Premier Grade Match Report
by the Lineside Lion
Shakespeare may have opened Richard III with the proclamation “Now is the winter of our discontent” however that is not so for the Lions’ Premier grade team who couldn’t be happier with the final arrival of winter after another fantastic victory on the weekend.
The Seniors sat 7th coming into Round 8 and hosts Wanneroo 6th. This was one of the games Coach Brett Fell looked to target, using Wanneroo, underperformers in last year’s Premiership, as a benchmark for the Lions' progress this season.
Both sides had ground out wins in high scoring encounters last week with 95 points being scored in the Lions v ARKs encounter and 62 in the Wanneroo v Cavaliers game and the local rugby pundits (for those tragics that follow these things on “The Forward Pass” podcast) reckoned this encounter was harder to pick than a broken nose.
A small but dedicated core of Lions faithful made the trek north hoping to see the Seniors go three in a row whilst the Wanneroo team could justifiably feel disappointed with the underwhelming turn out to watch them with almost no supporters on the sidelines and the teams that played previously seeking the shelter of the bar.
Pre-game Brett Fell had concerns about the Lions’ set piece against Wanneroo. However, the Lions’ pack performed admirably taking a scrum penalty with the first engagement of the game.
In windy conditions the teams wrestled between the 22’s and, despite the damp conditions and slippery ball, the handling was good. Indeed, the conditions made little difference to our English contingent, with Danny Powell, with no discernible trace of irony or sarcasm, describing the weather pre-game as “Beach weather”.
The Lions tried to execute their game plan and play with width and Joe Ratu found space on more than one occasion down the left flank to threaten the Wanneroo line. Ever creative in his use of narrow space at one point Joe simply slid under the raised arm of the looming defender baseball style, regained his feet and scooted off leaving the Wanneroo player grasping air, or more correctly, his badly twisted ankle as he tried to adjust his run to grasp Joe and did himself serious injury in the attempt.
Massive Masivesi Dakuwaqa on the other hand, being a Force player and known quantity came in for some close attention throughout the game. However, Masivesi took this in his (admittedly rather large) stride and made metres whenever he had the ball in hand whether he bent the line with his barging runs or broke it as he did on several occasions. Masi has the disconcerting habit of running full pelt with his mouth wide open, ball tucked under one giant arm, the other flailing around like a hammer, legs pumping, bearing down at you maw agape, teeth bared seemingly indifferent to whether he runs around you or through you. Mildly disconcerting to say the least.
The Lions looked to use the ball at almost every opportunity, including around the contact zone. Fergus Lee-Warner lived up to his nick name The Maxi-Taxi carrying more than one passenger with him with every carry and offloading to his support runner whenever the opportunity arose. This set the tone with close support following the running man everywhere which made for a dynamic and exciting game.
However, despite being in the contest it was Wanneroo that opened the account scoring in the far corner after pinning the Lions back on their line and forcing several 5 metre scrums one of their taller timber crashing over despite the close attention and best efforts of Brad Woodford. Wanneroo converted their try to go ahead 7-0.
From the restart Professor H.V. Akuola (Lions Physics Department) gave one of the Wanneroo runners a lesson in inertia and the dissipation of kinetic energy when 90 kilos of half back runs into 150 kilos of prime grain fed Tongan (or one of the piano players meets one of the piano shifters). This and some of the crunching hits and clean outs being applied by our own Bearded Bash Brothers Scotty and Craig summed up the physicality of this game and underscored just how important both teams knew this encounter to be.
Wanneroo decided that going through ‘em was to be avoided at this stage and so took to the air in an attempt to go over them. Danny Powell coming in from deep at full back read the ball that was bobbling in the breeze like a cork in the ocean to take a text book airborne catch on the Lions 22, arms set to cradle the ball, foot in front, torso turned to the side and eyes only for ball. Danny offloaded to Masivesi who broke down the far side and ran to the opposite 22 when the ball came loose in a tackle. However, the referee did not signal a knock on and Masivesi made it a game of soccer to kick the ball forwards and regather on the 5 just in front of the sticks and to go over the line.
