you’re probably saying it is but for me, we’ve just got to gel, and if we lost another game it’s not the end of the world because it’s a nineteen round season. What really matters to me from a coaching perspective is that parts of our game improve, and it’s about performance not results – at the moment. We’ve probably got one of the hardest starts to the season of anyone, which is fine by me because what it’ll do is force us together quicker.

Andrew Tuala_Souths v Eastwood_2021_MC

Andrew Tuala on the charge – Photo: Malcolm Chuck

“So there’s no worry in our camp, it’s more about making sure that we learn, and that some of the guys get up to speed with the simple little things because we’ve got no rhythm to our game yet. That’s a cohesion and mindset issue, but as I said, I know we’ve got plenty of growth in us to come. That’s not me putting a positive spin on things, that’s being practical. Am I happy with where we’re at? No, we need to be more disciplined around some of the parts of our game plan. But a lot of these guys haven’t played this footy before and we’ll need a bit of time.”

Tom Murphy (Eastwood captain):

Tom Murphy_Souths v Eastwood_2021_SG

Tom Murphy – Photo: Serge Gonzalez

“The message probably didn’t change after the red card from what it was when we started. We knew Souths are a very gritty side and that we ‘d have to go the eighty, and there would be effort areas that would win us the game. So whilst we didn’t plan to be playing with fourteen, that didn’t change us, it just meant we had to put a bit more emphasis on the game plan. We’re always looking to play territory down to the corners down here and back our set-piece, so tactically not much changed, it was more so the effort and the intent that we really had to focus on.

“You’ve all got to dig in when it happens, particularly when it is a forward where you have to make small changes in terms of the lineout and scrum. But it’s about those effort areas, getting up off the ground etc, that are of paramount importance. It’s something you plan for but don’t always expect, but going forward with the way World Rugby and the referees are looking at contact to the head, it’s something that we’ll have to look at more because it will inevitably happen again at some stage – either to us or someone we’re playing against.

“When we played footy and we did use the ball we were pretty dangerous, and I think we probably went away from that a little bit in the second half. That was possibly down to fatigue and that we rested on our laurels a bit, but when we did play footy we scored three quick tries off the back of good continuity and quite expansive play. It’s hard to be critical of a performance like that but we probably went away from that and fortunately for us, a few kicks didn’t go their way.

“Round one down here last year we sort of got ambushed a bit, they were the much better side on the day and I guess we had that in the back of our minds and used that a bit as motivation. Whilst I like coming to hostile environments like this, it is a hard place to play with the crowd in your ears and you never know what the wind is going to be doing. Souths would probably have been there or thereabouts had they not had that horror injury toll last year. And the way they play footy is very much that end of season style, ten man play and work off their set-piece, so I fully expect them to be there this year and they’re going to cause lots of teams headaches. So we’re very happy to take this win.

“We haven’t been explicitly talking about last year’s grand final, but we know that other teams probably see us as the real deal off the back of it so we probably have a bit of a target on our backs and it’s a matter of setting our standards higher. We are all motivated by that day because the scoreline didn’t necessarily reflect the game or the season we’d had per se, but it’s not something that we’re harping on about each week. For us it’s all about setting our own high standards and going from there.”

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