The University of Canberra Vikings are through to next week’s Buildcorp National Rugby Championship grand final, after defeating the Melbourne Rising 50-34 in Canberra.
The Vikings set piece played a key role in the victory, particularly their scrum, which won the home side numerous penalties and led to a couple of tries.
The UC Vikings backline had its best game of the season, with man of the match Christian Lealiifano leading the unit. His silky footwork and passing led to a number of line breaks and opportunities for the Vikings.
Rodney Iona was also impressive for the home side, scoring two tries in the first half including a contender for try of the year.
The UC Vikings started fast, captain Jarrad Butler scoring a trademark try from their dominant rolling maul. Lealiifano added the extras to give the Vikings an 8-0 lead.
Five minutes later the Vikings added to their lead, Lealiifano breaking the line with some excellent footwork and putting Iona over in the corner to give the home side a 13-0 lead.
Just under 10 minutes later the Rising hit back, Stacey Ili burrowing his way through the defence from close range to put the away team on the board. Debreczeni converted the try to make it 13-8.
The Rising didn’t wait too long to get their second, Jonah Placid put into space after some sustained pressure inside the Vikings danger zone. Debreczeni was unable to add the three points and the scores were locked at 13-13.
Just over five minutes later the Rising took their first lead of the match, Cruze Ah Nau charging over from 10 metres out to score next to the posts. Debreczeni extended their lead to 21-13.
Only one minute later the UC Vikings hit back, Ben Alexander hitting the ball at pace from five metres out to score his first career NRC try. Lealiifano tied the scores at 21-21.
Shortly the Rising retook the lead after Sione Tuipolotu going over the chalk from long range to make it 26-21.
Right on the stroke of the half-time the Vikings took back the lead, Lealiifano stabbed through a grubber which was regathered by Rodney Iona who scored under the posts. Lealiifano converted to make it 29-26 going into the break.
10 minutes into the second half the Vikings extended their lead, Franky Fainifo going over after a penetrating run, Lealiifano converted from the sideline to give the Vikings a 37-26 lead.
With 20 minutes to go in the match Colby Fainga’a beat three defender from 20 metres out to score the Rising’s fifth try of the night. Debreczeni added the three points to make it 37-34.
Five minutes later the Vikings made their set piece dominance tell, pushing a scrum all the way over the try line for Ita Vaea to fall on the ball and extend the lead to 42-34.
The Rising continued to push for that score equalling try but where thwarted by a stingy UC Vikings defence.
With two minutes left to go and after a number of scrum penalties later the home side was awarded a penalty try. Lealiifano made no mistake from right in front and the Vikings ran out 50-34 victors.
Coach Brad Harris was pleased with the victory.
“Tonight was tough, we knew it would be,” Harris said.
“Melbourne came out and played some really good football, they applied a lot of pressure to us but I thought our 2nd half response was outstanding.
“We controlled field position and our set piece was dominant when we needed it to be. Our set piece has been a real point of difference for us this season.”
Harris said the side was excited to be a part of next week’s grand final.
“It’s a great reward for the work we’ve put in this season,” Harris said.
“We’ll sit back, dust off and recover and watch tomorrow’s game to see who we’ll play.
“It would be nice to get a home grand final but by the same token if we go to Brisbane we feel like we can play a lot better them our last game against them.”
Melbourne Rising Head Coach Zane Hilton said that the Vikings deserved their victory.
“Full credit to the Vikings tonight for the way they took their opportunities, when we weren’t able to do the same,” Hilton said. “They are a very experienced, talented and well led side, and we wish them all the best next Saturday.
“I’m incredibly proud of our lads for the way we came to play tonight,” he continued. “We gave ourselves the chance to win and unfortunately didn’t quite capitalise, but nonetheless we leave Canberra with our heads held high knowing that we gave it our all.”
The UC Vikings will play the winner of tonight's Semi-Final clash between the Sydney Stars and Brisbane City in the NRC Grand Final on Saturday, 31st of October.
UC Vikings 50 (Jarrad Butler, Rodney Iona 2, Ben Alexander, Francis Fainifo, Ita Vaea, Penalty try tries; Christian Lealiifano 5/7 conversions) bt Melbourne Rising 34 (Stacy Ili, Jonah Placid, Cruze Ah Nau, Sione Tuipoluto, Colby Fainga’a, try; Jack Debreczeni 4/6 conversion)