Queensland Country’s dominant scrum was the catalyst for their comprehensive 50-24 win over the Sydney Rays at Pittwater Rugby Park in Sydney today.
Country skipper Duncan Paia’aua scored three in the eight tries to three bonus point win on Sydney’s northern beaches, which catapults the Queenslanders into the National Rugby Championship top four.
Both sides took their time to get into the game, with the territory battle fairly evenly matched. Queensland Country took the scrum advantage early, but some great pressure in defence from the Rays forced a handling error from a Country scrum win, with Gordon flyer Paula Balekana swooping on the loose ball and racing the forty metres to score under the posts for the home side.
A Rohan Saifoloi penalty soon after put the Rays out to a 10-0 lead, but that gap was slashed in the 22nd minute, when scrumhalf James Tuttle won the race to the corner to finish off Duncan Paia’aua’s line break.
The flags had barely gone up on Tuttle’s conversion when Country winger Filipo Daugunu was racing away from the restart, having busted the first tackle and then evaded another seven Rays defenders to finish a seventy-metre run to the corner. Tuttle’s conversion made it 14-10.
Open play and handling errors dictated the next ten or so minutes, before the Rays managed to build some phases deep in the Queensland Country 22 and regained the lead, with skipper Damien Fitzpatrick crashing over on the pick and drive in the 37th minute.
The lead was short-lived, however, with Queensland Country using their scrum dominance to good effect from a penalty option right on halftime. Paia’aua crossed next to the posts from close range, to send his side to the break leading 19-17.
Immediately after halftime, the Country scrum was the platform again, with Paia’aua crossing for his double after a brilliant offload from centre partner Chris Feauai-Sautia.
The favour was returned in the 55th minute, with Feauai-Sautia finishing with a try after Paia’aua made a wonderful line break following Country no.8 Caleb Timu’s offload. Tuttle again converted, pushing the score out to 33-17, and leaving plenty of work for the home side to do.
They took up the challenge, though, the Rays, with Waratahs prop Dave Lolohea crashing over the top of the ruck like an NFL line-backer. Saifoloi’s conversion brought the gap back to nine, just when it was needed.
And that hard work was quickly undone, however, with Country flyhalf Hamish Stewart crossing after the visitors were allowed to play with front foot ball inside the Rays’ 22. Tuttle couldn’t convert, but Country had pushed the score out to 38-24 with fifteen to play.
Daugunu notched his double in the 70th minute, just to advance Country’s advantage further into bonus point territory, and when another impressive Country scrum saw Paia’aua burst through for his third try of the day, that was the half-century for the visitors and a comprehensive win completed.
Sydney Rays 24
Tries: P. Balekana, D. Fitzpatrick, D. Lolohea
Cons: R. Saifoloi 3/3
Pens: R. Saifoloi 1/1
Queensland Country 50
Tries: D. Paia’aua 3, F. Daugunu 2, J. Tuttle, C. Feauai-Sautia, H. Stewart
Cons: J. Tuttle 4/6, S. Malolua 1/2