GPS inverted the Queensland Premier Rugby table and unveiled their finest performance of an otherwise disappointing 2015 season to dismantle a strong University of Queensland side by seven tries to three at Yoku Road on Saturday afternoon.
The Gallopers – who had only recorded two wins this season going into today’s match – came out on top by a score of 43-21 in almost every facet of the against a Red Heavies side that had only lost twice and were sitting pretty in second position in the ladder.
The home side effectively won the game and shocked the reigning champions by scoring three quick tries in five, frantic first half minutes to force the Students into chasing the game from the outset, a chase they were never truly in.
Boosted by the inclusion of Reds and Wallabies hooker, Saia Fainga’a – returning to action after a chest injury, GPS may have anticipated a change in fortunes on the pitch, however the opening exchanges followed the expected script with the Gallopers fiercely defending their own line.
The rampant University forwards forced the home side into conceding penalty after penalty for the opening ten minutes of the game, in some desperate defence that surely tested the early patience of referee Shaun Rigby.
Despite that early pressure, the Gallopers held on and were the first to make an impression on the scoreboard through a try from flanker Mitch King, kick-starting the GPS first half charge.
Kimami Sitauti typified the dominance the GPS backs showed over their University counterparts by stripping the ball on the wing and embarking on a barrelling 30 metre run deep into University territory. Despite blowing the initial chance out wide, the green and blue shirts swarmed over the maroon jerseys after a mistake from a lineout and big lock Marco Kortze crashed over to extend the lead to 14.
The Gallopers still weren’t done. Straight from the kick off, Mitch King and Steven Hunt both made breaks through the middle, providing the platform for Sitauti to dive over in the left hand corner.
University needed to hit back quickly, and did through lock David McDuling. Referee Rigby played an excellent advantage as the home side struggled to cope with the Red Heavies forwards legally, and the visitors gained heart from the ease at which they were able to force the GPS forwards to infringe.
However any hope the Students had was quickly snuffed out in the following phases of play from GPS, who exhibited the full range of their capabilities as a squad to further extend their lead.
The inside and outside backs showed almost telepathic, no-look-passes and offloading skills to keep the play alive on the right hand side, and the forwards proved their handling skills were just as impressive by causing mass confusion in the Uni ranks with their movement and handling on the left as the play was spread. The threats were emerging all across the park, and when Man of the Match fly half Stefano Hunt broke through to score curtesy of a brutal handoff, the Gallopers looked unstoppable.
A further try before half time for Michael Richards, who benefited from a solid scrum on the University 5 metre line, meant the Gallopers went into the break an impressive, and surprising 33-7 up.
The students needed a big response after half time to try and bridge the gap, but it was the home side who regained the initiative. Centre Elih Baillie delivered a huge hit on his opposite number Harry Parker to dislodge the ball, and with that one hit in midfield it felt like it might be GPS’s day.
Despite Tom Pincus manufacturing a break which lead to a try for the visitors, and then University gaining a man advantage when Baillie was sent to the bin for deliberate offside, GPS were able to maintain their scoreboard advantage throughout the second half.
In chasing the game, University were forced to make numerous unforced errors. Clifton Setu alluded to the fact that the uncharacteristic mistakes were a consequence of being behind by so much so early and having to rush back. Setu, reminiscent perhaps of diminutive former England fullback Jason Robinson due to his effervescent yellow-clad foot speed and stature, showed plenty of ambition from fullback and noted that had they got their defensive attitude from the get-go, they would not have had to chase the game so much.
University were overpowered and caught out by the intensity of GPS early and never recovered. The GPS forwards were colossal, none more so than locks Marco Kortze and Dan Gorman and prop Ryan Freney. Kortze – who left the field injured with 10 minutes to go was unlucky not to be awarded Man of the Match, although his impact was perhaps diluted by the equally impressive Gorman.
Freney, who amongst others, shed blood for the cause, admitted some relief in the win, putting the performance down to “a real determination to win.” Freney added that, “for once the ball went our way, the calls went our way and everything sort of fell into place.”
“The key to the win was three points. Win the penalty count, 6+ phases, hold the ball and just execute. Also stopping the 50/50 passes, which I think we did a fair bit today. The penny needed to drop at some stage and it did today, which was a relief.”
When asked if this could be the corner turned in the season, and whether the top four was out of the question, Freney said “If we get used to winning again… We’ve got nothing to lose now so we will just rip in every week and empty the tank and have a red hot crack. It’s been a frustrating year so far. Today was a well-deserved win for the boys.”
And the GPS forwards certainly emptied the tank. In the dying moments, the fatigue was exposed as the Red Heavies wingers combined to turn the corner and make the easy break in the widening gaps, flying 80 metres down the field for Kalell to score under the posts.
And GPS did earn their luck, none more so in the dying moments, when a horribly skewed drop goal attempt from Hofmeyr ended up going for a 5 metre line out. With Hofmeyr laughing to himself in the backfield at his fortune, the University lineout – shaky all afternoon – capitulated once again, allowing substitute Dan Earley to complete another fluid backs move to complete the scoring at 43-21 to GPS.
GPS may not make the finals this year, but this result should serve as a warning to their Premier Grade rivals as to what the Gallopers are capable of. The home side lifted the Halley Appelby Memorial Trophy, but more importantly regained some vital confidence that they can take forward to the remainder of the season.
GPS 43-21 University of Queensland
7 Tries 3
4/7 Conversions 3/3
0/0 Penalties 0/0
1 Yellow Cards 0
Scorers: GPS 42 (Tries – King ‘13, Kortze ’16, Steven Hunt ’18, Stefano Hunt ’30, Richards ’40, Burke ’60, Earley ‘80; Conversions – Hofmeyr 4/7); University of Queensland (Tries – McDuling ’22, Unidentified ’47, Kalell ‘75; Conversions – Pinkus 2/2, Kalell 1/1).
Yellow Cards: GPS 1 (Baillie ’56).
Named Sides: GPS: Freney, Fainga’a, Burke; Kortze, Gorman; King, Setu, Richards; Campbell-O’Brien, Stefano Hunt; Steven Hunt, Baillie; Sitauti, Weier; Hofmeyr. University of Queensland: Ma’afu, Wakely, Leilua; Ryan, McDuling; Schultz, Mitchell, Elliott; Sorovi, Gibson; Pincus, Parker; Jenkins, Kalell; Setu.