Wanneroo thought they might get out of jail when the referee consulted the assistant on the far side but no knock on, no offside was observed and the try stood! Joel Lamatoa added the extras to even the scores at 7 all.
The game continued in a similar vein with neither side giving any quarter. Wanneroo took a penalty to advance 10-7 and then from a sustained passage of play and grinding ruck work Vaka bustled over for a try which Joel converted for the Lions to go 14-10 up.
The exciting running rugby continued with Fergus finding some space down the middle only to be brought down from behind by a scything ankle cutting tackle from Force comrade Andrew Deegan. However, Joel picked up the crumbs and he and Woodford made good ground before the ball was turned over and Wanneroo kicked for the safety of the sideline. However, the wind did not assist this time and the ball sat up for Danny Powell who took it to the line and tried to chip it ahead only to kick it into the Wanneroo full back. It became a foot race to the loose ball which Wanneroo won and looked to have the best of until Teegan man handled the attacker into touch 2 metres from the line.
However, this try was meant to be as Teegan’s defence only delayed the inevitable as from the ensurng lineout Wanneroo stripped the ball from the Lions and fell over the line to record the try.
The teams went into the sheds at half time separated by one point, Wanneroo leading 15-14.
The Lions started the second half with a vigour looking to move the ball wide at every opportunity. However, Wanneroo were awake to where their greatest danger lay and rushed out of defence to crowd the Lions three-quarter line forcing the Lions to revert to long passes to try and get the ball wider faster and reverting to the odd dab behind the defensive line to turn the defence around.
The Lions defence on the inside channel was commendable restricting the ground Wanneroo could make from one off runners, something Brett had asked the team to work on after ARKS made significant inroads against the Lions in that space last week. Joel Lamatoa was strong in this space and looked increasingly comfortable in only his third game at half back providing crisp service to Brad and Gwyn, both of whom steered the ship around the park well all day.
Despite this defence Wanneroo were the first to score after the break taking another 3 points from a high tackle penalty. Wanneroo 18- Lions 14.
Injury forced Scotty Turnbull to retire hurt and Joe Claes came into the blind as Fergus moved into the engine room with Craig.
Wanneroo then lost a man to the bin for a high tackle and the Lions had a one man advantage which the Lions looked to exploit by growing an extra leg. Not long after the referee went to the pocket again sending another Wanneroo player to the bench for a spell for a deliberate knock down. The Lions really looked to move the ball from everywhere now and forced Wanneroo to scamper madly when Joe Ratu took the quick lineout option and Teegan took a quick tap from a penalty.
Dan Swain copped an unfortunate knock at the base of a ruck and put his shoulder out. The resounding crack heard from the bench only metres away from where this occurred was either his shoulder going in and out or an indication of just how solidly he was hit. Needless to say his part in the day’s proceedings was over. Tomasi Bulunkakoro came on into the second row and Fergus dropped back to 8.
Whilst all this was occurring in back field Dan Powell had a minor disagreement with one of the Wanneroo second row. Ceding about 3 stone and a good few inches in reach Danny didn’t back down and the two parted with a frank exchange of views as to the other’s parentage, although I am not quite sure some of the suggestions are biologically possible or entirely lawful. But, I’ll keep an open mind. Who am I to judge?
With 13 on the park Wanneroo wanted the ball away from their try line. Danny Powell pounced on a clearing kick and took it to the line, putting Teegan into space who released Masivesi who beat his man to the line taking the Lions ahead and capitalising on Wanneroo’s numbers disadvantage. Joel judged the breeze to perfection bending the ball like Beckham to nudge the Lions ahead 21-18.
From here Wanneroo had a score to chase and chase they did, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the Lions for a solid 10 minutes.
Gwyn Parks proved an able adjutant to Brad Fell and the two of them directed their midfield traffic brilliantly, none more so than in this passage when the Lions were camped deep on their line and the backline was split. With Gwyn running one side and Brad the other there was no defensive misreads and the backline ably supported the forwards who were locked in a desperate struggle to hold Wanneroo off their line.
