NRC: Conversion after the siren lands grand final spot for Vikings

NRC
by Emma Greenwood

A conversion after the full-time siren from Junior Wallabies playmaker Noah Lolesio has capped a massive second half fightback and sealed the Canberra Vikings a place in the NRC grand final against the Western Force.

The Vikings trailed the Fijian Drua 22-0 at halftime but a try after the 80th minute to Tom Banks left them trailing the defending champions by just a point, with Lolesio's conversion on a slight angle handing Canberra a 28-27 win.

They will head to Perth next weekend to take on the Force in Saturday's grand final, with both teams looking for their first NRC title.

 

The Vikings were their own worst enemies in a wretched first half, failing to treasure the ball and allowing the Drua to run rampant.

With the wind at their backs, the visitors scored three tries and pushed out to a massive lead but the Vikings fought back with three tries of their own in the 11 minutes after the break to set up a thrilling finish.

When Drua reserve hooker Ratunaisa Navuma scored inside the final 20 minutes, the Drua seemed in the box seat but Toni Pulu's pressure on conversion attempt proved pivotal, with Enele Tikotani rushing his kick slightly and hitting the post, leaving the margin at six points.

The Vikings seemed to have spoiled their best chance when, after winning a penalty, kicking for touch and spreading the ball wide from the lineout win, they threw a wild pass over the head of winger Mack Hansen into touch.

The Canberra Vikings are through to the NRC grand final after a thrilling win over the Fijian Drua in their semi-final. Photo: Getty Images 

But the Drua turned the ball over with 90 seconds remaining and then piggybacked the Vikings up field with a penalty, giving them a final chance to score.

They spread the ball wide, beating the tiring defence, with banks racing over and improving the angle slightly, leaving  Lolesio to step up for his first attempt of the day with regular kicker Ryan Lonergan on the sidelines.

Lolesio had not had the best day with the boot, getting the Vikings off to a poor start after putting the ball dead at the match kick-off, handing the Drua a scrum on halfway.

The visitors made the most of the possession too, pushing downfield and winning a penalty, which they converted into early points.

FULL REPLAY

 

While they have gained a reputation their freestyle attacking style, the Drua have also been circumspect at times, taking points from penalties when on offer - a rarity in the NRC.

And it was strong play at the set piece that set up their opening try, with a great shove from the Drua pack winning the ball and a subsequent penalty delivering clean lineout ball that eventually led to a try to lock Peni Nabureitau.

The Vikings showed glimpses of form in the opening half hour but were unable to hold possession long enough to make an impact.

Poor handling, balls kicked dead and poor passes cost the Vikings and when Bo Abra's pass was intercepted by Seru Vularika, the centre raced 55m to score and give his side a 15-0 lead.

Tom Wright scores for the Vikings to start their second-half fightback. Photo: Getty Images

After the Vikings spoiled another promising attacking raid with a forward pass, the Drua crossed for a third time before the break, Tevita Ikanivere adjudged to have touched down despite the best efforts of Nick Frost and Pete Samu, handing the visitors a 22-0 halftime lead.

The Vikings needed to score first after the break, and they did, Tom Wright touching down just three minutes after the restart after they finally kept possession, putting pressure on the Drua defence.

They were in twice more in the following nine minutes, with the Drua's indisciplined start helping the Vikings back into the game, their three conceded penalties in the opening 10 minutes leading to three Vikings tries.

Angus Allen, who was added to the starting side just before the match after Rob Valetini suffered a leg strain in the warm-up, charged over five minutes after Wright, who added a second try of his own in the 52st minute, with Ryan Lonergan's sideline conversion getting the Vikings within a point.

Seru Vularika attempts to bust through the tackle of Vikings centre Len Ikitau. Photo: Getty Images

The Drua collected themselves though and it was their set piece that delivered.

They bullied the Vikings in the scrum, marching the home side back and winning consecutive penalties before taking a quick tap and building phases before  Navuma dived over and Tikotani missed his conversion attempt, setting up the thrilling finish.

The Drua's loss ends their title defence but they fought hard, winning their final two fixtures at the death to make the semis before pushing the Vikings to the end.

RESULT

Canberra Vikings 28

Tries: Wright 2, Allen, Banks

Cons: Lonergan 3, Lolesio

Fijian Drua 27

Tries: Nabureitau, Vularika, Ikanivere, Navuma

Cons: Tikotani 2

Pens: Tikotani