ROUND 12, LIONS v NEDLANDS, 30 June 2018
FIRST GRADE MATCH REPORT
by the Lineside Lion
Last week the free and democratic press of the Southern Suburbs, The Cockburn Herald, entitled the piece written for it about our little rugby club “Lions get mauled”. I just write ‘em, not title them. Blame the editor for that.
However, this week’s missive to the media will go in under the banner “Lions regain lost Pride”.
What a difference a week makes.
The Lions came within inches of pipping Nedlands going down bravely 39-33 but securing a vital bonus point in the process.
This was a great game of rugby and more so because no-one would have expected the Lions to have rattled the storied Nedlands side as they did.
Nedlands went into the game sitting second on the ladder, the Lions falling to 8th after their capitulation against Wests last week. Neddies have been doing well without their Force contingent but were bolstered by a front row featuring Sheminant and Tessman with Ferris filling out the pack at No 8.
This battle was always going to be won or lost up front. With Iron Mike relegated to the bench with his injured hand from last week, Jordan Shelford, Joey Claes and Vaka were left to take on the Force heavy Nedlands front row and after a brief settling in period in the first 3 scrums, found their feet and formed a serviceable combination that provided enough stability to allow Joe to get a clean heel on the ball and some good channel two ball. This was a commendable effort with Vaka moving across to the unaccustomed tight head side and Jordan Shelford having quite simply the best scrummaging game he has played all season.
Furthermore, as the game wore on this parity turned into dominance and allowed the Lions a real platform from which to attack.
With Ben Carr ruled out ill with whatever is going around Keegan Rowley came into 9 and added vim and vigour at the scrum and ruck base providing good front foot service to Gwyn Parks and also plenty of vocals for his forwards driving them around the park and directing them well.
This week also saw the return to Gwyn Park and Dan Swain. Gwyn’s return from his over extended stay in Indonesia courtesy of the local cleptomaniac simian population was welcome and the Lions backline played with direction and purpose this week.
Although the loss is the Lions’ 4th on the trot there is no shame in this week’s performance. Indeed, the team showed spirit and character and made the visitors work for every one of their points. Indeed, I dare say that Nedlands received a bit of a fright from their encounter with the new kids on the block.
Here’s how the action unfolded.
The game had barely commenced when the Lions decided to take it to the visitors and test the waters of Nedlands defence. Gwyn chipped and chased his way out of the 40 and regathered to find himself behind the Nedlands line. Now on the back foot Masivesi took advantage of this and playing at 13 had extra space to move.
However, whereas everyone expected Masi to crash and bash he showed some silky skills and drew the opposition and then passed to Joel Lamatoa coming across from full back. With Jason Merrie creating the overlap Joel let the defence drift passed him to cut inside and cross over to open the account. Gwyn assumed the kicking duties today converting the try. The Lions went ahead 7-0.
Vaka and Jordan Shelford carried well in the one out runs off the rucks and Keegan delivered good service to forwards and backs alike.
Masivesi gave away a penalty for not releasing the tackled player before jackalling the ball and to be fair, this was a particular issue for the referee all game. Many of his calls could have easily gone the other way for not releasing the ball but the referee clearly was intent on seeing clear daylight after the tackle before allowing the tackler to go for the ball.
Neddies kicked for the corner and from the ensuing maul from the lineout drove the ball towards the lie and would have scored but for the courageous efforts of Brad Woodford who somehow managed to get his body between the ball and ground.
The scrum now looked more stable as Vaka acclimatised to the tight head side and Neddies looked to go wide down the club house flank only for their winger to be stopped by a monstrous tackle from Joel Lamatoa. However, Neddies’ insistent pressure paid dividends and ground down the Lions defence when Heath Tessman rolled over for a try from a well-constructed rolling maul.
Missing the conversion the Lions maintained their lead 7-5.
However, this was short lived as Nedlands punished the Lions for a mistake in ball security as we threatened their line with their 13 jumping on a loose ball and running the length of the field to set up his winger for a try even if Jamie Fairbairn did put a good hit on the 13 for his troubles just to remind him that that kind of behaviour was considered to border on unsporting this far south of the foreshore. Neddies ahead 10-7.
Amongst all this the Lions never stopped threatening the line however Nedlands maintained their momentum in this stage of the game. With the wind fading to a neutral factor for both teams the Neddies flyhalf chanced a high lobbed kick behind the Lions defensive line that bounced unfortunately for the cover defenders allowing a Nedlands player, probably not really expecting the ball at all, to register Nedlands 3rd try by just falling over the line. Converting the try Nedlands moved to 17-7.