Consulting my notes of that period of play I have recorded that it was a “titanic” struggle. However, that is to do the Lions’ defence an injustice, especially given the Titanic failed in its first test and the ultimate fate of the vessel herself. Rather, the Lions defence held again and again keeping the ship afloat. Although the Lions led by 3 points at that stage it would have been cruel for the Lions to suffer the same fate they had inflicted on ARKs the week before and lose at the death.
None showed more grit at this stage of the game than Iron Mike Smith who, the wrong side of 40 and suffering from gout earlier in the week, looked to be playing on pure adrenalin and instinct this far into the game. Iron Mike somehow found the energy, through sheer will power alone, to get himself up for each scrum and make life a misery for his opposite number. Just what you want your tighthead to be: tougher than teak.
Wanneroo wanted the win and scorned repeated penalties to take the scrum or lineout option with no result. With 2 minutes to go the Wanneroo half back knocked the ball on at the base of the scrum sacrificing accuracy for speed and the Lions had possession with the clock counting down and the lead by 3.
I am not privy to what plan the Lions had or whether Brett has a “one minute plan” in his bag of tricks but I suspect what happened next was not in their play book. I am sure being close to Masivesi’s wing the plan was for Masivesi to simply use his powerful running to ruck it up, give Brad or Gwyn some depth to clear and get the ball down the other end of the park.
Well, Masivesi had the same idea, just not the same method. Taking the ball at full stride Masi beat 4 tacklers to work his way into the narrow 5 metre channel and outpace the now tired Wanneroo backs who had spent themselves trying to secure the win. With cover closing Masi kicked ahead and regathered his kick flicking it back to support. Somehow Trei was there and secured the ball. With Wanneroo pelting back the Lions looked to use the space to the left and the ball moved through Brad Woodford, Joe Ratu and Fergus’ hands before Teegan Minkley got the ball 15 out and proving he can step off both feet, planted his left to wrong foot the cover defence and go over to put the game beyond doubt.
Lions 26 - Wanneroo 18.
Coach Brett Fell was very pleased after the game, “It was a real gutsy effort that. We worked hard on D all week and to finish off with that sort of try and to stop them getting a bonus point makes it even better”.
“We showed some real ticker there. We tried to play the rugby we wanted to play but didn’t quite manage it but we put them under enough pressure to keep ourselves in the game. We stood up at scrum time as well. Set pieces went well and was really important.”
“Have to be pleased to be where we are, no doubt about that. They’re playing really well. We’ll certainly fancy ourselves with two homes games after the break. But we’ll take them one at a time and if we knock off Baysie we’ll be able to throw everything at Pally then. But we’ll use the break and have a bit of fun and regroup.”
Captain Brad Fell was equally pleased with the win. “Its really good, super pleased with the boys. We’ve worked really hard and glad to see its paid off. These were three games that we did target and we’ve got the result and now we’re 4 and 3. No-one in WA would have thought we’d be there at the start of the season.”
“It was pretty willing and close quarters stuff but we were dominant for large parts of the game and the defence on our line was just superb. Every week we’re playing better together, playing long minutes as we don’t have the depth that some of the clubs have and that’s showing in our match fitness. I think that’s helping and the boys are gelling together nicely.”
“The last 3 rounds won’t be easy but at the moment we’re on cloud 9 and we’re still winning and that’s the main thing”.
The Maxi-Taxi has really shown an exuberant enthusiasm for his adopted club yelling “Top Six Lions! Top Six!” post-match as the boys celebrated, lining up to thank the supporters.
Lions stalwart Craig Atthis was effusive in his praise for those that turned up and shouted their support on the sideline. “You might not think it makes a difference, but we can hear the supporters and it makes a huge difference. We lift when we hear you getting behind us”. More accustomed to letting his actions speak rather than his words, the words “Craig” and “effusive” do not usually go in the same sentence but this was admittedly a “very” post-match comment when much amber truth syrup had been consumed.
Danny Powell, celebrating his 21st birthday, led the post-match team song with the traditional display of English victory celebration nudity, thereby at least proving that he genuinely believed the conditions to be "beach weather", while the rest of the sane people shivered.
And so, the Little Lions that roared find themselves continuing to upset the applecart and defying expectations with three consecutive victories and now have a well-earned break going into the competition bye.