Round 11 v Sydney Uni

Round 11 v Sydney Uni

This match was played on Tuesday night after the weekend game was cancelled due to rain. Conditions were fine and the ground surface was good, a testimony to the University ground after being unplayable only three days earlier.

This was always going to be a difficult game for the Two Blues who were affected right across the field by injury, suspension and withdrawals due to the midweek timing. As always, those who were called up performed with a maximum of effort and did not shirk the confrontations.

A lone figure wearing a Russian fur hat as observed lurking in the grandstand before and during the game, occasionally loudly providing helpful advice to players, coaches and the referees alike, with a slight Russian accent. Could this enigmatic figure have been our own Thommo returned from frostier locations?

Uni kicked off to the southern end and Parramatta were immediately under pressure due to a knock on. It took only four minutes for Uni to score a try from a slick backline movement, taking the score to 7-0 after the conversion.

The next 18 minutes saw no change to the score, with Parramatta steadying and putting together a good sequence of phases. In this period there was good work by the forwards, John Poe and Robert Duff. A potential Uni try under the posts was thwarted by good work from Adrian Musico and Andrew Cox to prevent the ball being grounded.

The resultant scrum restart, however provided Uni with a penalty try in the 25th minute after three scrum penalties to Uni. Brendan Crosilla was blamed for these indiscretions and was yellow carded. These decisions were considered to be debateable in some sections of the assembled spectators, especially due to the scrum appearing to be unstable before the ball was fed.

While Parramatta were a man down Uni scored a pushover try in the 31st minute and in the 34th minute after a slashing midfield break.

Parramatta pressure from the forwards just before the half time break, led to Andrew Cox crashing over in the right hand corner. The half time score was Uni 28 – Parramatta 5.

It is not surprising that Parramatta went well in the periods of the half when they controlled possession and were able to mount some pressure on Uni. Conversely, Uni seemed to score at will in periods when Parramatta were unable to string together more than one or two phases.

Performances worthy of mention included those of Andrew Cox, Robert Duff playing in the centres, Waldo Wessels, John Poe, Brendan Crosilla with the ball and Jaline Graham.

Early in the second half a line out on the Uni 35m saw Waldo Wessels take the ball and cut through the Uni forwards and outpace the cover, leaving the Uni defence to say………wait for it……….wait for it….. “Where’s Wally?” This brilliant individual try and conversion from near touch by Jaline Graham saw the score go to Uni 28 Parramatta 12 in the fourth minute.

For the next 25 minutes or so, there was no score as Parramatta camped in the Uni half. Uni had a player yellow carded in the 16th minute which assisted the cause, as did several turnovers forced by Andrew Cox. Unfortunately just as Parramatta started to mount some tryline pressure, it was let off by Parramatta turnovers.

In the last 10 minutes of the game Uni found their way into the Parramatta quarter aided by poor possession control from Parramatta. In the 35th minute Uni scored under the posts from a scrum on the Parramatta line. This was converted to take the score to Uni 35 Parramatta 12.

In the 38th minute a poor pass from Andrew Cox and a misunderstanding with its intended recipient saw Uni swoop to pinch another converted try. The final score Uni 42 Parramatta 12.

As always there was not one Parramatta player who did not give 100 percent effort. Late replacements in critical positions did not help the cause, but in the end it came down to the old footballing adage – If you don’t keep the ball, you can’t score.

A special mention to Robert Duff who had an excellent game away from his normal wing position.

A week off to recover from niggling injuries and a home game at home against Gordon will surely see a change in Parramatta’s fortunes. It is likely that this report will be again penned by Comrade Thompson so it is adieu to The Apprentice and the Thommo Phantom for a while.

