Eagles too good in Southern Highlands

by Brett McKay

NSW Country’s National Rugby Championship campaign remains alive and well, with their defence the highlight in their 26-17 win over the Sydney Rays in Goulburn.

The Eagles scored four tries to three at Simon Poidevin Oval, and climb to sixth place on the NRC table, while the Rays will face an uphill task from here to make the finals series.

“Our defence was good, our set piece was good, and our leaders really stepped up,” NSW Country captain Paddy Ryan said after the win.

“It was good to see Tayler Adams have another great game, Tommy Staniforth has been our best this season and he was great again today. I think it’s great to seem all our blokes step up when we needed it."

NSW Country were on the board first, having had all the early territory. Alex Gibbon crossed in the corner after a nice lineout win and some very tidy hands from Eagles fullback Andrew Kellaway. 

Alex Newsome on his way to scoring a brilliant individual try. Photo: AJF PhotographyThe Rays hit back in the 13th minute through winger Josh Turner in the corner, coming only a few moments after Irae Simone lost control in his spectacular dive into the same corner.

It was all Country for the next chunk of the first half, with TMO Ian Smith intervening on two possible try-scoring movements as the Eagles again dominated territory and possession.

The Eagles had the scrum ascendency by now, and they used it the great effect in the 27th minute, with No.8 Sam Ward controlling the ball at the back of the scrum nicely and scoring. From the restart virtually, Kyle Godwin broke away for the Eagles, before Jake Gordon raced away to score under the posts.

Tayler Adams’ conversion from in front made it 19-7 to NSW Country, and they would take that advantage into the sheds at halftime.

NSW Country continued their dominance after the break, but it was the Rays scoring first, coming the length of the field and sending Latu Latunipulu over in the corner

But Country hit straight back, with Alex Newsome finding a gap and racing away to score under the posts. Adams converted to put the Eagles ahead 26-12, and it felt like the Rays were in real danger of being left behind.

Somehow though, the Rays scored next through Angus Sinclair, after flanker Tom Connor produced a magic trick involving the ball going between his legs and possibly behind his back too. Saifoloi couldn’t convert, but at 26-17, the Rays were back.

Country were trying to grind home their advantage, but that became difficult when Sam Ward was shown yellow card in the 66th minute. Gibbon looked certain to score minutes later, running away from a Kellaway break, only for Connor to pull out the try-saving tackle.

Jake Gordon looks to be re-finding his 2016 NRC form. Photo: AJF PhotographyThe Rays got their second wind as the game wound down, but as was the case through much of the first half, they just lacked the finishing ability they needed.

Country were always desperate enough to hold out, and their defence was the hallmark of their second win for the season.


NSW Country Eagles 26

Tries: A. Gibbon, S. Ward, J. Gordon, A. Newsome

Conversions: T. Adams 3/4

Penalties: T. Adams 0/1

Cards: S. Ward (66’) 

Sydney Rays 17

Tries: J. Turner, L. Latunipulu, A. Sinclair

Conversions: R. Saifoloi 1/3