NSW Country sneak home against Greater Sydney Rams
Wayward goal kicking proved costly for the Greater Sydney Rams in a 32-31 loss to the NSW Country Eagles at Merrylands in the opening round of the 2015 National Rugby Championship.
Despite outscoring the Eagles five tries to four, the Rams were unable to convert on three occasions and fell just short in front of their home crowd at Merrylands.
A relieved Darren Coleman admitted the Eagles were far from their best, but was happy to get the win after a limited preparation.
“I wouldn’t say we were lucky, but it was definitely a tight game. I thought we had enough ball and we dominated in certain aspects of the game, but it was a scratchy performance,” the NSW Country coach told Rugby News.
“Our patience and composure wasn’t great. In the first half we let them into the game with some stupid breakdown penalties and we tried to push the pass far too much.”
Rams coach Jim Williams said he didn’t blame his goal kickers for the loss, but admitted it’s an area his side will need to work on in the coming weeks.
“It could of gone either way to be honest. The game was open, it was fast and plenty of tries were scored,” Williams said.
“When both sides are playing like that, goal kicking becomes very important and unfortunately we couldn’t convert today.”
The Rams opened the scoring in the fourth minute when Jordan Heyer barged through a small gap in the Eagles defensive line to take a 5-0 lead.
The Eagles hit back after Andrew Kellaway put Joel Brooks in space to score an 80 metre try, before Ed Stubbs crossed from close range to give the visitors a 16-5 lead.
A yellow card to Eagles halfback Michael Dowsett saw momentum swing back in the Rams favor, with back-to-back tries to Cohen Mason and Paul Asquith handing Greater Sydney a two-point lead in the 30th minute.
However once again the Eagles had an answer, with Dave Horwitz throwing a lovely cutout ball to Joel Brooks, who linked with Andrew Kellaway to give the Eagles a 24-18 lead at half time
Jed Gillespie barged over from close range early in the second half to take back the lead for the Rams, but Will Miller responded just minutes later in similar fashion to put the Eagles in front.
The Rams crossed again midway through the second half, however Jai Ayoub was unable to convert from the sideline, as the Eagles held on for a one-point victory.
With conversions worth three points as part of the NRC’s law variations, Coleman said flyhalf Jono Lance’s perfect day with the boot (4/4) was crucial for the Eagles.
“We spoke about trying to run our tries in under the posts but that didn’t happen so it was lucky that Jono was banging them from everywhere,” he said.
Whilst Coleman said he was happy with the performances of his Super Rugby stars – Sam Carter, Sam Lousi and Mike Dowsett – he was more impressed by the efforts of some of the sides lesser-known players.
“Joel Brooks found some space on that left edge and made a few nice breaks, Charlie (Clifton) has been great for Easts this year and he was good again and Pauli Tuala had a really good impact when he came off the bench. “
Despite the loss, Williams said he was also happy with his side’s effort, particularly from the players involved in last week’s Shute Shield grand final.
“Guys like BJ Hartmann, Jai Ayoub, Sam Needs and Jed Gillespie, it was really pleasing that those guys put there hands up to play. They were all there on Tuesday night and keen to be involved, so that’s a good sign going forward,” Williams said.
The Rams have a bye in round two before travelling to Canberra to play the UC Vikings the following week.
“We need to keep coming together as a team. It’s a basic comment, but it’s a team sport so our ability to play together is probably going to be the biggest challenge moving forward,” Williams said.
“The bye comes at a pretty good time for us so that should allow us to get our systems in place.”
NSW Country host the Vikings in Sydney next week, with Brumbies Sam Carter and Mike Dowsett set to face their Canberra teammates
“On the back of their Super Rugby season, I think Canberra will be the pacesetters this year. They’ll be tough next week, so we’ll need to better at Woollahra on Saturday.”
Earlier in the day, the Rams development side beat the Eagles development side 72-53 in an exhibition match.
NSW Country Eagles 32 (J Brooks, E Stubbs, A Kellaway, W Miller tries; J Lance 4 cons); defeated Greater Sydney Rams 31 (J Heyer, C Masson, P Asquith, J Gillespie, B Kapa tries; P Asquith, J Ayoub cons)