Shoalhaven ExServicemens/Printer Corp first grade side knocked off the Bowral Blacks 14-12 at their mountain top eerie among the darkening clouds.
It was an afternoon of persistent rain that meant it was not an afternoon for rugby for those who look to sweeping back line play and flashing wingers as the ball became soap like and stoppages outweighed fluid rugby.
For all that it was, in the second half, still an exciting game to watch as Shoals emerged winners after going to the sheds at half time leading by 7-5.
Shoals adopted the backline of Matt Spressser at half, Sam Watts at five eighth and Josh Dennis at full back. This combination worked well until Spresser was forced off with an injury. John Campbell impressed at prop as did Graham Porter who ran for the second time for the afternoon at centre. Best of all however was the indefatigable breakaway, Tom Horton, who has been a tower of strength all season long.
The first-half was one that is best forgotten as the dourness of the game easily matched the grimness of the weather.
Not much occurred for the first 30 minutes of the half as the teams slipped and slithered about the ever dampening oval. While both teams tried to get into some sort of rhythm the elements conspired to unsettle their finest efforts and this led to repeated scrums and line outs.
Spresser showed his class early in the game to sprint wide and put his side hard on attack and Horton plunged through the ruck to go close to scoring from that play but was held up over the line. However play from there became pedestrian and narrow. Bowral finally got on a sort of roll and at the 32nd minute mark their big and surprisingly fast centre thwacked his way through Shoals’ defenders to pop the ball over near the corner post. The conversion attempt dropped disconsolately off the tee and failed to trouble the goal posts.
Shoals had the best of the remainder of the half. After a concerted series of attacking raids Shoals spun the ball out wide to Stuey Scibberas who showed pace to flash over out wide. Watts stunned the home ground supporters when, against the odds, he piloted the conversion attempt over the black dot. Shoals held their lead to the break.
The second half of the game was a good deal more enthralling. Despite and maybe due to the ever deteriorating conditions both the teams threw the ball about in somewhat cavalier fashion. There were many dropped and bump along balls but for all that the standard of play was quite high.
Bowral seemed to have regrouped at half time and displayed a good deal of teamwork and coherence as they retained the ball for most of the first 10 minutes of the second half. Finally, after going close a few times, their five eighth pushed through a few tackles and raced in for a good solo effort try at the 10 minute mark. Their kicker knocked over the simple conversion and they had punched their way to a five-point lead.
Shoals, as they so often do, fought their way back into the match. With Josh Dennis playing an inspirational game and coming constantly into the back line Shoals waged a constant war on Bowral’s line. Dennis went close a few times as did Horton, Tom Aney and Tim Lovett. Bowral played well in this period and tackled their hearts out to try to take the match. However the pressure told in the end. Dennis was given the ball 20 metres out and poured on the speed to cut through the tiring defence. Watts again showed his value with a booming conversion from out wide to give his side to a two-point lead.
Shoals finished the game on the attack as Bowral noticeably tired. Both sides became leg weary from dragging themselves through the mud and slush so the ball was kept in the forwards for most of the final minutes. Shoals enjoyed the moment as the referee signaled full time as wins have not been as frequent this season as in those past. Best players for Shoals were Horton, Dennis and Watts.
Shoals play their final game of the season at home next Saturday against Wollongong University. This winner of this game will hold the Foster Emery Shield until next season. Also this day will be a fund raiser for one of Shoals’ favourite sons, Joey Johnson, who suffered a severe injury while playing rugby earlier in the season. A gold coin donation on entry to the ground will be appreciated and other fund raising activities will be held throughout the afternoon. See you at Ricoh Rugby Park as the curtain comes down on season 2014.