Barker clinched the 2012 Henry Plume Shield with a clinical 32-5 win over a sadly depleted Trinity at Summer Hill on Saturday.
Barker 32 def. Trinity 5
Barker’s five-tries-to-one victory maintained its unbeaten record in the competition and, with one round to play, put it beyond the reach of second-placed Waverley, despite Waverley’s romp to victory over St Aloysius.
Saturday’s game was a showcase for the qualities that have earned Barker a thoroughly well-deserved premiership. The team’s two great strengths were control of the breakdown and tremendous defence. At every tackle, Barker had forwards present in numbers. There are more glamorous back-rowers in the competition than Ben Pearson, Nick Burkett and Theo Hanson, but on Saturday they swarmed over everything, and hooker Tom Wilson, the standout player of Barker’s season, was usually with them.
The fact that Barker was able to get so many players to the breakdown gave them a terrific platform, because they were able to recycle the ball through multiple phases until the defence was stretched out enough for gaps to appear. It’s simple, but very, very hard to beat.
And the defence was really solid. They allow their opponents no room at all, standing as close to the offside line as possible (and sometimes a little further). They move up to meet the runner, instead of waiting for him, and their cover and sliding defence are well-organised and committed. They have conceded 88 points in nine matches, which is a fantastic achievement.
Trinity was missing two-thirds of its first-choice team through injuries and suspension. Thomas Anastakis and Benjamin Ali-Khan were promoted from the under-16s for their 1st XV debuts, and Manish Poologasundram started for only the second time. These guys are hardly household names, even in their own households, and it was impossible to expect that such an inexperienced pack would match it with Barker.
But a few minutes before half time it was 8-5 to Barker, a try to Henry Pedersen and a penalty to Wilson against a try to Brent Whicker. Trinity competed strongly, contesting the breakdown and defending very well close to the ruck.
But eventually weight of possession told, and the game turned on plays either side of half-way. After a Trinity counter-attack broke down, the ball was worked through the phases until No8 Hanson and prop Pedersen found themselves at outside-centre and wing, with only prop Junior Satiu in front of them. Pedersen stormed in for his second try, and then blotted his copybook by throwing the ball at the face of the nearest Trinity player. Whatever the verbal provocation may have been, this made him look petulant and stupid, which is a shame as he had a storming game, running powerfully, and was easily the player of the match.
Shortly after half-time, Barker camped in Trinity’s quarter and forced a series of five-metre scrums. Again, sheer weight of possession eventually created an overlap, and Ben Pearson went over to make it 18-5 and from there the game was over. Late in the game, David Smerdon stepped through for two more-or-less identical tries from close range, showing sharp footwork and increased confidence.
Two of Barker’s stars, Wilson and scrum-half Harry Jenkins, had quiet games. Not bad – just low-key by their standards. The back line is interesting: they don’t have sharp hands and their moves seem rather mechanical. They’re not, in short, natural ball-players. But they can run. George Haltmeier on the wing had limited opportunities but was always a handful. Tyson Davis and Brendan Flaherty have fantastic leg-drive, which means that they’re very hard to put down in the tackle. They stay on their feet and keep driving forward. Both played very strongly on Saturday. Flaherty defended well too, although inexplicably, in the second half he stopped Whicker with a jolting armless tackle, right in front of the referee, which attracted not even a penalty.
For Trinity, Satiu, Whicker and Henry Clunies-Ross were in everything good, and Rory Hurst worked hard. On the wing, Henry Naylor defended ferociously, and he brought the house down with a try-saving, front-on tackle to stop the rampaging Pedersen.
So, well done Barker: if they can avoid defeat against Knox in the last round, it will be two unbeaten premierships in three seasons.