Last year’s champions downed in a confident display of running rugby from Scots in blustery conditions. After notching their biggest win in years, Scots must now be the front-runners to win the 2012 GPS.
The boys from Bellevue Hill, piped with Scotland the Brave onto Riverview’s No. 1 Oval under dark and brooding skies to face the 2011 GPS Champions, needed to maintain the hot form of last week in beating Joey’s and find another gear to match Iggies.
Iggies played without talismanic centre Samuel Gerrey-Burgess, forcing regular No. 8 and captain Mitchell Whiteley to switch to centre to counter the size of the Scots backs.
Could TSC’s smaller pack handle the weightier Riverview eight? How much influence would Scots’ rising star, No. 8 Angus Crichton be able to exert on the match? Would Scots’ star-studded, Australian Schoolboy-laden backline get enough clean ball to overcome Riverview’s champion XV.
Kick-off: 3:16pm, Saturday, August 11, 2012-08-11
Scots kicked off with a strong, blustery breeze behind them. A high, tumbling ball immediately put Saint Ignatius College (SIC) under pressure. An early ruck penalty against Scots (TSC) signalled the referee’s intent to strictly police the breakdown.
The first scrum, a TSC feed, resulted in a scrum penalty to SIC when the front rows collapsed, perhaps an ominous sign.
The first twenty minutes saw a series of possessions by each team resulting in a dropped ball just when things were about to get interesting. Perhaps the pressure of the occasion told, because multi-phase ball would have an attack rolling, and space emerging, only for a scrum to arrive to break momentum.
In the tenth minute the last pass finally stuck when SIC executed a planned move down a wide blind-side, with a clever inside ball to the #12, who then flung an outrageously, confident cut-out pass to the wide support player who plunged over in the right corner. Try converted by Riverview winger, Bill Freeman. 7-0 to St. Ignatius.
Scots #15, Andrew Kellaway struck back almost immediately with a penalty kick from an off-side ruck penalty in front of the posts to narrow the score to 7-3.
Soon after, Scots revealed a pattern of play repeated all afternoon. From a midfield scrum, Scots’ #8 Crichton picked and drove right. The ball was passed wide right, then wide left, using the entire field. SIC’s defence held, but there looked to be space on the fringes. If not for a series of handling errors, Scots looked threatening.
Repeating this ploy, Scots picked from the scrum again, ran a simple decoy pattern on the right, with the ball going behind to #15 Andrew Kellaway who jinked his way to the line for a well-worked try. Kellaway’s conversion was good off the post to make it 10-7.
Iggies then had a period of sustained possession and threatened the Scots line for a long time without result. SIC displayed a disciplined pick and drive; they were able to control the ball for long periods in a multi-phase approach, without causing the strong Scots defensive wall too many problems. The Scots’ defense was well organised. Soon, however, weight of possession and pressure brought another converted try to SIC. 14-10 to Iggies.
With half-time looming, it looked like SIC had gained crucial momentum going into the break. Scots mis-kicked the restart for a scrum on half-way, and it looked like the Scots boys were flailing under the pressure for a moment.
Then, with a fumble from the pick off the back of the Iggie’s scrum-feed, Scots #12 Ben Starkey pounced and set off on a dazzling 30m midfield run, drawing and looking, drawing and looking before delivering a beautifully timed wide pass to the steam-rolling #11, Dylan Holmes. Holmes dragged five defenders, Lomu-like, with him over the line for an immediate Scots retort. Kick converted. Half-time. 17-14 to TSC.
After the break, Scots quickly broke down the right, only to be stymied once again by a handling error. SIC then enjoyed a steady period of possession, only to concede a turnover after too many phases without any real penetration. The Scots backrow of Dunbar, Kamp and Crichton continued to warm to its work.
The ball-in-hand approach of both teams typified the running-rugby spirit of this match. With swirling winds, I expected a barrage of high balls to test the fullbacks. Quite the reverse occurred. Kicks out of hand from #10s and #15s were the exception. I kept asking myself: Does the Scots #10 have a kicking game?
It turns out David Horwitz didn’t need it. The Australian Schoolboy representative ran it from everywhere. After winning turnover ball on their own quarter, Scots spun it wide left, with #13 Jim Stewart stepping through numerous tackles to put Dylan Holmes away down the left for a long run, breaking tackles and bursting through for an exciting 80m try. Scots up 22-14: Conversion unsuccessful.
The next period of the game revealed a key advantage for Scots. They managed to steal or disrupt four Iggie’s lineouts, denying SIC a chance to mount concerted attacks. The turnovers mounted as the half wore on. Whenever SIC looked to threaten, a turnover or handling error eased the pressure. Such was Scots’ confidence that conceding a breakdown penalty merely gave them the opportunity to steal the ball from the ensuing lineout.
The points of difference in the second half were clean lineout ball for Scots compared to disruption and turnover when SIC had the ball. The replacement winger for Scots in #23 added step and pizzazz to the right wing in a superb cameo appearance.
Although SIC added a penalty in the 55th minute to narrow the score to 22-17, Scots dominance at the lineouts and the breakdown supplied the clean ball Horwitz needed to spread the ball in long side-to-side phases that really stretched Iggies’ defense. The Scots’ centre pairing of Starkey and Stewart provided gain-line punch all day. A typical Starkey half-break resulted in quick passes wide to find winger Holmes lurking, with Kellaway finishing a superb movement for his second try.
The kick of the day into a stiff breeze by Andrew Kellaway to convert the try put Scots into an almost insurmountable 29-17 lead with 10 minutes remaining. SIC was not done, however. With both schools singing strongly from the bleachers, tension mounted.
What did Iggies have left?
On the one occasion when Scots should have elected for a safe clearance from deep inside its territory for a clock-draining lineout, they ran it again, only to turn the ball over. SIC responded with desperation pick-and-drives to go over for a converted try to give the crowd a heart-stopping final few minutes at 29-24.
SIC finished the game pounding the Scots line, desperate to draw level. Scots’ defense held firm in an heroic effort, winning a final, triumphant turnover on their own line to finish off the 2011 champions. Final score 29-24.
The standout players were Mitchell Whiteley and Harrison Rorke, while Bill Freeman’s goal-kicking was outstanding.
The forward pack did yeoman work to provide an efficient platform, particularly excelling with its mobility, spoiling and breakdown abilities. However, the backline unit was the star of the day. Dylan Holmes ran strongly for two tries, the centre pairing of Starkey and Stewart dominated, and five-eighth Horwitz distributed beautiful passes all day. Among many excellent performances, Andrew Kellaway at fullback was simply brilliant, finishing with two tries, three conversions and a penalty for a personal haul of 19 points.
It was very easy to pick Kellaway as the man of the match in a game where Scots declared themselves the team to beat in 2012. There is certainly a new gun in town.