2014 Queensland Premier Rugby ‘Game Of The Round’; Round 2 (Vegan Match Wrap; No Burger)
Easts vs. Souths; David Wilson Field, C.P. Bottomley Park; 29/3/2014
“The subterranean mud stinks like a pig pen and the only thing missing is a swarm of what the Yankees call buzzards.”
Report by Nicholas Turner
Only a week ago C.T. Bottomley Park put on a feast for the senses; a nail-biting Championship game at dusk, the conditions between the sidelining native trees so poetry perfect you could just about snatch a handful of summer’s last leaves from the weightless autumnal air. Nigh on perfect conditions for rugby – both play and spectatorship.
Today it’s a markedly different aesthetic experience. After two days of non-stop rain that threatened to wipe-out the whole round, the turf of David Wilson has a distinctly fragile quality, that of a sheet of soggy cardboard resting on a pudding. It’s as humid as cling-wrapped hell in the stands and staying stock-still won’t save you from sweating. The subterranean mud stinks like a pig pen and the only thing missing is a swarm of what the Yankees call buzzards. And to top it all off, the sun’s taken to occasionally screaming from behind the clouds in a way that’s almost purely unpleasant, kicking just enough heat around to keep a simmer on the nasty brew throughout the afternoon.
Last week the East’s Tigers took on the interstate might of Sydney University and narrowly slipped off the Club Championship trophy in a noble pre-season scrap. Today their task is the much less predictable South’s Magpies, a club that has fairly reeked of talent in recent years without managing to play out a full season of appropriate standard. In stark contrast, the Tigers have made a job of ultra-consistent rugby in any situation, culminating in a truly special grand final that brought last year’s flag to the clubhouse.
Predictably, in these oily conditions, the ball is as elusive to the hand as a greasy marble to chopsticks. Dropped, stripped, fumbled and/or blithely misthrown pills come at a rate of one every two minutes for much of the first half. Easts are keenest in early attack, their outside backs make repeat work of treating the defence like a sieve. But their two run-away efforts fail titillatingly close to the line. Flyhalf is an absolute stand-out for level-headedness and opportunism in difficult conditions. Not to mention watertight with the boot.
In the levelling conditions, the contrasting styles of the teams is somewhat depleted. But generally speaking, Souths adhere to a less formalised brand, sending mobile loose forwards and stocky inside-backs hard at the line. Their own flyhalf is brutal in head-down one-on-one defence, accelerating in a single-minded rage; one lowly Easts’ player that receives the pass of death learns this the hard way, spared utter physical reconstitution by a matter of degrees and pot luck. Late in the half, the Magpies move up the paddock and maul toward the line for an easy one-out-and-over. They’re blessed by some quality, running forwards and lightning outside backs of unusually rigorous defence.
By half time the ‘mugby’ quality of the game is largely writ. Loose forwards are having a busy day and for all the hoo-ha out wide, here at the coalface is where the big gears of the game have shifted. Defence has been the paramount narrative, and discipline in defence has become the increasingly relevant sub-plot; three penalties to Easts have kept the scores levelish at 10-9.
I should mention somewhere (like, here) too, perhaps by way of illustrating how these two teams philosophically differ, that while the Easts kicker is a picture of patience, routine and discipline, a product of emulating the style that trickles down from the contemporary professional ranks, Souths’ counterpart is today firing them through the posts with little fuss and (ask someone who was there if you like – none of us in the stand could quite get over it either) right off the ground. No tee, no Buddhist mind-emptying routine, no two-minute ass-out-hands-together pause to envision success. That both are eminently effective is as good an indication as any that whatever the means of attack from either side, today’s result will probably be close.
After many exchanged blows and changed leads in the second half, the Magpies gradually wriggle into a two score advantage. Which it turns out they’ll be desperately needing, because in the dying ten minutes of play (having already upset the ref in every ruck-related department, culminating in a first half sin-binning), Souths’ quickness to the defensive line falls under the sort of intense official rapid-fire that recalls Umpire Hair pinging Muralitharan, and they’re taken on a handful of consecutive backward strolls that have the captain looking skyward for answers and the Magpies’ sideline faithful howling murder, grievous and blue. The East’s crowd, fittingly, find this all to be very suitable, and make something of a game of helping the officiator in finding subsequent offenses. Meanwhile the Tigers on the field, exuding the kind of professionalism that wins flags, show no form of remorse; they make Souths pay for every infraction, and go over with a couple of plays still in the game. A home-side come back seems virtually inevitable, but in this game the clock is the truth.
So for two weeks in a row the home ground of Tigerland and it’s heaving spirit just aren’t quite enough; the Magpies grit their beaks and hold on.
Result: Souths 24, def Easts 21
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