However, in all of this it looked like the Lions were playing the better rugby. Nedlands on the other hand were simply better at making the Lions pay for the few mistakes they were making.
After playing an industrious 30 minutes Brad Woodford looked to have popped a rib out of place and left the field, a result of his courageous prior efforts to hold up the man over the line, replaced by Brandon Nieman. Brandon moved into the engine room with Craig Atthis allowing Dan Swain to revert to his customary position at No 8 and bringing his bulky frame and loose limbed running style into the phase play. His influence was almost immediately felt.
Mike Furze tackled anything in blue that came his way whilst Tomasi Blunakoro shone at lineout time.
Gwyn Parks again looked to keep the defensive line guessing and dribbled a grubber behind them. However, play returned for the penalty advantage and Gwyn took play down to the attacking 5 metre line for the Lions to try and monster their way over and close out the first half with some momentum.
That was not to be however as Joey Claes mistimed one of the few errant lineout throws he threw all day and Neddies came away with the ball clearing with a sweeping kick downfield. Jamie Fairbairn fielded this well and beat several defenders on the counterattack back into midfield however became isolated as Nedlands vigorously counter-rucked and ran another try in to close out the half 24-7.
Although trailing at the break the Lions looked to have played the better rugby in truth having more deliberately crafted their chances and played with the greater part of territory and possession only to have Nedlands seize the moment when the Lions erred.
However, the Lions came out of the break roaring. From the kick off Masivesi secured the ball and made a good break out to Jason Merrie who made further ground before passing inside to Tomasi in his trademark support position on the inside channel who crossed for a try. Gwyn converted to bring the Lions back into the game, Nedlands 24 - Lions 14.
Neddies then launched a sustained phase of attack which was resisted by some staunch Lions defence including Vaka cleanly stripping the ball from Tessman’s hands as he was inches away from scoring his second try for the day.
However, Gwyn’s attempts to get behind the Nedlands line with his deft kicking came undone when he tried to chip his way out of his 22. The kick came off alright but Gwyn was hip and shouldered off his line and having left the line to pursue his kick allowed the counter attack through the gap left behind to score Nedlands went further ahead 31-14.
At this point the Lions grew an extra set of legs and gained momentum. The scrum went from parity to dominance gaining a scrum penalty deep in our half. The Lions began to vigorously contest ruck ball and at one stage the Nedlands full back was left looking dazed and confused as he went backwards out of a ruck that was then counter-rucked straight over the top of him. He took little part in the game after that departing soon after looking dazed and confused.
Jordan Shelford came off after a manful scrummaging performance and Iron Mike came on bringing his own uncompromising brand of rugby onto the pitch with him. The Lions secured several kickable penalties which they spurned in favour of going for the line.
The Lions then put on a wonderful display of “hit and pop” rugby with Brandon Nieman, Craig Atthis, Vaka, Mike Smith, Tomasi and Joey Claes taking the fight to the Nedlands defenders and running in close support of each other before Keegan cleverly kicked for Jason Merrie into the corner. Unfortunately Jason’s luck with the bounce was not as good as Nedlands and the best the Lions could come away with was a scrum for the Nedlands knock on 10 metres from the Lions line.
Again the Lions gained a scrum penalty and Brad took the lineout option. However, with the line beckoning the referee ruled the pass from the ensuing lineout forward although it looked like no such thing from side on. For the sake of argument let’s just pretend that this was in fact the case. This would have seen Brad ghost through a lovely gap in the line Gwyn’s slight of foot had created for him.
The Lions were deep in Nedlands territory and were certainly making them work their way out when one of the Nedlands players was sent to the bin for a deliberate knock down. The Lions looked to capitalise on the numerical advantage with Masi proving a handful and sucking in defenders whenever he got his hands on the ball. With Masi having driven right the field was stretched on the left and Gwyn made a lovely wrap around Joe Claes to create an overlap on the club house side, Joe used his soft hands to pop the ball back to Gwyn who slid through a gap and over the line. Neddies 31 – Lions 19.
It was traffic all going the Lions’ way at this point.
Again the Lions threatened the Nedlands line with Masivesi bending the line and then involving Gwyn, Brad and Joel in a convoluted midfield deception but this was called back for obstruction. Nedlands kicked to the 40 and looked to drive their way out of their half with a driving maul that the Lions managed to sack 10 metres their side of halfway.
From the ensuing scrum the ball made its way to the replacement Nedlands fullback who, taking a leaf from Gwyn’s book, decided to chip over the Lions’ line. The man there to receive it was Masivesi.
With no-one else behind him and a broken field of Nedlands players waiting to be put on side in front of him it was short odds as to what Masivesi was going to do: run at, through or around the nearest sky-blue jersey. That is exactly what he did.