Go Parra

The Thommo Phantom

Round 10 v Southern Districts

Round 10 v Southern Districts

Match Report – Parramatta v Southern Districts First Grade – Forshaw Rugby Park

As everyone knows, everything is different in the Shire. And here we are in the heart of it, just a dozen yacht-lengths away from Sylvania Waters. As the small but valiant band of Parramatta supporters settle in to watch the First Grade match, Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison strides past, headed in the direction of the Southern Districts’ corporate supporters box. None of your common-or-garden backbenchers around here.

In the lower grades, Fourths have got a win, as have Firsts Colts – a particularly pleasing result.

Parramatta kick off toward the southern end of the ground, and Southern Districts immediately gain 70 metres of ground through a long and well aimed kick. And, not quite within the first minute but before 90 seconds have elapsed, Southern Districts have scored their first try, and converted it from the sideline. ScoMo is still settling into his seat, and the score is 0-7.

From the restart, we fumble the return kick, with the ball going backwards, but, just to make sure, the ball is nudged forward by the player, and Southern Districts are again in possession, and score another try. This time the conversion is much easier, from directly in front, and with five minutes gone it’s 0-14. However for the first time we get more than about two phases in attack, and, after some pick and drive, David Lolohea barges over. Jaline Graham’s kick is successful, and it’s 7-14.

A measure of composure seems now to have descended over the Two Blues, who have leaked 14 points in the first five minutes, but Southern Districts are relentless in attack, with their number 11 in particular repeatedly breaking the line. And, with 20 minutes gone, the Rebels win a scrum and go in again under the posts. With the conversion, 7-21.

Shortly afterwards, Parramatta re-group and get a penalty about 30 metres out straight in front of the sticks, but Jaline Graham’s kick inexplicably goes wide. The boys continue to try, but it’s hard to resist the pressure from Southern Districts, who are moving the ball around, especially to a couple of runners with great penetration. With 30 minutes gone, Southern Districts have their fourth try, in the north-east corner, although the conversion attempt hits the post. 7-26. And a couple of minutes after, with the Parramatta defence clustered on the eastern side of the field, Southern Districts fling a long pass to a player on the other side with no marker in sight. Although the conversion attempt is from the sidelines, the Rebels’ kicker makes no mistake, and it’s 7-33.

We are not doing too badly at the breakdown, and getting a couple of turnovers, but we don’t seem to be able to hang on to the ball for any period of time. Nonetheless, as half-time approaches, the boys keep up the pressure and Sam Hayward dives over. The conversion attempt however hits the post, and the teams go in at half time 12-33.

As has been said, things are different in the Shire. It’s announced that the Federal Treasurer will be drawing the raffle and, shortly afterward at the end of the half-time break, a rainbow appears, though it hasn’t actually been raining. Whether this bit of magic is just the sort of thing that happens in the Shire all the time, or whether it’s a sign that the prize in the raffle is a tax cut, is not clear.

Second half, with Southern Districts kicking off. The boys start strongly, with Sam Hayward making a great break, and captain Andrew Cox securing an important penalty. From a lineout 20 metres from the Southern Districts line, Parra spread the ball and David Lolohea goes in again. He obviously hasn’t been taught that the wingers are supposed to score the tries. Joey Leatigaga converts, and it’s 19-33 with five gone. However the joy is shortlived, with Southern Districts striking back about a minute later take the score to 19-40. But the Rebels knock on from the restart, to loud cheering from modest but vocal knot of Parramatta supporters surrounded by a sea of Southern Districts fans. Possibly by way of retaliation, the group of the Rebels’ supporters start singing On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘at, a Rugby song the Apprentice hasn’t heard for forty years, and never really understood anyhow.

The boys have periods when they comfortably hold their own, and in the mid-part of the second half the boys are matching it with Southern Districts, especially in the scrum. The Apprentice is particularly impressed with a passage of play in which the boys, holding onto the ball with great aplomb, actually move backwards about fifteen metres before moving forward again, a bit like Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk. However pressure does not turn into points and, with about 20 minutes gone, Southern Districts score again, although without converting the try: 19-45. Shortly afterward, however, the boys’ repeated efforts bear fruit, and Robert Duff dashes over for a try. It’s a difficult kick, and goes wide; but it’s the fourth try and has earned a bonus point. 24-45.

