2011 Flashback: Wicks down bonus point Rebels to break home drought

Photo: SPA Images

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Randwick have held off the challenge of a fast-finishing Southern Districts to claim their first home victory of the season, winning 37-30 at Coogee Oval. From a half-time lead of 18-13 and a 21pt lead with quarter of an hour to go, the Galloping Greens almost came unstuck when the Rebels passes finally started to stick, and they clawed their way back to earn what may yet prove to be two valuable bonus points.

Wicks skipper Nio Halangahu showed the way with two of his team’s five tries while the prolific Toby Browne contributed 17pts. But there were also good performances from the visitors in defeat, notably from the Latunipulu brothers, Sam and Apo, and their kamikaze flanker Sean Doyle.

The major discussion point of the game – at least from a Rebels perspective – was Randwick’s first try, Browne appearing not to ground the ball as he fell over the line. That decision, and his side’s continued kicking troubles throughout the first half, were major thorns in the side of an irate Souths head coach Darren Bray after the match.

“We should have been 13-0 up instead of 13-13,” he raged. “Their first try – no way was it a try. Everyone saw it and I’m pretty disappointed about it. I thought the boys really dug in after that but again, we let ourselves down with goal kicking. We’ve only been kicking at twenty percent and it’s been a real issue for us in the last three or four weeks.”

His opposite number Craig Morrison agreed that he too had his doubts over the validity of the try, but understandably took the pragmatic view.

“It looked a bit dodgy but we’ve probably had one or two of those go against us this season, so it evens out,” he reasoned.

The visitors bounced back with two quick counter-attack scores from Apo Latunipulu and Nick Seymour, and Morrison was frustrated with his side’s ability to shoot themselves in the foot when in a winning position.

“Even though the scoreboard was pretty close throughout the game, I thought we were creating more chances and handing them their points on the back of poor ball security and turnovers, particularly in the first half,” he said. “Our first try came from multiple phase attack, but I don’t think we went more than four phases for the rest of the half. We’d turnover fifth phase and they’d score a couple of tries on the counter. We’ve got to work harder at reacting when we turn ball over, and we’ve got to reduce those turnovers.”

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Exciting Souths flyhalf Ben Volavola in full flight – Photo: SPA Images

When they did hold the ball, their dominance up front was a key factor. This time last year, Souths were the biggest, baddest team going around with the likes of Radike Samo, Sitaleki Timani and Ita Vaea outmuscling opponents with ease. But with all three having gone on to Super Rugby, the Rebels have been left with a supremely talented but inexperienced side, and – Timani’s younger brother Lopeti aside – a much smaller pack.

Targeting the weakness, the Wicks profited through the driving maul and successive pick and drives, and it was from one such period of pressure that Halangahu got the ball down to earn the half-time lead. Bray admitted that the lack of depth and physicality in that area was becoming a concern.

“It’s obviously something that teams have targeted because of the size, and it’s something we need to address. We’re hoping to get a few more troops within a couple of weeks to help out.”

The fire raging inside him at the earlier decision must have translated itself to his players during the break because they came out all guns blazing, determined to redress the balance. With Scottish international scrum-half Chris Cusiter – here for a four-match cameo to help with his World Cup preparations – calling the shots, the Rebels put some fine attacking moves together. But 10 minutes of dominance failed to produce a score, with handling errors costing them dearly.

“That’s been our problem this year, our mistake rate, and we’re keeping teams in games because of it,” Bray conceded. “I put that down a little bit to having so many kids in the side. They’re still playing a schoolboys game but I just haven’t got the opportunity to put experienced players around them at the minute, and Chris [Cusiter] has been a big help in that. It’s just that leadership in the backline that’s missing, and they’re the ones that are making the mistakes.”

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Nio Halangahu (middle) put in a captain’s knock at scrum time and also bagged two tries – Photo: SPA Images

Their profligacy cost them as a clearing kick downfield was allowed to bounce – horribly – by the Rebels defence, and Clinton Sills needed no further invitation to race away and under the posts for his tenth try of the season. Morrison was happy to see his side come through that rough patch unscathed.

“Our defence at the start of the second half was sloppy, and they could have and should have put one or two tries on,” he observed. “But I thought at all times during the game today we maintained composure, and at no stage did we think ‘This game’s beyond us’, whether they went in front or were coming back. Our next fifteen to twenty minutes was probably our best period of the game. We kicked into action and played with composure, held onto the ball and built phases and that was probably the difference in the end.”

