2011 Flashback: Cipriani not enough as Rats outmuscled by Manly

Photo: SPA Images

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He came, he saw, but unfortunately for a desperate Warringah side, he failed to conquer. Yes, the mercurial talent turned walking headline that is Danny Cipriani made his Shute Shield debut at Rat Park on Saturday. But despite a few glimpses of magic and a particularly enthusiastic defensive display, he couldn’t prevent a powerful and disciplined Manly outfit from retaining the Bayfield Cup, and maintaining bragging rights on the peninsular with a 32-15 victory.

Former Western Force backrower – and current Waratah target if you believe the mail – Tevita Metuisela took a lot of the plaudits with a hat-trick of tries in a busy, bustling and energetic solo performance that helped Manly to a 21-7 lead at half-time, before they crushed a mini revival from the Rats after the break to close the game out in the last quarter.

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A healthy crowd of over 5,000 were there to witness Cipriani make his first appearance in the green and white of Warringah in what is a predicted three-week cameo. Here at the behest of Rebel friends and Rats diehards, Mark Gerrard and Luke Holmes, Cipriani showed enough moments of quality without ever really dominating the game to see why his short time with the club could be just the spark they need to reverse their flagging fortunes.

He had barely settled into his new surroundings before Metuisela’s opener, the deceptively quick no.8 powering over in the corner to silence the home support. And when former Rat Kotoni Ale went over for try number two within the first 20 minutes, the hosts were staring down the barrel. However, Josh Holmes, as he has so often done in this season of Warringah woe, stepped up to the mark again with a trademark opportunist try, throwing the most savage of dummies to deceive the goal line defence and snipe over to reduce the arrears. Cipriani converted and hope was restored, albeit briefly.

The Marlins have had one of the biggest, baddest and downright most effective packs in the competition for the last couple of years, and they used their power at the set-piece to dominate possession and reduce Warringah to snippets of control from which to try and stay in touch.

Cipriani, Danny runs 090711D-9535.JPG

Danny Cipriani showed some classy touches on his Rats debut – Photo: SPA Images

Concerted periods of pressure on the Warringah line led to successive penalties and eventually a yellow card for Rats prop Dan Barnard, much to the delight of the vocal Marlins faithful. From such close proximity and against a temporarily weakened pack, Manly’s scrum was simply too strong, and although the pushover was initially resisted, Metuisela scooped up from the collapsing melee to dot down for his second. Marshall Milroy dispatched his third successful conversion to leave the Rats hanging on at 21-7.

It could have been goodnight Vienna just before the bell when the Marlins went over again. But referee Angus Gardner – not the most popular man at Rat Park on the day it has to be said – pulled the try back for offside. And there was still time for two further claims for a five-pointer to be turned down before the Rats forced a turnover, cleared to touch and earned a 10 minute respite. Head coach Sam Harris admitted that another try at that point would have been the killer blow, and used the reprieve to lift his troops for a second half fightback.

“I just let them know that the game wasn’t gone at all,” he said. “They could have been 28-7 and probably should have been, but we gave ourselves that chance and having done that, to go out and stick it to them. Just go all out for ten to fifteen minutes and take it from there.”

Meanwhile, his counterpart in the Manly sheds, Tim Lane, was more than pleased with his side’s opening half.

“Physically, we were very good, scrum time and our lineouts were good and defensively, we were good,” he reflected. “Their first try from Holmes, we just slackened off a bit on the line and then the second one, Cotters [Chris Cottee] and Lui [Siale] just got caught up a little bit on Cipriani but we were good. We controlled our ball well, we were very good at the breakdown and we kept our structure pretty well.”

Roared on by a fervent home crowd, the Rats turned up the heat upon their return and Cipriani went up a gear, picking holes in the Marlins defensive line. They could have had two tries but poor distribution cost them with Josh Holmes passing behind Dave Feltscheer and into touch with the line begging, before brother Luke broke the line only to offload too high for the onrushing Jason Peseta to gather in and score.

However, minutes later they did strike. A break down the left saw the Marlins defence well and truly breached and the Rats with a three-on-one scenario, and they played it perfectly for Mark Porpiglia to feed the final ball inside for Josh Holmes to claim his second. Wallaby Mark Gerrard – newly arrived to proceedings – took over kicking duties from Cipriani, but hit the uprights with his conversion attempt.

The Marlins were rattled, coughing up turnovers in their own half and allowing Cipriani to cut loose, the English test flyhalf putting on some razzle-dazzle with reverse passes and spinning grubbers to bemuse the opposition ranks. The problem was, with only one training session together, his team mates often didn’t read his plays and weren’t ready and in position when he spotted an opportunity as a result.

