It was a delightful day in Armidale where a very healthy crowd descended on Bellevue Oval. The Eagles were running into a slight breeze and were able to put the highly fancied Vikings team under pressure from the start by regathering their own kick-off. NSW Country played patient footy and worked the ball up field and eventually the Vikings captain, Tom Cusack, was penalised for off-side play and the Eagles 10 Tayler Adams stood up and kicked the penalty.
The Eagles then lost their own kick-off allowing the Vikings to set up for a scrum and their first go with the ball. It looked like Andy Muirhead would score, having raced onto a massively forward Ryan Lonergan pass only to karmically drop the ball over the line.
The Vikings maintained their composure to keep possession for most of the ensuring five minutes and were finally rewarded with their first points of the match through a try to hooker Folau Faingaa. As expected it came from a 5m lineout, however not a driving maul. A quick tap down from the top found Cusack looping to the front before he was able to draw the defender to give Faingaa a clear run to the line.
As the game progressed neither backline was really clicking in attack so when the Eagles got a 5m scrum the pack opted to back themselves and do it on their own. The plan worked a treat as they powered the Viking scrum backwards enabling Number 8 Sam Ward the chance to pick up the pill and flop over the try line. The conversion was successful by Adams and the Eagles clung to a 10-7 lead with a little over a quarter of the game gone.
The forwards took it upon themselves again soon after, this time on the Vikings side of the ledger. This time it was the traditional driving maul from the lineout that was utilised, but with the same result – a try to Faingaa. A true kick by Wharenui Hawera ensured the Vikings lead was maximised and the visitors were now leading 14-10.
It was like a glitch in the Matrix soon after as Sam Ward now looked to have scored his second try, however was ruled to have lost control on the try line. A TV ref may have ruled things differently but as referee Damon Murphy explained to the players “there’s no budget for that out here”.
The Eagles kept the pressure on and were looking to take back the lead in the shadows of half time as they attacked the Viking line. Just when it looked like they would find the line, the Vikings were able to secure a turnover and penalty to ensure they would keep their lead at the break.
The message at half time for the Eagles seemed to be to back themselves more in attack as the likes of Jake Gordon and Kyle Godwin were more prominent. Unfortunately their efforts were largely ineffective and Canberra were able to pick them off defensively relatively easily. At the same time the Viking lineout was creating havoc off the Eagles’ throw and easing the pressure that was coming from the Eagle attack.
The Eagles were dominating possession but the Vikings were working tirelessly to repel them. Then the break came as outside centre Andrew Robinson was able to snaffle an intercept in his own quarter and race away for a pressure relieving try. The 21-10 lead looked considerable as the match entered its final quarter.
The Eagles weren’t done yet though. They kept their attacking efforts and getting the ball wide consistently. There was still a little too much lateral play, however replacement centre Tom Hill did his best to provide important go forward. A strong Hill run was followed up by a similar Godwin effort which in turn led to Alex Gibbon powering over in the corner. Adams couldn’t kick this one but a lead of less than a converted try gave the Eagles hope.
It was of no surprise soon after when the Vikings, having been awarded a penalty, opted to take the shot to push their lead back over seven. The kick was good, but when Adams then returned serve with less than five minutes to go, it was game on.
The last few minutes of the game were dramatic to say the least. The Eagles were attacking with width and looking to retain possession as the siren sounded. When Ben Hyne went down injured the Vikings team and support staff were looking to stop the match, seemingly to ensure the game stopped and the win assured.
Murphy, to his credit, played on as the play moved away from the injured player and the Eagles were awarded a penalty soon after. Hyne was helped from the field and with Canberra having used all of their replacements they were forced to finish the match with just 14 men.
Adams put in a pinpoint kick finding the line just six metres out from the tryline. With their lineout under pressure, replacement hooker Connal McInerney delivered a perfect long throw to ensure the home team possession. Instead of taking it on the drive, they took it midfield where the Vikings defence did well to hold up the attacking player.
When Murphy called a maul it looked like Canberra would be able to close out the game and secure the win. The match took another turn, however, and the ball came free perhaps seconds before the referee would have called it up. They took the ball wide again and Alex Newsome was the one to find the line to put the Eagles within one point of the Vikings.
Who should it be to step up and attempt to win the game for the Eagles? None other than their live-wire flyhalf Adams who had been in the centre of everything all game. There’s no need to build it up any further as Adams was true with his boot and the Eagles had secured their first win of the season in front of an appreciative Armadale crowd.
The Game Changer
Robinson’s intercept looked to be the moment at the time, but it wasn’t enough. Instead I will go with the arrival of Eagles centre Tom Hill into the game. The powerful centre was seemingly the first back to run straight all game and provided his team the momentum needed to score the last two tries of the match to win the game.
The G&GR MOTM
There were some mighty performances in the pack on both sides, but I can’t go beyond Eagles flyhalf Tayler Adams. He was the most dynamic back on the field all game, kicked astutely off the boot and then stepped up to win the game after the siren.
Oz BaaBaa Watch
Aside from Adams and Tom Hill, Sam Needs once again was excellent across the park and the cornerstone of a strong Country scrum.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Sam Ward, Alex Gibbon, Alex Newsome
Conversions: Tayler Adams 2
Penalties: Tayler Adams 2
Tries: Folau Faingaa 2, Andrew Robinson
Conversions: Wharenui Hawera 3
Penalties: Wharenui Hawera 1