The North Harbour Rays beat the Perth Spirit 32-29 in their Round 5 squeaker at Brookvale yesterday helped by a hat-trick of tries from no. 8 Sam Ward.
It was a must-win game for both teams who had only one victory each under their belt : the Spirit had won only their opening game of the season whereas the Rays had their first result last week in Round 4.
Neither team had any regular Super Rugby players in their matchday squad but the Rays were favoured by the partisan home crowd because all but two of their starting players were from the Manly and Warringah clubs, who had performed well in the Shute Shield in the club season.
The Rays started the stronger and they forced infringements so that they could piggy-back down the field with two penalty kicks. From the second they drove from the lineout with a deep maul and 6 Harry Bergelin scored.
10 Hamish Angus converted and the Rays were ahead 8-0 after just three minutes. The home crowd nodded their heads to each other and said: No problemo.
Not long afterwards the Spirit lost one of their best players, winger Brad Lacey, to injury, but it didn’t affect his team because they were getting the upper hand: North Harbour went into one of their several bouts of flat rugby.
After Perth attacked in their opponent’s 22 for a while, forcing them to infringe now, they took a scrum penalty and 12 Luke Burton found space when the ball was dished out. At the last defender he passed inside to 13 Ammon Matuauto who strolled over to score between the posts. 10 Zack Holmes converted for Perth to draw level at 8-8 at 16 minutes. Problemo for the Rays’ fans.
The tide was turning now and after some nifty ensemble play from the visitors they took a scrum option and Holmes sliced through to score from a deceptive move. When he added the extras the Spirit led 16-8 with 15 minutes left in the half. These no-name westerners are giving us some cheek, whinged the locals.
The Rays woke up and scored a second try from a lineout drive, with Ward dotting down this time. Angus added the extras and the score was tied up at 16-16 and that was the score at oranges.
Before the break Spirit lock Corey Thomas received a painful arm or shoulder injury and had to retire, but his team could feel well-pleased from their effort. Apart from some ropey lineouts they were holding their own in forward battle and looked the better team more often than the home team did.
The Rays started strongly again but twice the Spirit won their scrum ball—after a wheel and also from the Rays kicking the ball out of their own scrum.
But the locals were to have some scrum joy eight minutes after the break when Ward picked up the ball from a wheeling scrum and sprinted down touch for 35 metres with it, the opposing winger absent, and scored wide out.
Angus slotted his third conversion and the Rays led 24-16. This is more like it, said the homies.
Did I mention that the two packs of forwards were knocking the crap out of each other and the Spirit guys were getting the hit in the rucks?
The tide changed again when the Rays had their turn at losing lineouts, especially when the reserve hooker came on. After one such, Perth parked down in the Rays 22 and 7 Boyd Killingworth of the Rays got carded for killing the ball. Surely a mistake ??
The Spirit used the advantage of the extra player when they took a penalty scrum and the ball went wide for Matuauto to score his second try. The conversion missed and the Rays still led, but by only 24-21 now, and it was game on with 25 minutes to go. What’s happening??
Then it was Perth’s turn to lose a player when 11 Va’a Mailei had to sit in the naughty chair. Instead of taking advantage, the Rays had another bad lineout throw and 15 Dillyn Leyds of the Spirit scored directly from the home team’s set piece after backing up a Burton run.
Holmes converted and although a man short the Spirit had taken the lead 29-24 with 15 minutes left. I never liked that referee they said.
The Perth Spirit nearly went in again but were held up.
The Rays woke up again and when the Spirit lost the ball it was kicked deep; the visitors had to ground it behind their goal line and drop it out. When reserve back Scott Daruda got the ball he threw it wide to someone unmarked near touch, on the Spirit 22.
Guess who? It was Ward, who returned to near where he had dotted down before to score his third try. Angus had his most difficult conversion of the night, from touch, and he was impeccable again for the Rays to retake the lead 32-29 with nine minutes left.
That ref isn’t so bad after all !!
The Rays had to defend their line again but once 15. Dave Feltscheer cleared with a long kick they ended the game at the other end of the field with Ward almost getting a fourth meat pie.
Final score: Rays 32—Spirit 29.
The Game Changer
With the score being swapped a bit it was difficult to say what was the critical change in the match.
But in the 70th minute Sam Ward scored his third try, in the corner, and Rays’ flyhalf, Hamish Angus, was confronted with his most challenging kick of the night.
He had a couple of other wide ones earlier but, with the score tied, Angus clamly slotted the conversion from touch to win the game.
Spirit LHP Joe Savage was the best visitor and centres Burton and Matuauto were dangerous the whole game.
Lock Greg Peterson had some bruising runs and clean outs, with second row partner Ed Gower being just as damaging.
But it’s hard to go past the scorer of three meat pies, Sam Ward, as the man of the match—not only for his try scoring but also for his tireless ball carrying and tackling.
For Perth it was great to see scrummie Justin Turner playing healthy and in form again, and 12 Luke Burton confirming his promise. 13 Ammon Matuauto looked handy and so did 15 Dillyn Leyds who also played a good game at flyhalf in Adelaide.
LHP Joe Savage led the pack well but it’s difficult to judge his scrummaging in this company.
Rays — Greg Peterson stepped up, as did Ed Gower and 6 Harry Bergelin. 9 Matt Lucas was one of the best backs on the park.
North Harbour Rays 32 (S. Ward 3, H. Bergelin tries; H. Angus 4 cons) def. Perth Spirit 29 (A. Matuauto 2, D. Leyds tries; Z. Holmes try, 3 cons)
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant referees: Amy Perrett and Charles Hartson
Photos by Lee Grant (except those attributed to Procarlos Sports Photography)