The boys produce moments of individual brilliance, but too often followed by an avoidable mistake. The kick downfield which does not even appear to be aimed at the sideline is starting to reappear, giving possession back to the opposition.

In the grandstand, the contest is also in full swing. In response to President Brian’s roar of “keep him onside, ref!” a Rebels supporter  yells “he’s been onside all day”, to which Brian fires back, just as loudly “no he hasn’t!!”. The speed and strength of Brian’s retort apparently surprises the supporter and seems to silence him, and to generate a few chuckles among his mates.

Although Parramatta has produced a lot of last-minute scrambling defence, boys can’t stop everything and, in the last seven minutes of the match, Southern Districts produce another two converted tries, taking the final score to 24-59.

It’s fair to say that the boys, although certainly not disgracing themselves, have been outgunned by an outfit with too much speed and strength out wide. The bonus point is however a bit of consolation. Next week, away again (although not quite as far), when we take on Uni.

The Apprentice

Round 9 v West Harbour

Round 9 v West Harbour

Match Report – Parramatta v West Harbour First Grade – Merrylands RSL Rugby Park

Following last week’s comprehensive away loss to Warringah, the Apprentice is apprehensive. We should be able to beat West Harbour, but can we?

West Harbour kick off to the north, and the initial omens aren’t good. While the Two Blues’ record for copping a score against them after the kick-off still stands at the seven seconds established against Gordon earlier this year, the boys turn the ball over and West Harbour, rushing upfield, get a penalty. They take the kick, and the score is 0-3 with only a minute gone. A couple of minutes later Parra gets a penalty, but the touch kick doesn’t gain a lot of ground. In any case the lineout is lost, with the ball passing half a metre over the hands of the highest jumper, and gathered by Wests who go close to a runaway try.  “Clancy of the Overthrow” is the mutter around the Polota-Nau Pavilion.  Shortly after, Wests get another penalty near the Parra line, with the kick taking the score to 0-6.

And so it goes, for the first stanza, during which Parra are defending desperately. Wests are running straight and hard, steaming onto the ball, and breaking the Parra line. Parra manage to stop an attack literally in the goalmouth and get a relieving penalty, but Wests storm back, get yet another penalty close to the Parra line and, with ten minutes on the clock, we are down 0-9.

Nearly fifteen minutes have elapsed before Parra get a few phases in attack, resulting in good pressure and a penalty 20 metres out, which Jaline Graham kicks to put Parra on the board and reduce the deficit: 3-9. A couple of minutes later, with Parra keeping the pressure on, Senio Toleafoa goes over in the south east corner, and Jaline slots a difficult conversion: 10-9.

Now the match settles back into more of a tussle, with the boys restoring a bit of the missing composure that saw them leaking penalties in the first ten minutes. Both sides are getting penalties, and Parra is now forcing a couple of turnovers. The boys are spreading the ball, but there’s a lot of side-to-side movement and not much forward progress (as the late great Rex Mossop used to say, on his way to winning yet another tautology-of-the-year award).

However with about 25 minutes gone Wests charge down a Parra clearing kick (possibly unintentionally, given the resonant “ker-donk” as the ball strikes the Wests player), but as a result Wests mount a raid ending with “stacks on the mill” in the Parra goalmouth. Has there been a try? The ref says there has, although how he’s seen through the heaving mound of bodies is anyone’s guess.  The conversion, from straight in front, is good, and Parra surrender their narrow lead: 10-14.

President Brian may be hearing the sounds of wheels falling off, because his advice to the boys is getting steadily louder. And, just before half-time, Tyrone Viiga is binned for repeated infringements. The penalty goal takes the score to 10-17.

Half-time, and the only entertainment is the ref blowing his whistle for the benefit of an empty field. I guess even whistleblowing takes practice.

Second half, and Parra kick off, but it’s out on the full. And in Parra’s first lineout the spirit of Clancy of the Overthrow has possessed Sefo Setefano. Not a good start. However the boys steady and, with five minutes gone, Waldo Wessels charges over for a try, after a great run from Hayden Cole. Jaline converts, and it’s 17 apiece. The boys are pulling out some great runs, notably Nigel Vaifale and Robert Duff. And Tyrone’s doing the Macarena on the sideline, warming up for a return to the field.

The play is going back and forth, with neither side dominating but, from a scrum win, Robert dashes over in the north-west corner. However Jaline can’t convert: 22-17. And in any case the joy is shortlived: only a minute later Wests go over for a try, and get the conversion: 22-24.

It’s hard to assess the mood in the Polota-Nau Pavilion. Typically in these situations there’s a sense of impending doom, as in the horror movie when, although the monster has been stabbed and shot fifteen times and then fallen off a cliff into the sea, you just know it will reappear at the last moment to spoil everything.  However an eerie sense of calm has descended. Maybe it’s the steadying presence of Merrylands RSL President Ron Hand who, together with his wife and a handful of others from the Club, are regulars at home games.

And the boys are knuckling down: more great runs from Nigel, Robert and Josh Tupuola, who goes nail-bitingly close to a try, but not quite there. But the pressure tells, and with 25 minutes gone in the second half Parra get a penalty, and although Jaline’s kick hits the upright, it’s through: 25-24.

Better still, three minutes later man-of-the-moment Andrew Cox, after a great run by Sam Hayward, gets the ball over the line. 32-24, with ten to go. But not for long: almost immediately afterward Wests score a converted try: 32-31. Can we hang on? Or is the monster, sodden and half-dismembered, clambering back up the cliff?

The boys have hung on for their second win of the season. Not pretty, but a win is a win, as they say. Immediately after full-time there’s an onfield presentation to Captain Andrew Cox recognising that, in captaining the First Grade side for 152 games (this one has in fact been his 153rd), he has broken the record of Club legend Alan Minett. And Alan is on hand to present the specially struck trophy (“the Cox Plate”) to commemorate the occasion.

On balance, not a bad day. While Seconds have gone down 19-29, Thirds and Fourths have prevailed, respectively 44-26 and 15-4. Firsts Colts have drawn 29-all, Seconds down 10-19, but Thirds up 26-24.

However it’ll be a tougher challenge next week against Southern Districts at Forshaw Park.

The Apprentice

Round 8 v Warringah

Round 8 v Warringah

Match Report – Parramatta v Warringah First Grade – Pittwater Rugby Park

In the 79th minute of the match, from the restart after a Warringah try, a Warringah player shows the ball once, and then runs 40 metres to score again. Pretty much says it all. But back to the start.

The playing surface at Rat Park looks in good nick, and the weather, although a bit cloudy, is fine and mild. Warringah has generously provided the Two Blues board with a corporate box, which is really just a row of seats, but with a rather substantial bench in front of it, on which the apprentice can rest his notepad and his glass of red. The corporate box comes complete with free refreshments, and the only real disadvantage is that it is at the far southern end of the grandstand, so that getting a clear view of what happens at the northern end is not easy. However Warringah’s hospitality is great, with its President Phil Parsons, and Rats’ legend Chris Birch, taking good care of the visitors.

The occasion is also memorable because Andrew Cox has chalked up a Two Blues club record of first grade games played as captain. Coxy runs out on the field well in front of the rest of the team, to loud applause, in his 152nd game.

Parramatta kick off, running north. Initially it looks as though the boys might spring a surprise, but an opportunistic move breaks down when the Parramatta player is judged to have touched the ball on its way over the touchline to what would have been a good lineout attacking position. Waldo Wessels is, as usual, darting about trying to find a hole through the defence. There is almost a try, but close is not good enough. Warringah then attacks and the try is only denied by a great tackle in the goalmouth. However following a Parramatta kick downfield, the chase is not good, and a Warringah player runs half the length of the field, scoring in the south-eastern corner. The try is converted and, after seven minutes, Parramatta is down 0-7.

However after the restart Parramatta quickly regains the ball, and Tyrone Viiga crashes over for a try. With Jaline Graham’s conversion, the scores are level, 7-7.

In the process, David Lolohea, who had a standout performance throughout the match with his bullocking runs, has poleaxed a Warringah player, who lies motionless on the turf or nearly five minutes, before being stretchered off.

As the first half unfolds, however, Parramatta’s missed tackle count starts to rise, and with about 15 minutes gone, Warringah win a lineout and go over for their second try, taking the score to 7-12. The conversion attempt strikes the post, but still goes through: 7-14.

For the next ten minutes play seesaws in midfield, but eventually Warringah apply the pressure, and from a scrum near Parramatta’s line, score a pushover try. With the conversion, 7-21, and 25 minutes gone.

Both sides are having their chances, but missing them. Parramatta misses one when what appears to be a deliberate knock down from a lineout goes unpenalised. And, just before halftime, Robert Duff stops a further Warringah score when he bumps a player flying down the sideline, using the player’s momentum to send him into touch.

At half time the score remains 7-21. The game is not out of reach, but continuity needs to improve. The halftime lecture from coach Greg focuses on the breakdown. We keep losing the ball at the breakdown, and without continuity, we cannot score.

Second half, and Warringah kick off toward the south. Almost immediately, Parramatta are under pressure and David Lolohea, continuing his great form, lands a long-range kick a few centimetres inside the touchline before it bounces out.

Unfortunately, the halftime lecture doesn’t seem to have had much impact. Only five minutes are gone in the second half before Parramatta turns the ball over again, leading shortly to another Warringah try. This time the Warringah kicker is off target, and the score is 7-26.

Warringah has settled into a pattern, and Parramatta doesn’t seem to have an answer. Like Walter Lindrum moving the ball steadily up the side of the billiard table through repeated cannons off the cush, Warringah is moving steadily upfield, gaining territory through kicks, and then winning the lineouts.

It’s not that Parramatta doesn’t have its opportunities, it’s just that it can’t seem to turn them into points. Another memorable run by David Lolohea, incorporating what is now known as the Fijian sidestep, is followed by a rolling maul, but eventually it starts to roll backwards. Parramatta are keeping the pressure on: they spread the ball wide, get within about three metres, but cannot get across the line.

Then, with about 25 minutes gone in the second half, we get what we least need: a red card. From a towering Parramatta kick, Jonathon Malo is sent from the field for tackling the Warringah catcher in the air. Inevitably there is a penalty, this leads shortly to another Warringah try. Score 7-33 with the conversion.

As always, the boys never give up, but they have a mountain to climb with 14 men on the field, and Warringah with a 26-point lead. And, as often happens, the gap widens as full-time approaches. Warringah scores two more converted tries, the last a minute before full-time. Final score 7-47.

Parramatta-Warringah games are played, as Two Blues diehards will know, for the Noddy Sawtell Cup, Noddy having been a long-serving player with both clubs. The presentation, held as a lambent glow from the sunset creeps over the ocean clouds and contrasts with the darkening field, seems rather sombre.  The effort was there, but the points on the board signal deficiencies in cohesion and composure.

Next week: West Harbour at home. We’re halfway through the season, and this is a game we must win!

 

The Apprentice

Round 7 v Penrith

Round 7 v Penrith

Match Report – Parramatta v Penrith First Grade – Merrylands RSL Rugby Park

Another flawless day for Rugby – as yet, there’s been no really trying weather during the 2017 season.

The results in the lower grades were no indication of what was to come. Against the depleted Penrith lineup of lower grades, Second Grade won 62-5, Seconds Colts 33-10, and First Grade Colts an impressive 69-0. For Firsts Colts, this was more or less a training run: tries flowing freely, and drying up only because of stiffened Penrith resistance in the first portion of the second half. The scoreline was achieved despite patchy goal-kicking, the highlight of which was an attempt which never actually reached the posts, but with an intense left-hand spin on the ball which propelled it back toward the kicker when it hit the ground.

The question was whether First Grade could prevail against the Penrith First Grade side, a physical outfit which has given a few good teams a fright thus far in the 2017 season. The X factor was however Sampson the Swiss Shepherd, with whom regular readers of these match reports will be acquainted since his debut at Chatswood Oval. But more of this later.

Parramatta kick off, regain, spread the ball wide, and Robert Duff scores in the south-east corner with less than five minutes on the clock. The conversion attempt from the sideline is however  unsuccessful. Parra 5-0.

A few minutes after the restart, Penrith win the lineout following a Waldo Wessels clearing kick and, with plenty of pace and ball movement, score in the north-eastern corner. Another conversion attempt from the sideline fails, so the scores are level with less than 10 min gone. The excitement is too much the Sampson, who breaks free from his owner, but is recaptured while heading for the fence.

From the restart, Parra put the pressure on through a number of phases, but the Penrith defence holds solid. With about fifteen minutes gone, however, a Penrith play gets a yellow card, their defence finally cracks, and Tyrone Viiga barges over for a try. This time the conversion attempt is successful, with Parra moving out to a 12-5 lead.

Parra’s scrum is performing well. However not so much its ball control. And, with about 20 minutes gone, play is stopped because of a Penrith player on the ground. This would not normally be worth a mention in a match report, except that it signalled the start of series of stoppages, which pushed the total match time out to well over ten minutes longer than usual. Stoppages of this kind have the effect of disrupting the flow of the opposing team and, while the match was undoubtedly a physical contest, none of the stoppages involved Parramatta player. Go figure, as the Americans say. (Although it must be conceded that one of the stoppages was caused by Sampson, who doubtless counts as belonging to Parramatta.)

The play seesaws, both sides putting together numbers of attacking phases, but in Parra’s case handling errors repeatedly mean that promising moves break down. However eventually the boys put it together, and, with about 30 minutes gone, Hayden Cole dives over for a try in the corner. Although the kick is not an easy one, Jonathan Malo slots the conversion, and it’s 19 to 5 in favour of Parramatta.

But any hopes that the floodgates might open do not come to fruition. Penrith looks certain for a try which is averted by a skilful Niko Malo steal. However a couple of minutes before halftime, Penrith penetrate the Parramatta defence, and score a converted try. 17-12 to Parra at half-time.

Second half: Penrith kick off, and almost immediately get a penalty in front of the posts. The goal is kicked, and the gap narrows to 17-15. The mood in the Polota-Nau Pavilion gets a bit dark. However Sampson, perhaps feeling that he should have provided the half-time entertainment, breaks free from owner Tony Musico, and bursts onto the field. For about two minutes he then defies all efforts to catch him, with Tony in futile pursuit. Not only has Sampson got the speed, he’s got the sidestep. Eventually he is collared and led off.

Parra now mounts a number of attacking raids, all of which break down by turning the ball over. Some cases this is the product of robust Penrith defence, but others are, as they say in tennis, unforced errors. Most disappointingly, a couple of these have followed penalties is awarded to Parramatta from which they have got good attacking field positions – but – no cigar.

Just how this happened is not clear, but suddenly Sampson is loose again, with another keystone cops chase sequence as a result. Eventually he is tackled, fairly certainly by Adrian Musico. Sampson will probably have to front the judiciary. And, shortly after Sampson’s second removal, Penrith go in again for a try. Mercifully, the try isn’t converted. However Parra has lost the lead: 19-20, with about 25 minutes still to go.

There is of course plenty of time left in the match, but Parra’s turnover woes are continuing, and the mood in the Polota-Nau Pavilion darkens further. President Brian’s sideline instructions to the boys have got steadily louder, and as yet another attack comes to nothing through poor ball control, Brian’s roar of  “HOLD THE FRIGGIN’ BALL!” triggers airbags in three passing cars.

Meanwhile, stoppages have increased in frequency, with Penrith players going to ground every few minutes. A vocal Penrith crowd, sensing blood, is whooping and hollering, although balanced by an equally vocal Parra crowd in the grandstand, and a somewhat unruly mob on the scoreboard hill.

It’s not that Parramatta are not moving the ball around and trying. The scrum continues to be good, and at least there seems to be less tendency to kick the ball away in attack, rather than keeping it in hand. But, as has been said, keeping it in hand is the problem. The boys have lost composure. And we are one point behind.

However, for once the Rugby gods are on our side. With five minutes left to go, Jonathon Malo goes in for a try in the north eastern corner. The conversion is difficult, and unsuccessful: 24-20. A successful conversion would have least have given us a buffer against a full-time Penrith try, provided of course that it wasn’t converted. Nightmare visions of a last-ditch Penrith try, leading to a one-point loss, swam before our eyes. Especially given Parramatta’s well-established track record of losing after the final whistle.

However for once there was merciful release by the referee, who blew full-time couple of minutes before it seemed due – although the contributions of Sampson, and the sudden outbreak of the dreaded Collapso Dubioso Syndrome among the Penrith players, had made accurate timekeeping difficult.

The mood in the Polota-Nau Pavilion is muted. We have stared into the abyss.

So? All grades won and all, including Firsts, with a bonus point.

Looking at Firsts, improvement is needed in some aspects of the boys’ game. However, a win is a win, as they say.  Penrith Firsts are not to be trifled with, and it’s quite possible that, given it was the local derby and Penrith had more than a sniff of winning, they lifted.

Hopefully the breaking of the drought will put some wind in the Two Blues’ sails. It’ll be needed when we travel to the coast next week to take on the Rats. But we can do it.

The Apprentice

Round 6 v Gordon

Round 6 v Gordon

Match Report – Parramatta v Gordon First Grade – Chatswood Oval

Yet another beautiful day for Rugby, with a small but vocal crowd of Two Blues supporters in the grandstand, with hopes high for a reversal of fortunes. However also a dog day afternoon – at least as far as Samson the Swiss Shepherd was concerned. But more of that later.

Overall, though, not a bad day. We prevailed in all three grades of Colts, and Seconds have come home with a wet sail. Twenty points down with twenty minutes to go, they have pegged Gordon back: five points down; five minutes to go. Almost a pushover try, and a try would have achieved a draw, conversion or no conversion. But it wasn’t to be: 45-40 in favour of Gordon at full-time.   And so on to Firsts.

Parra kick off and, in what may well be a world record, Gordon score a try between the posts. The ref was still putting his whistle back in his pocket. Best guess seven seconds. With the easy conversion, 0-7. An unseen dog goes crazy – a Gordon supporter, I assumed. (Later, this dog turned out to be Samson: owned and only barely controlled by Adrian Musico’s father Tony. Samson wasn’t a Gordon supporter: he just loves football.)

On the restart, Gordon kick, Jonathan Malo takes the ball well, and Parra move the ball upfield, but again lose it through poor ball control. Gordon kicks again, Parra wins the lineout 15 metres out; the boys build the pressure, and Robert Duff goes over to score Parramatta’s first try. Jonathon steers a difficult conversion over from the sideline: 7-7.

From the restart, Gordon knock on, the boys take the ball upfield, spread it wide, and another great try, this time through Jonathan. However he can’t convert: 12-7, and just over ten minutes gone.

After the restart, Parra kick long but not out, and Gordon carry the ball back. But there’s a turnover, and again Parramatta is pressing on Gordon’s 22. Senio Toleafoa takes the ball up the middle, but loses it. From scrum Gordon takes the play back up into Parramatta’s territory. Gordon attempt a sideline kick that goes into the in-goal, well caught by a Parra player who looked as though he was taken in the air, but no penalty. Gordon regain posession and, despite desperate defence from Parra, score a try in the far corner. The conversion attempt almost a daisy-cutter: low and to the left of the posts . The scores are level at 12-12, and 25 minutes gone.

Parra again take the ball up in attack, spreading it, but the final pass goes over the sideline without a player within two metres of it. Gordon regain possession and again score in the near corner. This time the conversion attempt at least gets off the runway and isn’t quite as far wide as the previous attempt, but still misses, Now it’s 12-17. Once again Parra has been punished for an error.

This time Parra try the short kick-off, and nearly regain it but knock it on. From the scrum Gordon get a penalty and kick out. Gordon botches the lineout, but Parra can’t control the ball.

During the last ten minutes of the first half, Parra mount two or three good attacking moves, but each of them breaks down through poor handling. Eventually, with Gordon in possession from one of these errors, they again spread the ball wide and score in the corner. Samson, clearly not too fussed about which team he supports, woofs his appreciation. Again Gordon misses the conversion: 12-22. And, despite a good run in the ensuing play by Larry Hermens, that’s the half-time score.

The Master is flying out tomorrow for Sweden, then on to Russia to try to smooth things over with Vladimir Putin. As the Apprentice walks past on the way to much-needed a refill the Master, relieved of match reporting duties, smiles a beneficent, Buddha-like, smile.

Second half, and Parra turn it on with continuing attack with too many phases to count. Senio, David Lolohea, Robert, Dan Tomone are all involved and eventually the pressure tells and Larry goes in under the posts: with the conversion, 19-22.

However Parra can’t keep it up, lose possession from the restart through a bad error, and are only saved from being punished on the scoreboard by a forward pass from Gordon. Parra regroup, resisting the Gordon pressure, but after a while a Gordon player runs onto a good pass and scores another try. This time the goalkicking is a bit better, and the score is 19-29.

Again Parra are creating opportunities, but can’t finish off. With about 20 minutes gone in the second half, another great backline movement breaks down with another pass thrown over the sideline to an imaginary player. And the next time Parramatta attack breaks down through a turnover, Gordon score again, this time under the posts, giving another conversion: now 19-36.

The boys don’t give up, keep moving the play forward, and keep moving the ball wide. Eventually it all works, and Sam Hayward goes in for the bonus point try. However the conversion is wide: 24-36. Although the boys are keeping the pressure up, with about five minutes to go, again the turnover, with Gordon spreading it wide for another try. Although the try is not converted, this is the nail in the coffin: 24-41 with less than five minutes to go. However something seems to spark the Two Blues and, in the shadows of full time, they produce two unconverted tries to take the final score to 34-41. Another sombre note was a knee injury to Aaron Blacklock, seriousness unknown at the time of writing.

What to say? Parra created plenty of opportunities. There’s plenty of heart. But the tendency to push the pass in the quest for glory so often leads to error. Sometimes, this just means the loss of a scoring opportunity. But sometimes it’s worse: an error while the boys are in an attacking structure means disorganised defence and, if the opposition latch onto the ball, every now and then, a try. The double whammy.

The boys, as usual, never gave up.  President Brian’s Free Sideline Advice for Referees service was in full swing, and his wife Jenny was offering encouragement to the boys, sometimes at frequencies only Samson could hear.

The Apprentice’s spirits were slightly buoyed when, after the game, a Gordon supporter sitting nearby asked if I was a member of the Referees Appointment Board. My slightly judicial appearance occasionally prompts questions of this kind, but it turned out that my concentration, and furious scribbling on sheets of lined paper, had led him to an erroneous conclusion.

And Samson? He was just happy that he’d been at the game. He busted a few moves on the Oval afterward to show his appreciation.

The Apprentice