Masi made a good 15 metres through traffic before getting the ball to Gwyn who released Brandon Nieman down the far flank. Brandon’s young legs ran for all they were worth taking matters to within the 22 before the cover defence converged.
However, who should then loom but the man who has made the inside channel on support his own this season: Tomasi Bulunakoro. Brandon popped the ball over the cover defence to Tomasi who ran around under the posts to get his double.
With the clock ticking down Gwyn wasted no time with place kicks dropping the conversion and to restart play. Lions 26 – Neddies 31.
The Lions were in the hunt.
Nedlands knocked on form the restart. From the resulting scrum it can only be said that Mike Smith, bung hand or not, simply ate the opposition loosehead. Bending in, going to one knee the Nedlands loosehead crumpled and the Lions came away with the scrum penalty.
However, Nedlands were not done yet and when Tom Sheminant ran at Joel who had come into the line Joel failed to bring him to ground and Nedlands managed to put it through the hands wide for their 9 to score in the corner. Missing the conversion Nedlands edged further ahead 36-26.
Even if the game had finished then the Lions could have walked off holding their head high. But the team wasn’t done yet.
Masivesi got under the restart and took the ball on the fly. Now wary of him the Nedlands forwards converged and brought Masi to ground although there seemed a divergence of opinion between if he had been “tackled” in that he knees were clearly on the ground or held up in that the rest of him was being held up by most of the Nedlands pack.
The referee decided the latter that Masi was held up and that there had been no need to release him.
The impetuousness of youth shone and Brandon let his frustrations be heard. The ref, who clearly loved his mother taking umbrage on her behalf or thinking Brandon’s suggestions medically impossible or at the least morally inappropriate, proved his status as an amateur magician turning the scrum into a penalty.
Brad Fell stepped in to question the call but the ref was having none of it. That said, even Brad’s frustrations showed with his comment “I know you can’t abuse the ref and I’ll talk to Brandon about that, but at this stage of the game you have to expect some frustrations if you’re going to make calls that are blatantly wrong”.
Not as diplomatic as that probably sounded in Brad's head.
And swish, with a wave of his enchanted whistle, Mandrake the Magician added 10 metres to the penalty.
Again, that could have been it. Enough to deflate the Lion’s momentum. Except it wasn’t.
Once play resumed the Lions secured possession deep in their half and threw themselves into the fray with reckless abandon. Jordan Shelford (now back on for Vaka who picked up a niggling arm injury – it’s ok – he’ll be alright he tells me), Mike Smith, Joey Claes and Mike Furze all carried well making ground and getting the ball back to Keegan who directed his forwards well.
However, it wasn’t until The Couer de Lion, Craig Atthis steamed onto one of Keegan’s short balls that the Lions broke the Nedlands line. Offloading to (guess who?), the ever present Bulunakoro, Tomasi’s long legs ate up the open field behind the ruck and again went over under the posts!
Once more Gwyn wasted no time, dropped the conversion and the Lions were within an unconverted try of winning or a penalty of drawing, Nedlands 36 – Lions 33.
Nedlands looked to keep the Lions away from their end of the field bottling play up on the Lions 22 until Mike Furze swooped on a lobbed pass and intercepted it. Furze is no slouch when it comes to a foot race and with an open field in front of him it was even money whether anyone might catch him in which case it would be Furze’s try that people spoke about this season, not Teegan’s. (Teegan? Teegan who?).
But alas it was not to be and Mandrake found an offside penalty at the ruck that he had been playing advantage for and called Mike back. Nedlands took the penalty and the referee called time. Nedlands winning 39 – Lions 33.
Brett Fell was really proud of the boys this week. “I am. They fronted mentally and physically and it showed. Our attack was very good and they showed great character to make it hard for one of the top teams but also to pull themselves up from last week”.
“At half time we spoke about the little things we weren’t doing quite well, the 1 percenters and the second half they worked on that.”
“I am really pleased. The boys executed pretty well and we walked away with a bonus point which will be pretty important in the back half of the season after the split”.
“I thought we played the better rugby for much of the game, we just got punished for some mistakes early on. I am really around of the boys turn around this week”.
Captain Brett Fell was similarly pleased. “It was very good effort. At half time we could have let them back in but unlike last week we got the first score this week after the break and lifted from there.”
“Again, it’s just the little things but if we keep getting to training we can keep working on them”.
Fullback Joel Lamatoa summed it up after the game in his usual succinct and direct fashion when asked whether he was happier than last week when he said “Shit yeah!”.
Next week the Lions travel to Allen Park to take on top of the table Soaks in the final game before the competition splits.