NRC: Country hold on to remain unbeaten despite Rising fightback

NRC
by Emma Greenwood

NSW Country have hung on for a 29-19 win against the Rising, defying a late fightback from Melbourne to remain undefeated through their opening two NRC fixtures.

Just like last week when they built a 26-0 lead over Sydney before surviving a late Rays fightback, the Eagles built a 24-5 buffer over the Rising in Adelaide before Melbourne fought back and threatened a late boilover.

A try to Melbourne Rebels forward Ross Haylett-Petty in the shadows of halftime helped the Rising claw back to within 12 points at the break but they were left to rue a poor start to the second half, with the Eagles racing over for their fifth try of the afternoon a minute after the restart.

It was to be Country's final score of the afternoon though and when fullback Justin Marsters reached over to score in the 58th minute and Semisi Tupou converted, the Rising were within 10 points and threatening an upset.

Eagles centre Ofa Manuofetoa tries to push through the Rising defence in Adelaide.

After impatience cost them chances in the first half, the Rising were more patient and composed in the second term and their dominant scrum clicked late in the match, helping them pressure the Eagles' line.

They could not convert that pressure into points late in the game though, despite Country being a man down after Pat Tafa was sent to the sin bin in the 76th minute after repeated Eagles infringements.

The win keeps NSW Country unbeaten in two matches this season, with the Rising suffering their second defeat after losing to Canberra in the opening round.

The Eagles repeated their round one flying start, scoring in the first minute through hooker Aaron Blacklock following a rolling maul.

 

With control of the ball, they looked out to add to their lead but a wayward pass gave the Rising possession and Nailati Ukalele sped away to score against the run of play to lock the scores up at 5-5.

Country was soon back in the action though, with Blacklock scoring his second, this time a throw to the front of the lineout setting up the maul, with the no.2 marshalling his forwards to cross.

Again the Rising looked to hit back but they were held up over the line, bringing into play one of the experimental rules being tested in the NRC, the ball handed to the Eagles for a goal-line dropout, which helped them out of trouble.

While the Rising regained possession, Country centre Nigel Ah Wong came out of the line to intercept a pass and race away unopposed to score the Eagles' third try.

With several Rebels players in their pack, the Rising were more than competitive at the scrum but it was Country that dominated the set piece in the first half, with their lineouts deep in Rising territory particularly impressive.

Their fourth try again came from the rolling maul, with lock Connor Vest touching down to push the Eagles' lead out to 24-5 in the shadows of halftime.

 

Guilty of squandering possession for much of the term, the Rising showed what they could do when they held on to the ball with Ross Haylett-Petty diving over to score after the Melbourne forwards built pressure on the Eagles' line.

Michael Moloney's conversion helped them claw back to 24-12 at the break.

The Eagles all but restored their buffer in the opening seconds of the second half though, with fullback Tim Clements racing over in the minute after the restart.

But the Rising found some continuity and their pressure finally told, with fullback Justin Marsters reaching over to score in the 57th minute to set up a thrilling finish.

With their scrum finally humming, the Rising controlled possession and field position but could not break the Eagles even when they were left a man down in the final minutes with Tafa in the sin bin following repeated Country infringements.

Country host defending NRC champions Fijian Drua in Wollongong on Saturday, with the Rising heading to Perth to take on the unbeaten Western Force.

RESULT

NSW Country Eagles 29

Tries: Blacklock 2, Ah Wong, Vest, Clements

Cons: Kane 2

Yellow card: Pat Tafa 76'

Melbourne Rising 19

Tries: Ukalele, Haylett-Petty, Marsters

Cons: Moloney, Tupou