Premier Grade Round 13 2018 vs Associates RUFC
By Ronan OShea
by the Lineside Lion
The Lions’ senior team looked to repeat their efforts from last week and push the top team hard in their effort to score an upset victory in the final round before the competition split.
Soaks’ unscheduled blip on their radar against Wanneroo last week meant they were out to redeem themselves whereas points of any kind were important for the Lions knowing that this might determine where they were in the standings after the split.
With the Samoa game a week away the Force players were once again released to club duties and so Masivesi and Fergus joined us whilst Ian Prior lined up for Soaks at 10.
Both teams started with vigour with some good hard running around the ruck from both teams which saw both Vaka and Iron Mike get involved early. Ian Prior played a cagey game at 10 for Soaks, as one might expect, varying play alternately kicking the ball deep and turning our receivers around or turning the ball inside to a runner off his shoulder.
It was obvious from the start that Masivesi was a marked man and given the close attention he was unable to make yards freely however he proved his worth at ruck time when on more than one occasion he set his feet and anchored the ruck surviving some fierce counter rucking to ensure we were able to recycle the ball.
The Soaks lineout was not their greatest weapon and after Gwyn had cleared the ball from deep on our line this became evident when the ball went askew leading to the opening scrum of the game.
Scrum time was a concern for the Lions going into the game. Whatever the deficiencies of Associates lineout the same could not be said for their scrum however, by and large, the Lions scrum performed admirably all day. Iron Mike, playing on the loosehead side, ceded about 20 kilos and 20 years to his opposite number and still made the youngster earn his bread and butter whilst Vaka looked increasingly comfortable at tight head as the game wore on.
Although not every scrum was rock solid Keegan and Dan Swain worked well in concert together to clear the ball.
Soaks managed to open their account first with Prior launching a rocket like pass to take advantage of their overlap down the club house side and then adding the extras. Soaks went ahead 7-0.
Then ensued a passage of play that can only be described as rewarding and frustrating all at the same time. For a good 25 minutes, the majority of the remainder of the first half, the Lions dominated possession and territory and for an extended period were camped on Soaks’ line trying to get across.
The Lions got down into Soaks territory courtesy of a nice passage of play where Jason Merrie swept back to collect the kick from the far wing and ran the ball out of touch before offloading to Isi, winger to winger. Isi made a break and with very deft handling between Isi and Gwyn in the 5 metre channel down the club house side which saw them run the ball from 22 to 22 before Isi was bundled into touch.
Soaks gave away repeated penalties around the ruck and the Captain was spoken to but still Soaks continued to infringe. The Lions made the decision to keep pushing for the try and in a show of confidence of their scrum opted for a series of scrum penalties in the club house corner.
Soaks tried repeatedly to clear but their kicks failed to find touch and Joel, Gwyn and Isi Pedersen all fielded them or managed to keep the ball in play and run the ball back into Associates half where again the forwards continued to muscle the ball towards, but not over, the line.
However, despite trying to muscle their way across the line Soaks showed why they are the best defensive team in the competition eventually eeking out a ruck penalty against the Lions and allowing Soaks to clear deep into our half.
The Lions however had the majority of the ball for the next 5 minutes even if now most of the action was occurring between the 22’s. Fergus, Swainy, Masivesi, Craig Atthis, Tomasi and Jason Merrie all looked to try and punch holes in the Soaks defence but couldn’t locate a runner to offload or had to fight for possession with support not arriving as fast it might have.
As frustrating as it was to not come away with points from such an extended period of possession in Soaks territory the real frustration was that after suffering a series of penalties close on their line that probably saved tries the referee saw fit to issue a team warning only but was nevertheless inclined to issue a yellow card without hesitation for what he saw as a professional foul as the Lions were defending their line, sending Keegan to the bin. The foul itself had no effect on play as in that same passage Soaks managed to burst over under the posts on the bell of half time. Prior converted and the hosts went ahead 14-0 with the Lions to be a man down for the first 10 minutes of the second stanza.
As play resumed Brad Fell came into 9 whilst Keegan cooled his heels. Being a man down did not deter the Lions from trying to play attacking rugby but again, they lacked penetration and failed to capitalise on the breaks that they did make.
The Soaks full back must have been feeling supremely confident at this stage. Having weathered the storm of possession the Lions had had and being 14 nil up and with the Lions a man down he decided that this would be an ideal time to try some fancy footwork before Masivesi and he showboated trying to sell Masi a dummy. Perhaps he was trying to impress him? Who can tell from the sidelines?
Unfortunately, the laws of physics usually dictate that your feet have to be in contact with the ground if you’re going to effect a change of direction, not airborne twirling like Baryshnakov in the death scene from Swan Lake.