Two more tries from in close from skipper Halangahu and Tim McGann should have taken the game out of the visitors reach at 37-16, but a late fightback with scores from Ben Connolly and Sam Latunipulu gave the Rebels hope of salvaging at least a draw. However, the Wicks held firm and kept it in the forwards in the closing moments to run down the clock and seal their maiden home victory.

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RANDWICK 37  (Atonio Halangahu 2, Toby Browne, Clinton Sills, Tim McGann tries; Toby Browne 3 cons, 2 pens) defeated SOUTHERN DISTRICTS 30 (Apo Latunipulu, Nick Seymour, Ben Connolly, Sam Latunipulu tries; Rohan Saifoloi 2 cons, 2 pens) at Coogee Oval – HT: 18-13

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FINAL THOUGHTS…

Randwick head coach Craig Morrison:

It was good to see us get back on the horse last week, and this weekend I’d say we’ve gone to another level because we’ve played a Southern Districts side that was desperate and on paper, they’ve got some really good players. They had a lot to play for and we managed to shut them down, and that’s not easy to do. When they turned over they were quick to react and they shut us down, and I thought our decision making on counter attack wasn’t good either, we’d just kick the ball away. So we’ve got a lot to work on and we’re still a long way off where we want to be, but we got the win so I’m happy with that.

“We’ve got a really dynamic backline individually but we haven’t trained together much, so I’m really looking forward to training and off the back of that, attacking more than we have been. We tend to keep the ball in the forwards a lot of the time and I really want to use our backline – that’s where we want to get to. I know at the moment we play a little bit conservative for a Randwick side, but I think the Randwick faithful would understand that you’ve got to win first. Do you win or do you entertain? That’s the pressure. Everyone wants to see entertaining rugby but at the end of the day, they applaud you when you win, they don’t applaud you when you lose.

“These two weeks since the Penrith loss have been about putting back-to-back wins together, and today was also about our first win at home for our faithful supporters. It was really nice to see a good crowd because the last time they saw us, we were pretty ordinary. It’s really about momentum, and the good thing is we’ve picked up bonus points along the way, which has kept us in touch. So now we’re clear fifth and really chasing down fourth place over the next six to seven weeks, and if we can do that, we’d be pretty confident of a top four finish, which is what we’re aiming for.

“Eastwood are stronger than they were last year and they were Minor Premiers. Easts have obviously managed to strengthen their player roster, I thought they would be tough and I was surprised that we were in the contest down here at Coogee a few weeks ago given where we were at, so that gave us confidence. I thought Manly would probably be in second place at this stage and they’re not, and the only other team that I thought could keep us out of the four at this point was Souths and we knocked them off today. Uni are building quietly, they’ve managed to be where they are without playing too well. They’re kind of keeping in touch and a bit better than they did last year with less cattle, so they’re a bit like us actually. Next week will be a good challenge for two teams that are on the way up and got a long way to go but where are we at now, that’s what next week’s about.”

Southern Districts head coach Darren Bray:

“They outweighed us, their size was just so much bigger than ours so I was really proud of the scrum and our lineout was pretty good. I thought there was an opportunity there for Randwick to really kick on at the sixty minute mark, I thought we might just struggle a little bit. But we sent out a call after their fourth try and the boys responded, so I was pretty happy with that.

“I wouldn’t say we were killing them out wide but I thought we were making breaks and that’s against [Clinton] Sills and [Atieli] Pakalani who played well, and then they replaced him with [Frankie] Fainifo. Tim Wright has been one of the form players in the comp, so I was probably a little bit happier that he was playing thirteen and not fullback because his counter-attacking’s been outstanding for the last few weeks from what I’ve seen. It was a real focus during the week with him and then it didn’t pan out. But I was really happy with the kids in the midfield because we knew it was an area Randwick would target a little bit.

“I honestly believe that both Apo [Latunipulu] and Ben [Volavola] will play at the next level in the near future. Ben is silky, he’s got great skills and he’s one of these kids with time on his hands. But he can frustrate as well, and that’s why he needs a twelve that can settle him down or a nine that can get in his ear. When you’re nineteen-years-old and you’re a ball player, playing week-in, week-out at this level and you’re getting bashed, it’s hard. The only way you get experience is by playing, but it just helps if there is someone else that can settle the ship down.

