NRC: Rays vs Spirit: Five things we've learned

by Brett McKay

In weather better suited to ducks and other aquatic life, the Sydney Rays have lived up to their marine nature, by notching a bonus point and beating the Perth Spirit 28-8 at a greasy North Sydney Oval in the 2016 Buildcorp National Rugby Championship’s only Friday night game.

1. Wet weather rugby is a simple game

We quickly found out at North Sydney Oval that this wasn’t going to be a match in which try-scoring record were broken.

Though Perth got on the scoreboard early, both sides struggled in the first half to maintain possession because they were both guilty of trying to play rugby that just weren’t suited to the conditions.

At 8-6 at halftime, you always felt whichever side best came to grips with the slippery conditions would be the team to control the game.

The Rays stopped playing as wide as they had been, kicked for the line, and in behind the back three of the Spirit, and just played pragmatic rugby.

Tries via a short-side snipe and two more from lineout drives were the story of the night.

The Rays won playing the simple game better.

The Rays were far better at controlling the ball in the wet. Photo: Getty Images.

2. Could we see penalty goals attempted this weekend?

Penalties have always been worth less in the NRC than under the traditional scoring methods, and thus have been a rare commodity.

Less than ten were kicked in 2014, and only three were attempted in 2015 all told, and none of them after Round 4.

The Rays had a penalty in kickable position around the 60-minute mark, and at 14-8 they must have been tempted to take the two.

And you couldn’t really have blamed them to that point, in a game where the ball rarely went past half a dozen phases.

With more wet weather likely over the weekend, maybe this be the weekend where a team decide that two points is better than none? You couldn’t rule it out.

Neither side took a shot for penalty goal despite the weather. Photo: Getty Images.

3. A reasonable return to traffic for Clark

Australian Sevens star Cameron Clark is officially back in the XVs game, having signed with the Waratahs, and making his Sydney Rays and Buildcorp NRC debut at North Sydney Oval.

In around 45 minutes before he was replaced by classy Manly flyhalf Sam Lane, Clark looked pretty solid at fullback in what can’t have been an easy game to play.

More than three years, we were told it had been since his last game with fourteen teammates instead of six, and though he’ll obviously take some time to fully get back to speed, he showed a few glimpses in attack to suggest that he won’t be daunted by the extra defenders and significantly less space in which to operate.

His exit kicking game under pressure probably needs some work, but he’s certainly got the vision and the ability to beat the man with the ball.

A work in progress, but worth keeping an eye on.

Cam Clark was solid but not spectacular in his return to the 15-man format. Photo: Getty Images.

4. Billy who?

He had a few people notice him last week as well, but recently returned former Gloucester centre Billy Meakes showed again on Friday night that the Western Force might’ve struck gold in the 2011 Australian Under-20s rep.

Gloucester and former Brumbies coach Laurie Fisher was disappointed to lose Meakes – though pleased he will get a shot at playing Super Rugby in 2017 – and it’s easy to see why.

He regularly beat the first tackle on against the Rays, as he did last weekend in Perth, and is clearly a more than useful defender.

If he can complete the combination with Brisbane schoolboy teammates, Jono Lance, Ben Tapuai, and Wallaby winger Luke Morahan, then Perth will be dangerous out wide for the rest of the competition.

Billy Meakes was one of only a few threats for the Rays all night. Photo: Getty Images.

5. Another yellow card blitz

Players will get the message at some point, I’m sure, but until they do the yellow cards will continue to flow in NRC games.

Angus Gardner handed out another four at North Sydney Oval, proving that even when the conditions don’t really suit, our refs want the game to flow as much as it can.

So the team warnings come much earlier in games than in Super Rugby, and players look rather sheepish when the find out the hard way that it wasn’t a bluff.

Perth played with 14 men for half an hour between the 34th and 73rd minute. Maybe only for eight minutes in all that time did they have a full defensive line.

Take it as read, guys; the refs aren’t bluffing.

If try to slow the game down, you’ll likely earn a rest.