The Perth Spirit have recorded a convincing 31–21 win over the Melbourne Rising in their Round 6 NRC clash at UWA Sports Park.
The match was stacked with Super Rugby players on both sides and played in perfect conditions. Rising made the early running with the breeze at their backs and the lion’s share of territory and possession but, as the game wore on, the Spirit began to get the upper hand through the strength of their forward pack.
While the battle up front was crucial, the backs did plenty of work and accounted for almost all the scoring in the match. The starting scrumhalves from each side had a big influence. Ben Meehan and Ryan Louwrens were able to snipe tries at short range, dummying and running from the base of the ruck. Melbourne fullback Jonah Placid made multiple scything runs and scored an excellent try. Perth centre Kyle Godwin bagged a good try and showed his deft touch yet again with the grubber kick to set up another (I keep wanting to hate these kicks but their effectiveness in the NRC cannot be denied).
Perth scored three tries in middle 20 minutes of the game to gain a ten point lead and they controlled the proceedings for the remainder of the match.
The win has the Spirit rising to fifth on the table and puts them within striking distance of repeating their late-season charge of last year which took them all the way to the Grand Final.
The first half
Melbourne’s first scoring opportunity went begging when the ball was jolted loose from the hands of centre Dom Shipperley while over the line ten minutes in. Spirit’s scrumhalf Ryan Louwrens and winger Brad Lacey made the try-saving tackle.
The early scrum battle favoured Melbourne, as they won a penalty against the feed and several 5 metre attacking scrums. It wasn’t converted into points due to Perth’s desperate defence. Spirit winger Brad Lacy found plenty of work and gained valuable metres running the ball out of the danger zone. But after being camped in the Spirit’s 22 for the first quarter of the match it was only a matter of time. The Rising eventually broke through with scrumhalf Ben Meehan diving over from 5 metres out! Flyhalf Jack Debreczeni converted for an 8–0 lead at 20 minutes.
Some big tackles were being put on, including a beauty by Perth openside Richard Hardwick on Rising winger Stacey Ili. Rising’s No.8 Lopeti Timani was a bit lucky to get away with an off-the-ball clean up of Spirit’s Chris Heiberg, but no damage was done as Perth continued their attack on Melbourne’s line. After some good work by winger Maalonga Koneli and the Perth loose forwards, Louwrens picked the ball up 5 metres out and with a hit and spin on one of the Rising props crossed for a try. Flyhalf Luke Burton converted to tie it up at 8–all after 25 minutes.
The Spirit’s scrum was now starting to get on top after Melbourne’s tighthead Duncan Chubb was penalised for pulling his opposite down. Play didn’t stray much into the attacking zones until Hardwick forced a turnover in the Rising’s half. The Spirit put on a lovely scrum move involving an interplay of passing down the blind side on the left. Louwrens sniped and passed to No. 8 Angus Cottrell before winger Brad Lacey crashed over in the corner for the try! The conversion missed, making it 13–8 at the 33 minute mark.
The Rising were full of running from the restart (one of Perth’s weak points in this match) and made plenty of metres through several phases including an impressive run from Timani hurdling one of the Spirit’s defenders. Ili finally scored in the left corner to tie it up at 13–all.
Burton put his restart kick out on the full, but the Rising didn’t make him pay. Instead there was another Louwrens breakout. Centre Kyle Godwin ran onto the pass before the halfway mark and ate up a valuable 30 metres of ground. He then put in a grubber kick down the left wing for Lacey to score in the corner! The teams went into the sheds at half time with the score at 18–13.
Ryan Louwrens—outstanding at scrumhalf (Photo: Delphy)
The second half
A number of subs were made at the break. Louwrens for the Spirit (after a great half by the half) most notably. He was replaced by Ian Prior.
Jonah Placid made a good run from fullback for the Rising, shrugging off Konelio in the process before being tackled by Godwin, who was having a strong match. Godwin was copybook, releasing and then going straight in for the ball and winning the penalty and turnover. From there, the Spirit attacked through their set piece using the lineout drive and their dominant scrum.
Melbourne began conceding penalties in the red zone; for collapsing the scrum and sneaking up offside but they somehow managed to avoid a yellow card. Continuing to press, the Spirit sent the ball out to the right. Godwin dummied inside before breaking though some ineffective tackling from Shipperly and Ili out wide to score! This pushed the lead out to ten points at 23–13 in the 50th minute.
The game was going Perth’s way. After winning a lineout from 20 metres out, the Spirit recycled for several phases until Melbourne eventually infringed – and with the team on a warning Colby Faingaa was sent to the bin with a yellow card. It was unfortunate for Faingaa who had only just been subbed on but warranted. Taking advantage of eight on seven in the scrum, the Spirit promptly pushed the Rising back over their line in the left corner and Cottrell picked up the ball to score. After an excellent sideline conversion from Prior, the score was 31–13 after 62 minutes!
The Rising pack was tiring and they were being destroyed in the scrums. But the Spirit couldn’t get over the line again and spilled the ball on attack to relieve the pressure. The Rising somehow found their second wind in the final minutes, running from their own half. Faingaa was elusive and put in a grubber reminiscent of Godwin’s. Ili couldn’t quite reach the ball before the Spirit grounded it in goal, but the Rising were back on attack. Perth starting conceding penalties and it took some great tackling to hold the line; firstly by hooker Anaru Rangi on Timani, and then by Lacey on flying winger Justin Marsters.
When the Spirit broke out of their 22 through Cottrell, it seemed like the bonus point win for his side would be secure. But the ball was turned over shortly after to set up one final twist. Debreczeni, from 30 metres out and standing wide, got the ball out to Placid in midfield. Placid, who was to handle twice, passed to Ili on the left sideline and got the ball back on the inside after Burton and Prior both went for the winger. He then ran it in 20 metres for a great try! Converted by Debreczeni with less than a minute remaining on the clock, the final score was 31–21.
The ten minutes either side of halftime were critical as the Spirit began to exert their dominance. They put on three tries to one in this period. While none of them were converted, it allowed Perth to take control of the match.
The GAGR MOTM
While Cottrell, Hardwick, Timani and Placid were notable, I was most impressed by Ryan Louwrens. He saved one try, scored another and set up a third in 40 minutes of rugby. But over the whole game, Kyle Godwin is the Green and Gold Rugby Man of the Match.
OZ Baabaa watch
Starting wingers get the mentions for this match. Brad Lacey with two tries was outstanding and Maalonga Konelio was strong again for the Spirit. Stacey Ili did very well for the Rising and finished a good winger’s try for his side.
Perth Spirit: 31
B. Lacey (2) 34′, 39′
R. Louwrens 24′
K. Godwin 50′
A. Cottrell 61′
L. Burton (1/4) 25′
I. Prior (1/1) 62′
Melbourne Rising: 21
B. Meehan 18′
S. Ili 36′
J. Placid 80′
J. Debreczeni (2/3) 19′, 80′
C. Faingaa 58′ – YC
Referee:: Graham Cooper
Photo Credits: Delphy