“He wants the ball in his hands all the time, especially when we’re on a forward roll and we’re in the twenty-two, and it’s a schoolboy thing that he wants to go wide. But they’re still not comprehending what a mistake means in first grade compared to schoolboy level, and the ramifications it can have. It’s hard work but it’s great to be in charge of these kids, it’s a real privilege for me to try and guide them through. It’s hard in terms of the results but we’ve just got to keep chipping away, and we keep telling the boys ‘Don’t be disappointed, just brush yourselves off and start again next week and learn from your mistakes.’ It’s just going to take time and at this point, we have to go a little bit backwards to go a long way forwards. Winning’s a habit and so’s losing, we’ve just got to try and teach these kids how to get to 80 minutes and be in front.”

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Scotland international Chris Cusiter is enjoying a pre-World Cup cameo with the Rebels – Photo: SPA Images

Southern Districts & Scotland scrum-half Chris Cusiter:

“A few soft tries cost us. We started off well and I don’t think their first try was really a try but we came back from that and got ourselves in the game. Then it was the same story as last week. The first twenty to twenty-five minutes of the second half we just dropped the intensity and conceded a lot of points, but when we started playing in the last fifteen minutes we came back into it and could have snatched a draw at the end. We struggled at the breakdown again – that was an issue last week – and I wasn’t quite sure about some of the interpretations of the referee. But that’s part and parcel of the game and you get on with it.

“There’s a lot of young guys, a lot of potential and so much talent, but they’re a little bit short of a couple of older guys and they need that balance. I think Souths had a great year last year and a lot of the guys they had ended up being picked up by the Super Rugby teams, so they’re having to start the process again. That’s the difficulty that a lot of clubs will have, they lose a lot of players and they’re not really sure what team they’ll have in the second half of the season, this team could change massively for example. So they’ve got their challenges but it’s a good club and you learn a lot from these tough times and hopefully, the guys that normally play two’s can get a bit of experience in first grade and that’s important for the future.

“It’s quite nice to come back and play club rugby after being in the professional game for nine years. You are a little bit separate from it so it’s good to get back into that, and there’s so much talent in the backs out here. There’s some cracking players at Souths with the three players who will be going to the Under 20’s World Cup in Benny [Volavola], Apo [Latunipulu] and Rohan [Saifoloi]. They’re going to be fantastic players and it’s really good to get a chance to play with guys like that. These guys are nineteen, it’s their first year out of school and they’re playing first grade and they’ve got all the skills – their passing and kicking are fantastic. The athletes that they have at nineteen are probably ahead of Scotland in terms of their development and their physicality. 

“Because of the weather up north the game is necessarily played at a slower pace and it’s a bit more set-piece orientated. You can’t play at this kind of pace on muddy pitches in wind and rain, and that’s the advantage that Australia has and they use it well. I like the fact that we’re nearly in winter but the pitches are perfect and there’s plenty of sunshine. I like the family atmosphere at the ground and the fact that fourth grade plays first and three’s, two’s and one’s stay around and watch, I really like that and the level’s good. You get a day like today and it’s a nice day out, everyone enjoys the hospitality and everyone has a good time and people hang around whereas, it’s so cold that if you sat and watched four games in a row in Scotland you’d be in the hospital with hypothermia!”

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RANDWICK: 1. Maraki Toa; 2. Atonio Halangahu (c); 3. Justin Terry; 4. Tim Maxwell; 5. Geoff Ingram; 6. David Parsons; 7. Tim McGann; 8. Al McFarland; 9. Sam Bartlett; 10. Toby Browne; 11. Clinton Sills; 12. Bevu Tuqiri; 13. Tim Wright; 14. Atieli Pakalani; 15. Shaun Foley

SOUTHERN DISTRICTS: 1. Marcus Heather; 2. Nick Seymour; 3. Duncan Chubb; 4. Mick Kauter; 5. Luke Smart; 6. Sean Doyle; 7. Sam Latunipulu; 8. Lopeti Timani; 9. Chris Cusiter; 10. Ben Volavola; 11. Denan Kemp; 12. Apo Latunipulu; 13. Brackin Karauria-Henry; 14. Ben Connolly; 15. Rohan Saifoloi

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Original version published by clubrugby.com.au on 24th May, 2011

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