The University of Canberra Vikings held off a second half surge from the Perth Spirit to secure a 26–23 win in their Round 4 NRC clash at UWA Sports Park on Saturday.
Perth scored four tries to Canberra’s three, but Rodney Iona’s accurate boot ensured that the visitors finished on the right side of the scoreboard ledger. It was the solid forward play of the Vikings that made the difference on the field. The match was played in changeable conditions with gusting winds and occasional showers.
Fearsome tackling was produced in the opening quarter. Ita Vaea was a human wrecking ball against the Spirit pack. He hammered young lock Ross Haylett-Petty early in the game and it set the dominant order for the day. It was a case of “Welcome to first grade, son!” – But to give him his due, Haylett-Petty kept working hard and played out a creditable match.
Big No. 8 Vaea wasn’t a lone hand in defence for the Vikings. Imposing winger Lausii Taliauli was making his presence felt, moving infield to make some bone crunching tackles. Having made two starts for the Brumbies this year, this former Australian sevens rep is a player on the rise and is one to keep an eye on for the rest of this season’s NRC.
The first half
Blindside flanker Dean Oakman-Hunt got things going for the Vikings in the fourth minute of the game. He made a dominant tackle to effect a turnover near the Spirit’s line that led to Canberra’s first try. The Viking captain Jarrad Butler passed the ball to scrumhalf Joe Powell who dived over, and Iona converted from the sideline; 8–0 to the Vikings!
The door soon opened for the Perth Spirit when Viking winger Francis Fainifo was yellow carded after taking out an opponent in the air. A breakout run by Perth hooker Anaru Rangi and another by winger Maalonga Konelio brought the Spirit to within reach of the try line after several phases of play. Scrumhalf Ryan Louwrens turned infield and delivered a flat bullet pass to inside centre Junior Rasolea, who grabbed it and bustled over the line from short range. Fly-half Luke Burton added the extras and the score was 8–8 after 17 minutes.
A few handling errors began to creep in on both sides. The Viking scrum was generally on top, however. They won a shove against the feed close to the Spirit’s line which allowed Vaea to pick up and rumble forward five metres before recycling it. Loose-head prop Allan Alaalatoa was then able to barge over for the try! Iona converted from right in front to make it 16–8 with 21 minutes gone. Perth hit back three minutes later after a lineout drive from around 12 metres out. Openside Kane Koteka broke free and ran in for an easy try to narrow the gap to 16–13. Burton was unable to convert to level the score.
Penalties kicked to touch then allowed the Vikings to run some of their programmed plays. Vaea was effective in crashing the ball up in the 10/12 channels from the lineouts. Butler was a carbon copy of Pocock at the back of a 25 metre rolling maul when the Vikings got to the red zone at the half hour mark. Oakman-Hunt went close to scoring from the ensuing play, before Alaalatoa took a pass to burrow over for his second try!
Another easy conversion by Iona had the Vikings leading 24–13, but they wouldn’t score again for the next three quarters of an hour. In the lead up to half time, the Spirit were scrapping well and had the ball in their attacking 22. When referee Ed Martin awarded the Spirit three penalties in quick succession, Viking lock Jordan Smiler bore the brunt and was given ten minutes in the bin.
It almost paid dividends for the Spirit too, as they took advantage of eight against seven in the scrum. Perth got a shove on and pushed the Vikings back, but Angus Cottrell—who plays more at 6 than 8—knocked the ball on. Cottrell otherwise had a strong game, but the chance was lost. Burton got over the line for the Spirit before the halftime break, but Powell somehow managed to hold him up.
The second half
When they returned to the field from the interval, Perth had subbed on tight-head prop Oli Hoskins, flanker Richard Hardwick and scrumhalf Michael Ruru. The home team continued to make the running as light rain began to fall and the wind started to pick up. They won an early scrum penalty against the seven-man Viking pack. Unfortunately in the subsequent play, Haylett-Petty couldn’t quite hold on to the greasy ball with the line open.
