A last look back at what was a fascinating final round of John I Dent Cup action, with Easts notching their first win of the season.
Easts v Gungahlin
Easts saved their best game of 2019 for last, with young winger Tiko Twist spoiling the day for the Gungahlin Eagles in a 32-22 victory in Griffith.Both teams were bolstered with Brumbies talent looking to keep fresh after the Super Rugby season.
Henry Speight featured for the Eagles at fullback while Toni Pulu, Blake Enever and Pete Samu all pulled on the tricolours for Easts.
Easts came out of the sheds flying, running the ball hard up the middle then spinning the ball out wide to Twist who was tackled near the line but stretched out to score the first points of the game. Gungahlin managed to level the scores at 5-5, but then it was all one-way traffic to the home team.
The electrifying Twist picked up another two tries to complete a first half hattrick and Brumbies’ lock Blake Enever crossed the line from the back of a maul.
A pair of yellow cards to John Bosco Tagaloa and Nicholas Dobson meant both teams would play with just 14 men, and Gungahlin looked like they could take advantage of the extra space, but they could only add 5 points to their total, finishing the half trailing 27-10.
The second half was much more of an arm-wrestle as Gungahlin did everything they could to get back in the game, but Easts were resilient in defence and it became almost impossible for the visitors to breach their line.
Twist picked up a fourth try to add to his tally before receiving a yellow card for a shoulder charge and in the dying stages of the match the Eagles managed to bundle over for two tries, but it was a case of too little too late for the team many expected to finish the round on top of the table.
The 32-22 win will give Easts fans confidence their team will be stronger next year after a reasonably disappointing 2019, despite some promising signs.
After the day’s results Gungahlin finish the regular season in third and will play in an elimination final against Uni-Norths Owls next week.
Wests v Owls
Western Districts held on for victory in an absolute cracker of a match at Jamison Oval on Saturday afternoon, downing the Uni-Norths Owls 40-26 in what was a hard fought match.
Despite not having the chance to progress to finals, Wests wanted to put on a show in front of their home crowd to close out the season. As for Uni-Norths, no matter what the outcome was going to be, they were going to finish in 4th place and progress to finals but still wanted the win desperately.
The visitors were the first to score as they took advantage of some ill discipline from Wests. Multiple penalties in their own half proved costly. Halfback Lachlan Creighton was able to fire a bullet pass to prop Isieli Tuifua Fa, who then barged his way over a lone Wests defender.
The next lot of points scored didn’t come round until 15 minutes later. An intercept try to Drew Southwell after the Uni-Norths backs coughed it up after their own scrum feed. Southwell sprinted about 70m to score under the posts. A successful conversion levelled scores at 7-7.
It was a hard battle in the forward pack as many scrums were played out along with a physical contests at the breakdown. Maxwell Bode for Uni-Norths played his heart as he hit a milestone 50 First Grade caps for the club, also scoring a try of his own to put the Owls back in front.
However, Wests showed their resilience just a couple of minutes later scoring a terrific try. Rob Valetini made a break mid-field and got Uni-Norths on the back foot, scrambling in defence. They were then able to spread the ball out wide to the wing, finding Ryan Kiely unmarked to cross over in the corner.
A last minute try of the first half to Wests gave them perfect momentum going into the second half. Uni-Norths looked as they were the dominant team out of the blocks but Wests managed to find a way to stretch out in front going in to the sheds.
Brumby and Wallabies squad member Rob Valetini returned for club duty and put on an excellent performance for Wests. The commanding figure was instrumental at the breakdown and scored for Wests at the beginning of the second half. Stretching out his left arm to extend his teams lead to what was now 26-14.
Uni-Norths slowly made their way back up to Wests line, with the occasional penalty and scrum going their way. Flyhalf Willoughby Axelsen showed some impressive skill and power as he wrestled his way down to the ground to place the ball over the line after being held up for a while. A successful penalty meant that Uni-Norths was now only one try behind.
All was going Owls’ way as they looked like they were about to score again. Only for an intercept by Declan Meredith who then ran nearly the whole field with Irae Simone chasing him down. After successfully converting his own try, Meredith extended the lead to now 33-21.
But it was an absolute try fest at Jamison Oval. It was back and forth all afternoon. Uni-Norths hit back just a couple of minutes later to stay in front. With only 15 minutes left of play, it was still anyones game.
It wasn’t until the 78th minute that there was going to be a clear victor of the match. Meredith pulled off another absolute miracle try to give Wests the victory. The whole team contributed to the try which started in their own 22’. A break from Tom Wright, followed by some slick ball movement from the forwards and backs had the Owls with their tails between their legs.
Full time had Wests taking victory 40-26. Despite not being able not to make it to finals, Wests certainly had not given up on their season, closing the year out with an impressive performance.