The Wash-Up: Rd 13 – Parramatta v Southern Districts
by Paul Cook – (click here for highlights)
It hasn’t been a season to write home about just yet for Parramatta, with one win from twelve matches before kick-off not the progress they were looking for after a couple of years flittering in and around the finals spots. However, recent weeks had seen a marked improvement as they significantly bolstered their scoring potential from an average of just over 11pts after the first seven rounds, to a healthier 28pts in the last five, pushing both Sydney Uni and Manly in the process. Souths arrived off the back of their biggest win of the season – kudos-wise – over high-flying Eastwood, a result itself that backed up arguably their best performance of 2015 against West Harbour in round 11. They were looking for nothing less than a bonus point win to maintain their march to a top four spot and possibly beyond, but were understandably wary of an improving Two Blues outfit.
As it turned out, the Rebels were right to be mindful of a Parramatta side that ultimately fell short by some distance, but refused to lie down and accept their fate over the 80 minutes.
Taking advantage of a lacklustre opening quarter from the visitors, the Two Blues fronted up across the park and showed no little invention with ball in hand. But when Souths did finally click, they found plenty of holes with which to make inroads and three tries and 11pts from Crusader-bound Ben Volavola, helped them establish what they thought would be a healthy 21-5 lead at the break. However, Parra rallied in the shadows of half-time, Nathan Langsford dotting down in the corner to provide plenty of hope for a second half fightback.
Two quick tries for the Rebels after the restart looked to have doused those hopes with immediate effect but the home side refused to throw in the towel, the impressive Larry Hermens hauling them back to a 33-17 deficit with half an hour to play.
A yellow card to skipper Andrew Cox was a backbreaker, his opposite number, Marcus Carbone, going in for Souths’ sixth and a 21pt advantage in his absence. But back came a tenacious Two Blues again, Petero Satogo over for his second and his team’s bonus point fourth try on the hour.
The Rebels finally ran over the top in the closing 15 minutes, two more five pointers cementing a 50-24 win that was exactly what they were after points-wise, if not necessarily in the manner of performance. And while Souths will certainly have better days and score less, Parra’s attitude and attacking flair should ensure that they provide a few more headaches at least for opposition teams over the last five weeks of the regular season.
Despite racking up the half-century and an all-important bonus point win, Souths’ head coach Matt Barr wasn’t exactly doing cartwheels about what he’d just witnessed when Rugby News caught up with him at full-time. He was simply happy to get out of dodge with the wagons intact.
“It’s hard week in, week out in contact sport to front up and get the job done and as I said to the boys afterwards, I’m not overly happy with the performance but it could have been worse, we could have dropped the game today and the Souths of old did drop games like this,” he reflected.
“We got the job done, it could have been a danger game, it could have been one of those where we’ve been up for a couple of weeks and come here a bit complacent and we were certainly off defensively. I challenge the boys each week to keep the opposition under 20pts and we failed on that today and I think that just came down to our attitude right from the start.”
Skipper in the continued absence of Jed Holloway – who may get some time next weekend – is Marcus Carbone. He couldn’t disagree with his coaches’ assessment.
“We were well aware that Parra are one of those teams that if you let them get a bit of momentum in the first 20 minutes, they’ll run you around and give you a run for your money but we still came out of the blocks pretty slow and our attitude in that opening quarter just wasn’t there,” he admitted.
“I do think the boys were ready for the game but it has been a problem for us this year, not starting well in the first 20 minutes of games. What is really pleasing to see is that we can work through those inconsistencies and come good in the end and still put 50pts on them, even though our game was below average.”
For Parramatta captain Andrew Cox, there was a sense of déjà vu about his side’s 80 minutes. Plenty of positives, but an all too familiar tale of lapses in concentration and defensive fragility.
“We were very patchy today, that’s probably the best way to describe it,” he said. “Good for 10 minutes, bad for 10 minutes and they just had the class in their backline to put points on us and they did, we just couldn’t stop the flow.
“Last week we scored an 80th minute fourth try so we’re going the full distance, it’s just these little patches in games where we drop off that are costing us. Two yellow cards today certainly didn’t help and while there were a lot of positives from today, there weren’t enough to beat a side near the top of the ladder.”
He agreed that performances had lifted for the Two Blues in recent weeks, particularly from an attacking point of view, but it’s results that matter. However, with only five rounds remaining, he believes they are still in a position to salvage something from their season and finish on a high note.
“It’s been one of those years, we just need a breakthrough somewhere but we’re running out of time,” he conceded. “There’s been definite improvement in the last month, we’ve put on the points and grabbed a couple of bonus points as a result but we’ve got to keep building because we’ve got a fairly good run home with games that I think we can put ourselves in a position to win.
“We’ve got Randwick, Gordon, Penrith, Wests and Easts to come and for me, each game is winnable so we’ve got to really step it up. If we can get our defence right, we can win matches with 25-30pts so that’s got to be our focus.”
Defence was the main concern for Matt Barr too. In a similar vein to Cox, he’s seeing good things at one end of the field but not enough at the other to warrant a genuine title challenge if they don’t fix them soon.
“We know we’ve got the points in us but just defensively, we were a bit off today,” he said. “We weren’t hungry enough and that’s what we want to try and build our team around. We made mistakes and in this competition, we know that each week, they make you pay.
“They scored some good tries but once again, they weren’t necessarily well constructed tries, they came off the back of us providing them with the ball and they’ve got some good attacking players that punished us and that keeps happening every week for us. We make a mistake or turn the ball over and the opposition make us pay and they’re basic mistakes, not a situation where the opposition have put us under too much pressure. It’s just ourselves and we’ve got to be better than that moving forward.”
With Jed Holloway’s return in the offing, Cam Betham back on board from injury, Duncan Chubb making his way back through 2nd Grade and gun flanker Kieran Black also on the comeback trail, the Rebels appear to be – Ben Volavola’s imminent departure to Fiji for the Pacific Nations notwithstanding – on the way to having close to a full quota of talent to choose from for the finals run-in.
In the meantime, they are in safe hands under the affable Carbone. It was at this ground at a similar time last year, with Holloway unavailable, that he first assumed the captain’s mantle and with it, the responsibility of media duties. Shy and hesitant when confronted with a dictaphone back then, his confidence and ease this time around are an extension of the growth and maturity he has shown on the field with a host of impressive performances.
“I’m enjoying it when I get the opportunity and I’ve got another year’s experience of 1st Grade footy behind me now which helps you try and make the right calls at the right times in certain positions on the field – what lineout to call, what scrum move to call etc,” he said. “I’m really starting to embrace the role.”
He certainly leads by example and is a player I think we’ll be hearing a lot more of over the next few years if he maintains his current rate of progress.
Oh, and for the record rugby bods at 7Two, it’s ‘Car-bow-neh’, not ‘Car-bone’.
Southern Districts 50 (Jono Hayes 2, Waldo Wessels, Paul Asquith, Ben Volavola, Faluela Finau, Marcus Carbone, Andrew Leota tries; Ben Volavola 5 cons) defeated Parramatta 24 (Petero Satogo 2, Nathan Langsford, P. Lalaga tries; Nathan Langsford 2 cons)