Masivesi was having none of it and timing his run to perfection showed his displeasure at being so toyed with by collecting your man mid-air and manhandling him into touch like an angry school master frog marching an errant student to the headmaster’s office. Whilst the full back was in no way injured he was at least deterred and stuck to plainer fair next time he got the ball in hand.
The Lions were still working hard at this point as Keegan rejoined them commendably not having conceded any points in the period they were a man down. Keegan immediately started directing traffic urging the forwards in a nice passage of pick and drive rugby with the tight 5 feeding off each other up the centre of the ground marching he ball forwards, at times with the ball in hand and other times pinballing their team mates and propelling them forward as they held the ball.
Again the Lions spent time in possession on Soaks try line and again Soaks conceded a series of penalties derailing the Lions’ momentum. Again, the referee called time off and called the Soaks captain for a chat. Notwithstanding this was the same chat for the same reason he had in the first half again he referee did not reach for the pocket.
However, as soon as the referee called time on Masivesi took the quick tap and caught Soaks napping barging over to plant the ball on the scoring side of the chalk just to the right of the uprights. Gwyn Parks converted to bring the score to Soaks 14 - Lions 7.
From the restart the Lions failed to secure the ball seeing the ball come to ground without anyone taking ownership of it and allowing Soaks to regather both the ball and momentum. A few quick phases later and Soaks had returned fire, with Prior converting again to take the score to 21-7.
The Lions resumed play regaining the restart and Tomasi Bulunakoro, as he has done so often this season, seemed to slide out of tackles through the middle of the ruck and burst through the other side of it ball in hand. In behind the Soaks line Tomasi had only the full back to beat and the legs to do it but in checking his position managed to lose his grip on the ball spilling the pill metres from the open line that he could have fallen over.
Soaks worked their way back out into Lions territory and the ball made its way wide to Isi Pedersen who with no room to work in deliberately grubbered ahead for Bard Fell to chase onto. The ball bobbled around off peoples’ feet but nevertheless found its way into Lions' possession as the Lions had momentum and a numerical advantage on the far wing however the referee, who was probably unsighted, ruled that Isi had knocked the ball on rather than deliberately kicked it.
As mentioned Soaks have the best defensive record in the Premiership and it is probably no wonder with their line speed in defence which was very quick and at times, bordered on too quick. However, this was not an area of the game policed well and generally allowed Soaks to upset the Lions ability to get front foot phase ball.
Jordan Shelford came on and replaced Vaka and the scrum remained stable however Soaks set a sound platform and worked set piece back line move that broke the Lions line allowing Soaks to cross (and convert) to take the score to 28-7.
The Lions secured the ball from the restart Tomasi knocking it down to Joey Claes. Keen to get the ball to the converging forwards and get back down into Soaks territory Joey looked to move the ball quickly only to see the ball snatched by a Soaks player who had the run of play and got in behind the Lions line. One phase and the home team strolled over out wide with a 2 man overlap. Prior, again, converted taking Soaks to 35-7.
Given Gwyn’s departure next week Kyle Fell was injected into the game for Gwyn for the last 10 minutes to give Kyle some match fitness and to allow him to feel his way back into senior rugby.
Joey Claes who has performed manfully since converting from the back row and being called in given the hooking crisis the Lions have faced this season felt the full wrath of Associates tighthead who crunched him in the scrum leaving Joe with some damaged intercostals and nothing more to give.
Ben Hinder, manfully backing up from Reserve grade, came on for Joey making his first grade debut.
Again it was the Lions that had the bulk of possession peppering Soaks line with the likes of Craig Atthis and Fergus getting over the line but unable to get it down. Associates habit conceding penalties on their line eventually even wore down the most patient and forgiving of referees and a Soaks player was sent to the bin.
Taking the tap penalty Craig Atthis laid a nice solid platform to offload to Ben Hinder who bashed his way through a gap on the left of the uprights to score on debut. With the conversion unsuccessful, Soaks ran out winners 35-12.
Coach Brett Fell was happy with the amount of possession and territory the Lions had.
“Yeah, they had a lot of ball, just our decision making and execution let us down at some critical times. Again, the boys played with a lot of heart, the scrums were solid again, but we left plenty of points out there when you think about it and gave them some easy points just through some key moments were we failed to execute.”
“The difference was when they had the ball they made it count and we didn’t. That’s what top teams do. They got front foot ruck ball and we got ours going backwards and that made a huge difference.”
“We’ve had a lot of ball against the top two teams, so we’ve done alright there. But it’s a new competition now and we go back to the drawing board to see who we play next week, who is available to us and where this leaves us on the ladder”.
Captain Brad Fell praised the team for playing well in patches reminding them that there was still silverware to play for.
From next week the Lions compete in the Championship division for the last 5 rounds of the home and away season.