Spirit's finals hopes take massive hit

by RUGBY.com.au staff

Perth Spirit’s finals hopes have taken a massive blow, after a 32-29 loss at the hands of the NSW Country Eagles at McGillivray Oval on Sunday.


The Spirit now sit in sixth place on the competition ladder, and while not mathematically eliminated from finals contention, a bonus point win over the Greater Sydney Rams in Round Eight will leave them relying on other teams results due to a Round Nine bye.


The Spirit started the game backed up in their own territory, but despite a 24-8 deficit at half time, they were able to score three tries with 14 men on the field to put the score at 29-24 in the 57th minute. However, a 62nd minute try to Ed Stubbs put NSW Country in the lead, with the Spirit unable to capitalise in the closing minutes.


Perth Sprit Head Coach Tai McIsaac said he was pleased with his team’s effort, with the major focus being a bonus point win next round.


“You’ve got to be proud of the guys,” he said.


“They left it out on the field, and they really put in and came back whilst they were a man down, so I’m very proud of those guys and it’s just unfortunate that those things happen within the game.


“Ian Prior played a very good game, we’ve called on him a couple of times to play at flyhalf, he controls the game really well, his kicking game is good and he controlled the game really well today.


“We will have a look at what we need to fix out of that game today and we will focus on everything we need to do to make sure we get the bonus point next week against the Rams, I think it’s a must do for us, and we will see what happens through the rest of the table.”


NSW Country started the game mounting pressure on the Spirit defence through their set piece, applying constant pressure in the Spirit 22, not allowing the Spirit to maintain possession of the ball. Their backline found and overlap down the right wing, with inside centre David Howitz finding a pass and crossing the line untouched to place the ball in kicking position for Jonno Lance, who put the score at 8-0.


The Eagles continued their early offensive assault on the Spirit, splitting two Spirit defenders and running in goal from 40 metres, crossing in to place the ball in easy kicking position for Jonno Lance, who made the score 16-0.


The Spirit found their first points of the day on a set piece play, with Junior Rasolea finding a pass from Luke Burton, with Rasolea able to run in 10 metres to burst through the NSW Country defensive line and score to the right hand side of the posts. Ian Prior’s converted kick put the score at 16-8.


Junior Rasolea was red-carded in the 38th minute for a dangerous tackle on Jonno Lance, putting the Spirit down to 14 men for the remainder of the contest.


Charlie Clifton and the NSW Country backline made the most of their man advantage early, finding a hole in the Spirit defensive line on the right wing to burst through and score. Jonno Lance kicked the conversion from the sideline to make the score 24-8.


However, the Spirit would not give up despite being a man down, Oli Hoskins finding a pass from the back of a breakdown, and using his power to burst through the NSW Country defensive line to score. The converted kick by Ian Prior made the score 24-16.


Heath Tessmann was able to break the line, running 30 metres through open space and breaking through the last tackle to score directly under the posts. Ian Prior kicked the conversion from directly in front to level the score at 24-24.


The Spirit took the lead in the 57th minute, after Jerome Vaai was sent off for 10 minutes with a yellow card. Richard Hardwick was able to score off the back of a rolling mall from a lineout, putting the score at 29-24 after the missed conversion attempt.  


However, NSW Country scored the final points of the day, continuing their backline assault with Ed Stubbs scoring a try after finding a pass to create a man overlap on the sideline. Jonno Lance’s conversion attempt put the Eagles in front 32-29.  


In the closing stages of the match, the Spirit had the opportunity to score, but unforced errors, and strong defensive line pressure from NSW Country left them try-less, leaving the final score at 32-29 in favour of NSW Country. 


NSW Country Eagles 32 (David Horwitx, Andrew Kellaway, Charlie Clifton, Ed Stubbs) defeated Perth Spirit 29 (Junior Rasolea, Ollie Hoskins, Heath Tessmann, Richard Hardwick tries; Ian Prior 3 conversions).


Source: Perth Spirit