Roughly 500 Rams and Rising faithful travelled to Morwell, in rural Victoria, to watch the clash at Latrobe Sporting Fields, on a stunning spring day.
The boys from Melbourne earned their third win of the season while to Greater Sydney boys lost their four consecutive game.
Jai Ayoub played his game of the season, firing from all cylinders except off the tee. He ran strongly, slotting through a number of gaps and directed the strong Rams’ backline around the paddock with a lot of experience. Unfortunately for the Greater Sydney boys and their followers, he converted an underwhelming 33% (2 of 6) with the boot, in comparison to Jack Debreczeni’s 80% (4 of 5).
Ayoub is a promising player and he has continued his blistering Shute Shield form in the NRC, however his poor kicking has been the foundation of three of their loses to date. Jim Williams seems like a astute coach and after Ayoub’s performance, you can see why he is in the squad, however it’s now evident that room needs to be made for the experienced Rohan Saifoloi. Fresh from the Tasman Makos in the ITM cup, Saifoloi has been underused to date for the Rams. He brings all the positives that Ayoub brings to the team, as well as the one thing they are missing. A good kicking game.
When you do the math it seems simple. Play Saifoloi at inside centre or fullback alongside Ayoub, or start him in at flyhalf.
The match saw the return of the barnstorming Lopeti Timani, who reeked havoc during last seasons in the NRC and for the last few years in Super Rugby.
Both teams started strong, launching a number of attacking assaults that were consistently thwart by error.
The first pivotal moment of the match came at the 15th minute mark, when Melbourne’s Filipe Vilitati committed a shoulder charge, subsequently being sent to the naughty chair for 10 minutes.
The first points came only moments later for the Rams, started off the back of Ayoub’s aptitude for attacking brilliance. He fractured the defensive line, showing a good turn of pace before throwing a long ball to prop Jed Gillespie, who ran 22 metres and carried Lloyd Johansson and Ben Meehan over for a try.
Lopeti Timani was pinged for slowing the ball down in the 23rd minute, seeing him join Vilitati in the bin. This left the Rising two men down for a brief period, however that did nothing to halt the advancing locals.
The Rising were next to cross the white line during the 29th minute. A dominant rolling maul off the back of a Steve Cummins line-out take, saw captain Colby Fainga’a dot the ball down, before the kick went unconverted, bringing the score to 5 a piece.
Defensive pressure was rewarded for the Rams, as they earned a turnover in opposition territory before seeing Marcus Carbone slot through a gap to score under the posts. Ayoub slotted the kick, which brought the score to 13-5.
Tensions looked set to boil over in the final minutes of the half, seeing handbags thrown between Meehan and the Rams’ captain Jed “the Jedi” Holloway. Meehan seemed to bite off a bit more than he could chew, as the Jedi used the force (of a shove) to make him take a seat.. Mmmm, satisfying it was to watch.
Moments later, Rising’s centre Dom Shipperley made a clean break, being pulled down just short of the line by Brad Curtis. A ruck infringement saw a third yellow card, this time to the Rams’ Holloway. Great defence from the away side saw out the remaining play of the half halted through a collapsed maul.
The halftime break saw more than a few oranges eaten, with co-captain Scott Fuglistaller and ex-Aussie 7’s representative Tom English taking the paddock. Wallaby Luke Jones was also injected into the game only four minutes into the half, adding another large boost to the Melbourne side.
The revamped and reinvigorated Rising didn’t take long to impose their intent. In the 41st minute, they swung the ball wide to their fresh-legs in English, who ran over Dewet Roos to score in the corner. Debreczeni was sure not to make the same mistake as his first kick, converting to bring the score to 13 all.
The Rising kept piling on the pressure early in the second 40. Debreczeni showed some individual brilliance, stepping past Gillespie before fumbling the ball over the line. The visitors were pinged for being offside, given their ‘final warning’ and then forced to shape up for a scrum on their own line, one man down. The Rams’ piggies revelled in the pressure, earning a tight-head penalty as Duncan Chubb collapsed under the pressure of Gillespie.
Melbourne quickly made up for their lost opportunity, as fullback Jonah Placid capitalised on some terrible defense, beating three before scoring under the posts, bringing the score to 21-13.
Moments later Michael McDougall finished off a try of the season contender. Ayoub split the defense, passing to Curtis who popped it inside to Asquith then to McDougall. Ayoub’s converted his second of the day, levelling the scores at 21 a piece.
The Rams’ scrum continued to assert dominance, this time leading to a Holloway try from a push over scrum in the 58th minute. The kick went unconverted by Ayoub.
Ayoub, looking for redemption, intercepted the ball before shifting the ball through a few pairs of hands for Holloway to run in 45m to secure his second try of the day. Ayoubs kicking woes continued, failing to score from the boot yet again, 31-21.
All signs started to point towards the Rams running away with the game, as McDougall made another line break and completed his brace of tries. Yet another miss to Ayoub had the Rams sitting on a bonus point win and a 15 point lead. All they had to do was learn from 2 earlier mistakes this season and not let the game slip before the final hooter.
The match clock struck 77 minutes and thats when the dawn of groundhog day hit. Constant pressure and poor defence saw a second phase ball from Debreczeni set up Jordy Reid to score. The Rising’s and Melbourne Rebel’s numer 10 then slotted the conversion to set up a thrilling final two minutes.
Seven points down and with victory in their sights, the Rising continued their razzle dazzle with the final pass coming from Reid to English who completed the third brace of the match. Debreczeni made no mistake, kicking the Rising to a 1 point victory.
The Rising had completed a remarkable comeback. The Rams had lost another game in the dying minutes, quite potential out playing their rivals, scoring more tries and failing to convert from the boot.
THE GAME CHANGER
Jordy Reid’s 77th minute try was my game changer. Debreczenis conversion brought the difference to within a converted try, leaving the Rising brimming with confidence.
THREE. TWO. ONE
3 Points- Jed Holloway guided a dominant forward pack around the field, leading by example and bagging himself a brace of tries. Holloway is certainly sticking his hand up for a replacement of Palu at the Waratahs.
2 Points- Jack Debreczeni played well, kicking well out of hand and from the tee, as well as directing the Rising’s threatening backline with experience beyond his years.
1 Point- Jai Ayoub had a pinpoint passing game, ran well with ball in hand, playing a large in a number of the Rams tries. If he had an improved accuracy from the kicking tee, he may well have earned himself the 3 points.