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The impressive Tevita Metuisela bagged a hat-trick for the Marlins – Photo: SPA Images

A pivotal moment came in the 56th minute when Rats pressure earned a penalty five metres out. With Cipriani looking to tap-and-go and for the maximum seven points, the call came to go for the posts instead, and Gerrard obliged. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, but it did seem that with the momentum they had built, going for the jugular may have been the better option. Coach Harris had his reasons but admitted that he could have called it differently.

“I think if Gerrardo kicks the conversion from the try just before, then it’s a tap-and-go every day of the week. But to get us within range I just wanted to go for the posts. In hindsight you’re probably right, but the way the ref was going with us I just wanted to take what we could get.”

Tim Lane hit the nail on the head.

“We were expecting them not to kick for points because their season’s gone, so why take three when you can go for seven?”

As it was, Gerrard’s kick proved to be the last points of the day for the home side, as Manly showed their title credentials in the closing quarter by taking stock, shoring up defensively, and playing it down the other end of the field.

A Milroy penalty took the gap back out to nine points, before some expansive play used the width of the field to stretch Warringah and create a gap on the left for the predatory Metuisela, who rounded the last man and crossed in the corner for his hat-trick to seal the win. Milroy missed the conversion but popped over another penalty in the death throes of the match to rubber-stamp the Marlins’ authority over their local rivals in 2011.

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MANLY 32 (Tevita Metuisela 3, Kotoni Ale tries; Marshall Milroy 3 cons, 2 pens) defeated WARRINGAH 15 (Josh Holmes 2 tries; Danny Cipriani con, Mark Gerrard pen) at Pittwater Rugby Park. HT: 21-7

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FINAL THOUGHTS…

Manly head coach Tim Lane:

“It’s an easy game for these blokes to get up for, they know there’s a bit of hatred there so it was always going to be pretty good I think. It’s always going to be tough, no matter how well or how badly they’re travelling or we’re travelling, and we knew they’d be up for it. We played a very good first forty minutes, and then they played well for the first twenty of the second half until we got a little bit of pill back and started to dominate again. Last week, we just didn’t control our ball well, we turned it over and tried to do too much with it. But today we were pretty clinical, so it was good.

“When we played them in the first round, the first fifteen or twenty minutes was tough. But the good thing about it was that we played for eighty minutes and we didn’t slacken off. The Super 15 guys all put their hands up and showed that they meant business and they’re not just here for a break, which is great. I think today is the start of a new phase for us because we have guys like Andrew Smith back and Jono Owen, who I thought gave us a very solid platform along with Elvis [Taoine]. Shannon Hegarty was good when he came on and Robbie [Coleman] will come back as well, and those sort of blokes bring great experience and just a little something extra.

“The under 20’s just got back on Wednesday and Greg Peterson looks like he’s out for the rest of the season. Michael Hooper’s going to have a two-week break, which is fair enough, and Luke Jones and Jacob Woodhouse are going to have to work their way back into the team. So it’s a matter of performing week-in, week-out and we’ll make some gains. Now we’ve basically got two front rows that we can look at rotating and using, which is great and will give Eddie [Aholelei] a break, which is a big plus for us.

“We’ve lost games we shouldn’t have lost but that’s all part of learning and we’ve still got a pretty young base, we’ve just got to now start to put the hammer down and get stuck in. I don’t think we’ll be out of the hunt. You don’t win it in the first round so it’ll be interesting to see what happens from now on in. As I say, it’s a new phase for us now with these blokes coming back, Robbie will come back and he’ll add another dimension in attack so we’re in a pretty good spot. There’s no way we’re favourites like people were predicting but we’re looking pretty solid.”

Warringah flyhalf Danny Cipriani: (Check out a feature piece on Cipriani’s time in Australia here)

“I’ve not really played on a pitch like this since I was fifteen and I think it’s told on my knees but we’ll see! Obviously, there’s rivalry in sport and we’re Warringah and we’re playing Manly, and I could hear it in the crowd. It was good, there was a lot of Manly support out here today and a lot of fans from Warringah who were enjoying it. I thought both teams did well. I thought we defended well today and in club rugby, everyone just comes together on a Thursday night and trains and then runs onto the field today and that’s kind of what rugby’s about. It’s the side on the day that gels a bit better and perhaps that was the case with Manly, but we know the things that we can do to get better.

“I wanted to have a crack [in the 56th minute] but like I said, the guys come together on a Thursday and you just muck in. I think if I’d played with them a bit longer they’d have known what I’m about, they would have been on the wing and I would have a little dabble but that’s alright, we’ll learn that stuff and we’ll be alright. Definitely, a seven-pointer would have been good then.”

Manly captain Chris Cottee:

“We knew they were going to be a totally different team to what we played in the first round. We put fifty on them that day and we knew it wouldn’t be anything like that. We knew they had a few key players coming back and we knew they’d play to their strengths, which is Gerrard and Cipriani controlling it. Cipriani did a few good things but overall I think we contained them reasonably well.

“The focus at the start was to take the crowd out of the game, and when they started to come back a little bit towards the end you could hear everyone – especially over the grandstand side where it gets very vocal. So we could hear everyone but we love playing in front of that as well, and it’s a good ground to play at for that reason because the crowd is in so close and they hate us! It’s fantastic to play here for that reason but if you can get some early points on, it takes them out of the game.

“We wanted to take them on up front but when we got quick ball and got round the corner, that’s when we found we opened them up a little bit. In the first half I think we scored two tries from going hard round the corner and we caught them short. But we moved away from that unfortunately and then went back to it a little towards the end when we started playing a bit better. We didn’t execute in some parts as well as we should have but these games are never pretty usually, and we got the result and that’s really all that counts.

“The talk at half-time was to play it down their end a bit more. It’s hard to score length-of-the-field tries but if they’re working phases in our half, that’s when it all happens for them anyway. So the talk was to just get it out of our half and apply the pressure down there, and kick to the corners a little bit more. Some of our kicks weren’t fantastic but I think we did enough to take a little bit of pressure off, which is more what we were doing in the first half. We had a lot of possession down their end – it flipped a bit from probably the forty-five minute mark to the sixty minute mark – but aside from that, we were pretty pleased with how it finished.

“With the other results that puts us outright second, so that’s fantastic. We still haven’t played our best footy, and I think in the past we’ve peaked before this in our season. So we’re actually winning games but not playing our best footy yet ,and it’s pretty pleasing to be winning and know that you’ve still got something in the back pocket. Hopefully it starts to click a little bit more soon, but if we get a little bit better each week we’ll be happy.”

Warringah head coach Sam Harris:

“It wasn’t quite the start we wanted, but I think it had all the ingredients to be a really good game of running rugby but the ref didn’t want that to happen. That first ten to fifteen they just rolled over us, we weren’t up to it and they were. But apart from that the boys really hung tough. Apart from the first try we made them earn every point they got and just before half-time, when we kept them out when they got a few penalties, they probably should have scrummed it down rather than put a quick tap in. But they didn’t score and it was 21-7 at half-time and we gave ourselves a chance.

“We came out in that first period after the break and we really put it to them and it was good. They made a break but we made a tackle five metres out and did an amazing job keeping them out. Then they turned the ball over and we’d get the scrum but we were never going to get the ball back, and you can’t compete when it’s like that. We scored once and probably had two or three other chances that we didn’t take and if we had, it would have been a different story.

“When we were on the back foot against them in round one we didn’t have anyone to settle us down, anyone to stem the flow of that game, or anyone who could kick it up a gear. I think it helps when you’ve got a few older heads that can get you around the field a bit more and take the smarter options, and I thought Cipriani was very impressive today and stepped up when needed and didn’t shirk his responsibilities. He’s got that target on his back at the moment and maybe he dispelled some of the disbelievers today. In attack, there were a couple of times where he called for the ball and they had a big line set and I was thinking ‘You don’t need it yet!’ But he took it and made something happen.

There was a lot of character and a lot of heart. Last week was one thing but if we didn’t turn up today, it wouldn’t have been worth anything. But we did, and I think as a club we’re building momentum and getting there slowly, and we can see it coming.”

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WARRINGAH: 1. Dan Barnard; 2. Luke Holmes; 3. Tom Glyde; 4. Ben Adams (c); 5. Hugh Pyle; 6. Sam Ward; 7. Mark Porpiglia; 8. Jason Peseta; 9. Josh Holmes; 10. Danny Cipriani; 11. Michael Dalton; 12. Francesco Fronzoni; 13. Dylan Smouha; 14. Dave Feltscheer; 15. Hamish Angus

MANLY: 1. Eddie Aholelei; 2. Elvis Taione; 3. Jono Owen; 4. Ed Gower; 5. Cadeyrn Neville; 6. Dylan Sigg; 7. Kotoni Ale; 8. Tevita Metuisela; 9. Chris Cottee (c); 10. Ben Seymour; 11. Chris Yarrington; 12. Peter Gilmore; 13. Andrew Smith; 14. Lui Siale; 15. Marshall Milroy

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Original version published by clubrugby.com.au on July 5th, 2011

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