Though there has been a lot to like about this season’s Buildcorp National Rugby Championship, the completion of the fourth round of the competition is probably the point to step back and look at and wonder why some sides haven’t started as well as they’d have hoped.
One of those sides is the Greater Sydney Rams, who sit zero and three, having had the bye in Round 2.
The Rams lost their first round clash with NSW Country by a solitary point despite scoring more tries; got a bit of a touch-up from Uni of Canberra in Round 3, and then picked up a losing bonus point against Queensland Country on Saturday.
So one clear loss, but two other narrow losses in which they will rue their goal kicking inaccuracy. The NRC table just shows a zero in the ‘W’ column, but the reality is the Rams really haven’t been that far off.
So what does Rams’ Coach Jim Williams put the disappointing start down to?
“We’ve got a fair bit of inexperience, and some of the decision making coming, and getting used to the level of NRC,” Williams told www.BuildcorpNRC.com.au this week. “When you make mistakes at Shute Shield level you can probably get away with them to some degree, but once you get to this level and beyond, you’re made to pay dearly for those mistakes.”
“The guys are understanding that, and finding that out, and it’s just a matter of awareness. As a group, we’ve just got to realise and make sure we have a good plan in place, and make sure that we can get through that plan during the week, and make sure everyone’s clear on their role.”
The point on inexperience is a valid one when you realise that the Rams in their last two outings have had only two players - prop Jed Gillespie, and hooker Siliva Siliva - with recent Super Rugby experience. And even that experience was very limited in both cases. Even with the likes of skipper Jed Holloway and hooker Hugh Roach back on deck, the Rams essentially remain a club rugby representative side.
Williams, in his first major coaching appointment since finishing up as Robbie Deans’ Wallabies Assistant coach after 2011, knows he needs to tread the fine line between pragmatism and backing natural instincts.
“I don’t want to take away flair from the boys, and I don’t want to take away the fact that I want to back them to have a go, but in the scheme of things we’re just giving away too much ball. Just making some poor decisions around kicking or carrying, or being isolated, that are costing us.
“We want them to run it, but we want to make sure they do it in the structure that allows us to build phases and build pressure.”
On the topic of pressure, the Rams will right up against it this Saturday, where they will spread the rugby word in the Gippsland region of eastern Victoria, in facing the Melbourne Rising at La Trobe City Stadium in Morwell.
The ground was once home to the Morwell Falcons and Gippsland Pride in the old National Soccer League and in recent times has played host to Melbourne Rebels trial games, as well as A-League and W-League pre-season fixtures.
For the Rams, though, the venue is largely irrelevant to the greater urgency of the game itself. With only five games left to play, they are now in dangerous territory if they have any designs at all on trying to emulate last season’s fifth place finish.
The Rams finished on 16 points from three wins and a draw in 2014, and were just one bonus point behind eventual runners-up, Perth Spirit. Williams acknowledges the must-win equation now in front of his side.
“Oh, yeah, it is. To be quite honest, because it’s such a short competition, you’ve got to start off well. Losing three games is going to make [the rest of the season] very difficult for us.
“But the guys are looking forward to the challenge; I think coming up against some of these franchises, like the Vikings and that, although we didn’t do well, the boys were really keen to have a crack. And it won’t be any different this week.
“It’s just a matter of cutting out those one or two mistakes that cost us dearly. Just simple turnovers, and making the wrong decisions when we’ve had the ball in our hand, or winning a turnover and then turning it back over straight away. The nature of the game, it’s very quick; you’ve got to be able to get to that level quickly and just be able to react, and get up to that pace a lot quicker than I think we do.
“We’re working hard to score points. Defensively, we made some improvements last week, and in attack, we did take some opportunities, so we’ve just got to pick that up again this week and cut out those little errors that are costing us.”
And it means the Rams also have to overcome a few off-field issues that have troubled them in recent weeks, as if coming off a long Shute Shield season for the Eastwood and Southern Districts contingent within the club wasn’t enough. The Rams had their training lights turned off on them a fortnight ago, and then last week they suddenly found themselves locked out of their Concord Oval training base, because of its proximity to the tunnelling starting point for the WestConnex arterial road infrastructure project in Sydney’s inner west.
Williams won’t use those as an excuse though, and has been very pleased with the way his players have adapted to whatever is thrown their way; something the Rams will certainly need to be ready for in facing a Rising team coming off a bye and ready to re-launch their own season.
“It hasn’t been an ideal start to the tournament, but the guys have coped very well [with everything that’s popped up off-field, or injury-wise], and I’m not at all unhappy with the footy that we’ve played. There’s been some really good things out there, but it’s just a matter of putting that together for longer than 20 or 30 minutes of a game.
“They’re quick learners, and they’ve learned from week to week so far, it’s just a matter of minimising our mistakes this week against Melbourne, and play the kind of footy that we want to play.”
The Greater Sydney Rams travel to Victoria this week to take on the Melbourne Rising. Fans can catch the action from Morwell LIVE via FOX SPORTS Now and www.foxsports.com.au