It didn’t prove too costly to their cause because winger Brad Lacey scored a few minutes later. Rasolea had made ground up the middle and the ball then went through the hands in the backline. Lacey was on the end of an overlap and scored in the right corner with 48 minutes gone. The conversion was missed by Burton but the gap was narrowed to 24–18!
Perth kept up their attack and had all the territory and possession for the next 20 minutes. They could not break open the Viking defence. With the scrums returned to eight against eight, the Vikings were winning the ball and the penalties. Their backup front row of Sione Taula, Albert Anae and Tyrel Lomax maintained their edge in the scrum after the substitutes came on. When the Vikings did eventually get into opposition territory and were awarded a penalty, they took the shot for goal. Replacement fly-half Mitch Third duly slotted it for a 26–18 lead with four minutes left on the clock.
Discipline let the Vikings down yet again when centre Nigel Ah Wong was given the team’s third yellow card. The Spirit threw caution to the wind and put the ball through the hands once again. Winger Maalonga Konelio had a man in support to his left on the sideline but straightened instead. He beat the Viking defenders Jerome Niumata and James Dargaville to score in the left hand corner! With no time left on the clock, the conversion would tie the game but Burton’s shot missed to the left. The Spirit had been given chances in the match but didn’t take enough of them. It wasn’t to be for the home side and the Vikings beat the Spirit by 26–23.
The Viking scrum got them out of jail but it was goal kicking that kept them in front. Iona’s kicks were easier but he slotted them all. Burton probably edged him in the field (incl. a great tackle on Vaea) but he isn’t a sharpshooter for goal kicking.
The GAGR MOTM
Angus Cottrell played well and picked up this award at the ground but his opposite number put a stamp on the match with a powerful game on attack and defence. Ita Vaea is the Green and Gold Rugby Man of the Match.
OZ Baabaa watch
Winger Maalonga Konelio was impressive for the Spirit in beating defenders to score. Flanker Dean Oakman-Hunt for the Vikings was strong in the tackle and got through plenty of work.
Perth Spirit: 23
S. Rasolea 15'
K. Koteka 24'
B. Lacey 47'
M. Konelio 80'
L. Burton (1/4) 17'
Referee: Ed Martin
UC Vikings: 26
A. Alaalatoa (2) 21', 30'
J. Powell 4'
R. Iona (3/3) 5', 21', 31'
M. Third (1/1) 76'
F. Fainifo 14' – YC
J. Smiler 32' – YC
N. Ah Wong 79' – YC
Attendance: 1,200 (approx)
Perth Spirit: 1. Francois van Wyk, 2. Anaru Rangi, 3. Tetera Faulkner, 4. Adrian Hall, 5. Ross Haylett-Petty, 6. Alex Rovira, 7. Kane Koteka, 8. Angus Cottrell; 9. Ryan Louwrens, 10. Luke Burton, 11. Maalonga Konelio, 12. Solomoni Jr Rasolea, 13. Ammon Matuauto, 14. Brad Lacey, 15. Daley Harper. Reserves: 16. Torongare Reedy, 17. Joe Savage, 18. Oliver Hoskins, 19. Riley Winter, 20. Richard Hardwick, 21. Michael Ruru, 22. Nicholas Jooste, 23. Davis Tavita. Coach: Tai McIssac.
Canberra Vikings: 1. Allan Alaalatoa, 2. Robbie Abel, 3. Leslie Lealua-iali'i-Makin, 4. Jordan Smiler, 5. Blake Enever, 6. Dean Oakman-Hunt, 7. Jarrad Butler, 8. Ita Vaea; 9. Joe Powell, 10. Rodney Iona, 11. Lausii Taliauli, 12. James Dargaville, 13. Nigel Ah Wong, 14. Francis Fainifo, 15. Aidan Toua. Reserves: 16. Albert Anae, 17. Sione Taula, 18. Tyrel Lomax, 19. Gareth Clouston, 20. Rowan Perry, 21. Brent Hamlin, 22. Mitch Third, 23. Jerome Niumata. Coach: Brad Harris.
Match highlights courtesy of NRC Extra Time on Fox Sports: