The Perth Spirit cut loose with a comprehensive win over the Sydney Stars in their Round 6 NRC clash on Sunday afternoon. The bonus point win lifts them from 8th postion to 4th and back into finals contention with three rounds to go.
After a bright start with the first 2 tries, the Stars were cast as extras for the main event as the Spirit waltzed away with the prize, putting on 8 unanswered tries and 58 points in the middle hour. Adding 1 more try each near the end, the score was 63-21 at full time.
Perth’s second game at home this season was staged 25km north of the City at Joondalup. HBF arena is home to the Joondalup Brothers Rugby Club (newly promoted to WA’s Premier Grade for 2015) and the West Perth club that plays in the WAFL. It was the Aussie Rules ground that was used for this match. While the facilities were good, the spectators were a long way from the action out on the oval.
The benefit of having covered grandstands became apparent, though, when rain arrived during the second half. There was a reasonable turnout for this match with just shy of 1,500 tickets sold. The game had a family atmosphere and somewhere around thirty or forty kids in various Rugby and AFL jumpers were kicking their footballs around on the grassy slopes about the ground. A good sign.
The Sydney Stars wore their alternate kit which was yellow with blue shoulders. But even without hoops it was still unfortunately similar to the Spirit’s gold and black jersey (and their their only kit). Both teams also had black shorts to increase the confusion. The ARU really needs to intervene next season to ensure that all sides—and the match officials—have readily distinguishable colours for each match!
At the kick off, conditions were mild and dry with partial cloud cover.
The first half
Early possession favoured the Stars. After advancing on the back of a couple of penalties, Sydney got a 5–0 lead when prop Laurie Weeks scored in the left corner after a driving maul. The Spirit’s fullback Dane Haylett-Petty kicked out on the full a few minutes later to give the Stars more handy posession. Lock Andrew Leota took an inside pass from flyhaf Stuart Dunbar soon after to cross under the posts for the Stars with the Spirit asleep at the wheel. Jack Macklin converted and the score was 13–0.
But it didn’t take long for Perth to hit their stride. They started to make ground out wide with Godwin unleashing the outside backs Marcel Brache and Junior Rasolea. Godwin himself then ghosted through some lax defence from about ten metres out to cut the deficit to 13–8 in the 13th minute.
The Spirit forwards began exerting their dominance, with the first of several scrum wins against the feed. Playing on quickly from a penalty, they rumbled to within a metre of the line and captain Sam Wykes shovelled the ball to No. 8 Ross Haylett-Petty who bagged Perth’s second try in the left corner. Scores were level at the midpoint of the first half.
The Spirit got on top at the breakdown through the work of players like Wykes at lock, and Brynard Stander and Ross Haylett-Petty in the backrow having more impact than the Sydneysiders including Will Skelton, Hugo Dessens and Sam Quinn. On attack, Skelton seemed to be positioned up and flat in the backline outside flyhalf Dunbar for much of the half. He made only a few short runs and managed to hit some rucks but was largely ineffective. I’m not sure what instructions the Stars have him playing under but they don’t seem to be bringing about the style of play that he is capable of producing.
Perth’s backs had front foot ball and were able to exploit the gaps opening up in the Stars’ defence. Tries to halfback Ian Prior and winger Luke Morahan extended the score to 26–13 at half time.
The second half
News came through via twitter shortly after the break that Skelton and Reds’ player Jake Schatz would be rushed to Argentina to join the Wallabies squad for the final test of The Rugby Championship. Whether this had something to do with Big Will not appearing after the break I don’t know, but it’s safe to say he’ll need to find another gear to make an impact against the Pumas should he be selected.
The second half began as the first had ended with more tries to the Spirit. Centre Junior Rasolea bagged a brace with one in the 43rd minute from a break out wide and another a few minutes later after picking up a simple grubber behind the defensive line from flyhalf Zack Holmes. Despite the onset of light rain, the fans were loving it with the score at 42–13.
After a yellow card to Sydney’s replacement lock Matthew Philip, Perth hooker Robbie Abel brought up the 50 point milestone for the home side just after the hour. Perth’s South African born winger Marcel Brache then ran in a grubber from Godwin to move the score, after Prior’s conversion, to 58–13!
Respite for the Stars came when Paddy Ryan ran past some soft defence to claim a consolation try with ten minutes to go. Abel added his second try for the Spirit shortly after to bump out the result to 63–21, and that was the final score. It was a comprehensive win to the Spirit. They had the Sydney pack under control at the breakdown, in the scrum and at lineout time – with Wykes prominent in the air.
The Stars at the start of the season would have believed they’d be competitive based on University’s strength and a squad with a number of test-capped players. But aside from a couple of games, they have struggled. This is a big part of what the NRC is about, though; immersing club players in a higher level of competition to increase the depth. This season will act as a spur for the Stars to close the gap.
A final note, and this is only my impression as I haven’t seen a replay, is that stoppage times seemed to be allowed to stretch out towards the end of the game compared to other NRC matches; perhaps more like the old rugby tempo with scrums taking longer to set (but my sense could be wrong). There was obviously plenty of action with 12 tries being scored!
The game changer
The scrum with the first tighthead win to Spirit. This ascendency was the precursor to the home side gaining the advantage across the park and turning it into points.
The GAGR MOTM
Kyle Godwin – line breaks, solid defence, and some deft grubber kicks to set up his outside backs.
Players to watch
Robbie Abel – hard working in everything; lineout throwing, scrumming, and two meat pies.
Jim Stewart – a good battle against Godwin despite playing in a team on the back foot.
Perth Spirit: 1. Joe Savage, 2. Robbie Abel, 3. Tetera Faulkner, 4. Sam Wykes (c), 5. Brent Murphy, 6. Brynard Stander, 7. Richard Hardwick, 8. Ross Haylett-Petty; 9. Ian Prior, 10. Zack Holmes, 11. Marcel Brache, 12. Kyle Godwin, 13. Junior Rasolea, 14. Luke Morahan, 15. Dane Haylett-Petty. Reserves: 16. Harry Scoble, 17. Chris Heiberg, 18. Oliver Hoskins, 19.Kieran Stringer, 20. Kane Koteka, 21. Alex Rovira, 22. Justin Turner, 23. Dillyn Leyds.
Sydney Stars: 1. Paddy Ryan, 2. James Willan, 3. Laurie Weeks, 4. Andrew Leota, 5. Will Skelton, 6. Hugo Dessens, 7. Patrick McCutcheon (c), 8. Sam Quinn; 9. Jake Gordon, 10. Stuart Dunbar, 11. Jono Sullivan, 12. Jim Stewart, 13. Michael Hodge, 14. James Dargaville, 15. Jack Macklin. Reserves: 16. Tom Coolican, 17. Tom Robertson, 18. Jeremy Tilse, 19. Matthew Philip, 20. Mitchell Whitely, 21. Jock Merriman, 22. Angus Roberts, 23. Johnny Loseli.
Perth Spirit: 63
Junior Rasolea (2) 43′, 49′
Robbie Abel (2) 62′, 74′
Kyle Godwin 12′
Ross Haylett-Petty 19′
Ian Prior 25′
Luke Morahan 27′
Marcel Brache 66′
Ian Prior (6/9) 13′, 26′, 44′, 50′, 64′, 67′
Sydney Stars: 21
Laurie Weeks 6′
Andrew Leota 9′
Paddy Ryan 70′
Jack Macklin (2/3) 10′, 70′
Junior Rasolea (YC) 80′
Matthew Philip (YC) 62′
Referee:: Graham Cooper