NSW Country have kept their slim NRC finals hopes alive, with a gritty and hard-fought 15-10 win over Perth Spirit in Tamworth.
Scully Park was hosting the replay of the 2016 Final between the two sides, and after last season’s final proved to be a low-scoring affair, the scene was set for an almighty rematch – Country desperate to keep their season alive, and Perth equally determined to maintain their top four place on the 2017 table.
The locals weren’t disappointed, with a scoreless first half and the final result the lowest ever points total in an NRC game. Neither side could land a conversion in the strong wind that impacted both teams, and the three-tries-two scoreline was a true reflection of the at times brutal contest.
“It was great, I think the boys played really well,” a very happy, albeit exhausted NSW Country skipper Paddy Ryan said post match.
“I was a bit worried at nil-all at halftime, after we’d had the breeze in the first half, but defence wins championships.”“That’s something Darren Coleman brought into the squad this year with his Warringah premiership success, and so I think off that defensive performance today against a near-Super Rugby team, we’ve shown ourselves and anyone else that we’re a chance.”
Country winger Seb Wileman broke the Scully Park scoreboard attendant’s slumber with the first try of the match two minutes after halftime, and NSW Country extended the lead in the 46th minute when Andrew Kellaway scored on the opposite side.
Perth opened their account in the 53rd minute with a great front rowers try, after hooker Anaru Rangi’s initial break was finished off by tighthead prop Jermaine Ainsley, the perfect celebration for his Wallabies squad selection for Bledisloe 3.
But Country hit straight back, through their driving maul and hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa, and they would continue to grind Perth into the ground however they could.
Spirit replacement hooker Sama Malolo crashed over with three minutes to play, but Ian Prior’s missed conversion meant it was too little too late.
Earlier, an incredibly physical start to the game saw both sides throwing plenty into the contest, and with neither giving away anything in defence. Both sides won turnover penalties and used solid scrums to their advantage in a scoreless opening to the match.
The first half became a scrum fest as a result, and though both sides had their moments, the Eagles probably carried a slight edge as the sides went to the break having played the first ever scoreless half in NRC history.
Tries: S. Wileman, A. Kellaway, B. Paenga-Amosa
Tries: J. Ainsley, S. Malolo