The Rowing Club’s top side delivered an exciting come-from-behind victory for their home crowd today, beating the visiting James Bay RFC 26-20.
After trading strategic kicks for position early, and having a rough start in the sets, the Rowers calmed down and found their shape on offense. Scrum Half Ray Bissonette threaded a beautiful pass to hooker James Kelly, running an inside line, to get the Prems inside the five in the tenth minute. Bissonette then executed the last of several picks from the base of the ruck to give his team first blood. Nick Wackawitz added the conversion to make it 7-0.
The Rowers kept the pressure on after winger Kevin Gurniak put them in position with a smart kick behind his opposite number and a hard chase. They were defending well in enemy territory until they weren’t. The James Bay fly half was able to find a hole in the Rowers defensive line and take it 50 yards to tie the score at 7-7.
But the home team didn’t quit. Captain Connor Cleary was able to come up with a key turnover in contact in his own end, creating a counter attack in the 28th minute that took the Rowers deep into visitors’ territory. Second row forward “Hightower” Kevin Nanne hit Matt “Cinderella” Liszt coming hard on an inside line for a run that got the Rowers to the 22 m line, but Liszt was unable to keep the ball (or his boot).
James Bay responded with their own counter-attack, sending winger and former Rower Nate Tough on a 20 yard attack before he was finally stopped.
After losing fullback Wackawitz to a yellow card for an intentional knock on (though it looked to us like an honest attempt at an interception), James Bay successfully took the lead by slotting a penalty kick, and added another try to make it 17-7 at half time.
But the Prems didn’t let up. Flanker Rory “Harry Potter” Sanderson made a cover tackle in the 51st minute that could have saved a try, and Brandon “The Inferno” Kaye showed a work-rate on defense that made it look like there were two of him out there. A big Kaye hit at the 22 meter line jarred the ball loose and forced James Bay to kick to touch from their own 10. Successful phase play by the visitors earned them a penalty kick in the 59th minute that was converted to make it 20-7.
A forward pack that Coach Chris Seyler would end up having deep praise for after the game was able to assert themselves in the break downs on both sides of the ball, forcing handling errors, including a James Bay knock on at their own 20. The Prems would win the ensuing set piece cleanly, giving Bissonette a chance to get it through the hands, set up a new set of phases, more picks from the base, and a try that would put the hosts within striking distance in the sixty first minute. 20-14 after the conversion.
The forward pack continued to frustrate their opposition with tight play at the breakdown, earning a penalty in the 69th minute, then shovelling it straight to James Kelly at the front of the ensuing lineout to re-start the attack. The Rowers lost the ball in contact, but James Bay didn’t keep it for long before Sanderson created a turnover with a punishing tackle. The Rowers attacked through the hands left for phases giving Kelly an opportunity to take advantage of an overlap on the right hand side and put one in the corner and cut the deficit to one point 20-19 in the 73rd minute.
Matt Liszt (and his hair) had a great game, his final this year as a Rower. The New Zealand-bound centre broke open a 40 yard run in the 73rd minute, then offloaded to Jordan WR on the wing for 10 more yards. The support set up quickly to build phases and earn another try for Kelly, this time directly under the posts. An easy kick made it 26-20. In the 75th minute.
But it wasn’t quite over. With time running out, James Bay was able to mount another run at the Rowers defense, and find a gap on the outside. As a James Bay attacker ran for what looked like a sure try, a lightning quick Kevin Gurniak closed the gap to chase him down, causing a turnover in the process, and allowing the Rowers to continue their strong phase play through full time.
Coach Seyler described the game as an “emotional roller coaster,” and praised his side’s physical rugby, especially the front row. The longer, more exciting runs made this report, but Seyler was careful to credit hard inside charges by the forward pack – especially the front row (Jason Carton, James Kelly, Robert Spearing).
The win puts the Rowers Prems at an “even Steven” 5-5-1 on the year going into a tough matchup next week away at Burnaby Lake.