Oz Schools 70 – Tongan Schools 13
Even taking into account the standard of the opposition players, from just six different schools, it was a good effort from the Aussie lads, especially in the first half. Forwards were able to create good front-foot ball, sometimes for themselves, but most often for the backs who pigged out on the ball.
It was hard for the Tongan lads as they got caught in the revolving door of their forwards going back, and the backs having to retreat with them — and just as defenders were on their heels the Aussie backs would run onto the ball. More often than not there was more of the same in the next phase.
It was better for the visitors after oranges, when the score was 42-3 and 6 tries to 0. Both sides sent bench players on and Tonga performed the better: they scored a try after two minutes and defended better, and after 25 minutes it was just one try each for the second half.
Then the Aussies hit a golden patch and in 10 minutes scored three magic tries that were worth the trip to St Marys. Damn, they were good.
The Aussies had no particular issues in the set pieces. I thought that their light scrum might have a few problems but it wasn’t the case, and restarts were generally good unless they misjudged the reception spot.
Some comments on the Oz players, not purporting to be comprehensive:
• 1. Pleash was very active and had an outstanding burst from the lineout through several tacklers to score. At only 92kg he will have to put on a bit of pork down the track to play the position in senior rugby. Goal-kicker 2. Wilson played like a back-rower and some of his conversions were brilliant. 3. Nadruku surprised me with some stutter steps before the pass but it’s not something you look for in a THP.
• 4. Rorke was a problem for the Tongans every time he had the ball and was involved in many dominant collisions. He was the biggest bopper of the match.
• 6. Dempsey had several good runs carrying on his form from the Oz Schools Final, especially in the first half, but 7. Gunn was the real star. He had half a dozen good runs, many with a step, and once running a good line to get the pass for his own try. It looks like he has a future in the position as a senior player, and at 93kg now he should end up big enough to do so.
• 12. Stewart looked like a Kiwi-slayer without doing anything too fancy; he crash balled through a few times but not at the expense of forgoing a move further out.
• 13. Foketi was the star back of the first half doing things like faking would-be tacklers standing still before making a break, and running along touch at full speed linking with Placid on the way to a brilliant try — except a third player dropped the pill.
• 15. Placid attacked well: once in the second half, playing on the left wing, he ran behind all the players and created some play on the right side of the field that led to a try.
• 20. Fakauselia, usually an 8, fulfilled my wish by playing 6 from the bench when replacing Dempsey in the second half. Once he nabbed an overthrown Tongan lineout ball and went on a long run, and he was noticeable at other times trying to get the hit in counter-rucks.
• 22. Horwitz played 12 at first, then 10 as Placid went to Robinson’s wing and McIntrye to fullback. His memorable moment was when he found himself supporting the ball-runner along touch then threw a miracle ball behind his back before being pushed out, and Foketi caught it to score.
• 23. Jones, the 16-year-old star of the Oz Schools tournament, had three or four runs on the right wing when he came on late and they were all highlight-reel stuff. Before the match I didn’t know why centre Robinson was starting on the wing instead of Jones, and I hope this will have been the last time. This lad is a cracking player and very quick.
So, a good effort by the boys, but if we are on Kiwi watch we can’t expect our young Wobs to dominate the collisions as they did in this match. Their starting props and all their locks except Rorke are not big lads, and though they could not have done much more physically in this match you could see that they may lack a couple more big boppers to help Rorke in New Zealand.
The backs should be slick even against the Kiwis and the goal kicking of Wilson and 10/15 McIntyre should be at the high level we saw in the Oz tournament and against Tonga.
A squad of 28 to tour Fiji and NZ will be announced on 14 August. Watch for details here on G&GR.