The Tumut Bulls bounced back to find some winning form on Saturday when holding on for a thrilling 27-26 victory over Wagga Ag College at Beres Ellwood Oval.
The Bulls dominated for large chunks of the round 11 Southern Inland Rugby Union (SIRU) first-grade contest, with their forward pack way too strong and mobile for Ag College, with Connor Swann and Timori Nasilasila particularly damaging in and around the ruck.
Speedsters Ponipate Qio and Nemi Luvuivale opened up the Aggies defence on multiple occasions and as a result of their relentless pressure, the visitors led 12-nil early doors before the Bulls took a match-winning 27-14 lead after 71 minutes of play.
The Bulls faded in the final stages and nearly lost the game, with Ryan Greenaway scoring two tries in extra time for the home side, and Ag College had their chance to win the game, but a Toby Haylock conversion attempt with no time left in the match was shanked and the Bulls held on for a dramatic one-point win.
The win means a sixth-place Tumut is now just one victory outside of the SIRU top four, with Ag College and Albury just above the Bulls in the race for an all-important SIRU finals berth.
In the second of the SIRU first-grade matches played on Saturday, the bottom of the table CSU Reddies were simply no match for the unbeaten Wagga City, going down 47-14 at Conolly Park.
It was almost the perfect day for the Bulls in Wagga, with their second-grade side digging deep before going down 24-22 to the second-placed Ag College at Beres Ellwood Oval.
Mafi Fanua crossed twice for Tumut, while Posesi Fanua and Isireli Baleitavuki kept up their good recent form, with both players scoring, but missed conversions cruelled the visitors, with the Bulls only slotting one from four when going down by two points.
In remaining round 11 SIRU second-grade matches: Griffith trounced Leeton 39-nil, Hay beat Albury-Wodonga 31-5 and Wagga City were too strong for CSU Reddies, winning 24-7.
First-grade match report
Tumut started strongly in their round 11 Southern Inland Rugby Union (SIRU) match against Wagga Ag College at Beres Ellwood Oval on Saturday.
In the opening few minutes, both teams tested the waters, and it was Tumut’s Nemi Luvuivale that broke the game wide open, with the winger picking up the ball at the break down in his own half before running 50 metres down field to put the Bulls in attacking field position.
Three phases later and the Bulls were in front with Sam Cava crashing over on the left edge.
Tate O’Donovan missed the conversion and Tumut led 5-nil after seven minutes.
Minutes later and Tumut were in again following an Ag College mistake.
The Wagga side had the ball in attack and a wayward pass was picked up by Bulls’ speedster Ponipate Qio, who ran 70 metres untouched to score on the right wing.
O’Donovan slotted the tough conversion from the sideline and Tumut led 12-nil after 11 minutes.
Tumut conceded a penalty during their next possession, and it led to Ag College’s first points of the game.
After back-to-back penalties, the Wagga side was on the attack and number eight Ethan O’Brien ran straight through his opposite number Connor Swann to score to the left of the posts.
Josh Elsworthy kicked the conversion from basically in front and Ag College trailed 12-7 after 15 minutes.
Ag College maintained their momentum for the next 10 minutes, with the home side winning important penalty calls, while their precision in scrums and during lineouts meant they were able to apply pressure.
After more than 10 phases in Tumut’s half, that pressure finally told and it looked like the home side had scored when Thomas Heilman broke through the line before passing back to his second-row partner Will Quirico, who crossed to the left of the posts, but the play was called back, and Tumut maintained their 12-7 lead.
As the half wore on, Tumut really took over at set pieces, with their scrum pushing Ag College back on multiple occasions.
Will Kingwill was one of Tumut’s best during this period and Sam Cava and Timori Nasilasila were also very strong, with the three big men relentless in both attack and defence.
Aggies again applied the pressure in the later stages of the second half, and Sam Nixon and Josh Elworthy combined and looked to have put Ryan Greenaway in for a try, but Ray McDonald made a try-saving tackle.
Ag College did enjoy multiple penalties inside Tumut’s 22 metre line in the final few minutes of the stanza, but the Bulls were resolute in defence, holding out raid after raid before arriving at the break with a 12-7 lead.
After the break, Wagga started well but they couldn’t turn field possession into points.
Tumut were then inside’s Ag College’s half with Ponipate Qio returning a kick with some zest, which was followed by strong carries by Nasilasila and Swann.
Tumut earned back-to-back penalties, which allowed the Red and Black to apply some pressure.
Finally, Tumut were rewarded due to a strong attacking scrum, with the Bulls forward pack dominating Ag College, which allowed scrum-half Jack Ketteringham to fire a long pass to Tate Donovan, who then put Luluivale into a gap for a good try under the posts.
O’Donovan converted and Tumut led 19-7 after 52 minutes.
Following points, Tumut were under pressure again, and three consecutive penalties led to Cava being yellow carded after 55 minutes.
Tumut did well to repel multiple attacking scrums though, with an Ag College error eventually letting a 14-man Bulls off the hook.
Just as Cava was due to return to the paddock, the Green and Gold broke through Tumut’s defences with Heilman crashing over on the left edge.
Toby Haylock converted, and Ag College now trailed 19-14 after 63 minutes.
After the kick off, Ag College conceded a penalty from in front and from approximately 36 metres out, the Bulls quickly opted for the three points with O’Donovan slotting the penalty conversion to take the Bulls ahead 22-14 after 65 minutes.
The Bulls made things hard on themselves when forcing an error via an O’Donovan forward pass after 67 minutes, but with Ag College on the attack, Aidan Thomas pilfered the ball at the break down, taking pressure of his side, which quickly turned the momentum around.
Shortly afterwards, Tumut were moving the ball down field after Qio regathered a Swann charge down attempt, and the winger found himself inside the Wagga side’s 22 metre line before passing back to Ketteringham, who then smartly offloaded to Swann with the forward crossing for a good team try.
O’Donovan missed the conversion and Tumut led 27-14 after 71 minutes of play.
The final 10 minutes was dominated by Ag College, and as 80 minutes came up on the scoreboard clock, Ryan Greenaway was able to score a try for Ag College.
Haylock converted and the Wagga side trailed 27-21, but there was still some extra time to be played after a very stop-start second half.
A mammoth eight minutes of extra time was played at Beres Ellwood Oval, and Ag College slowly moved the ball down field, and the home side was able to score again with Greenaway crossing for his second try to the left of the sticks.
With time expired, Haylock kicked for the win, but he shanked the conversion attempt and Tumut held on for a tense 27-26 victory.
Tumut Bulls 27 (Tries: Sam Cava, Ponipate Qio, Nemi Luluivale, Connor Swann; Conversions: Tate O’Donovan 2; Penalty conversion: Tate O’Donovan) defeated Ag College 26 (Tries: Ryan Greenaway 2, Ethan Brien, Thomas Heilman; Conversions: Toby Haylock 1, Josh Elworthy).