The Victorian Covid-19 lockdown and relentless rain couldn’t derail the Tumut Bulls’ home game against the Albury Steamers on Saturday, with the Red and Blacks winning a wet and muddy contest 29-6.
The game and day in general looked very different from the club’s original plans, with Jarrah Oval closed to the public, Ladies Day postponed, while Albury could only travel with a first-grade side and were forced to forfeit their lower grade games.
Instead, Twickenham’s training field played host to the round 14 Southern Inland Rugby Union fixture and rugby fans didn’t leave disappointed, with Tumut putting in a performance for the ages.
Playing on a water-logged ground, marked out for rugby league, Tumut looked at home in the mud, keeping the Steamers try-less when winning five tries to nil and earning the bonus point in the process.
Big second rower Oliver Toma finally lived up to the reputation he earned back in New Zealand, making some barnstorming runs and scoring two second half tries, while Devan Stoltz added a steady hand out wide, communicating well with his backs and also scoring a good try in the first half.
Harrison Friswell played his best game of the season and was arguably best on ground for the home side, leading the side around the paddock with a good kicking game, while Jimmy Meya broke the line on a handful of occasions, often getting Tumut out of trouble in their own end.
Veteran scrumhalf Andy Graham was again tough, and he was rewarded with a try in the first half and Vincent Wise crossed for the final try in the important win.
Friswell said Tumut did what they needed to do in trying conditions.
“We were unbelievable,” Friswell said.
“We went out there and did exactly what we said we were going to do. We reacted to everything in some of the most challenging conditions you will ever find, and we weren’t afraid to play rugby, but we played sensible rugby as well.”
Albury should be commended for their efforts in getting 15 players together, let alone sticking it to a nearly full-strength Bulls, and Friswell praised the opposition, but hinted Tumut were building as the regular season came to an end.
“Hats off to them. They’ve obviously had a tough couple of weeks with Covid and whatever else, but they didn’t make any excuses and came here today and really stuck it to us,’ Friswell said.
“We were just fortunate to come out on top and we had a bit more unity with 22 blokes buying in and two good training sessions put us in the position we are now.”
Tumut’s bonus point victory has them a mere three points outside of the SIRU top four and the team looms to be building ahead of an away match against the winless CSU Reddies next Saturday.
“It’s huge. We will enjoy the next hour or two, but it is far from over and we still have a big job if we want to make finals,” Friswell said.
“We can’t switch off now, we have a great little run going into finals and we need to keep building every time.”
It shapes as a massive final four rounds of the competition for both Tumut and Albury, with the Steamers visiting a high-flying Waratahs on Saturday.
Albury do have a bonus game under their belt though in round 17 of the competition, with double competition points and bonus points up for grabs after their game earlier this season was abandoned.
In other round 14 SIRU fixtures, Wagga City trounced Ag College 96-nil and Griffith accounted for CSU 29-5.
Twickenham’s training field resembled a floodplain at times, with inches of water above the ground on the southern side of the field, while on the Eastern try line, it was tough enough to gain good footing, let alone play rugby.
As the game wore on, muddy patches soon grew, and by the end of the game, more than half of the field resembled a mud pit.
Still, the rugby was surprisingly good, and Tumut started strong, dominating the scrums and making good metres past the advantage line.
Discipline cost them in the first 15 minutes though, and despite having all the go forward through the likes of Will Kingwill, Tom Mouat and Jon Carmody, the Bulls couldn’t get on the board and kept turning over the ball.
In a good sign, Tumut’s defence was relentless, with a vocal and physical Red and Black wall punishing the Albury ball runners, often leading to turnovers.
Tumut’s first points arrived at the 20th minute mark when Devan Stoltz received the ball from a scrum where the 22m line would have been.
The Shute Shield star, who is back home playing in Tumut for the time being, showed off his class, finding a gap and running through the Steamers line to score to the right of the sticks.
Harrison Friswell converted in the tricky conversion and Tumut led 7-nil.
Five minutes later and Albury had put themselves under pressure, with a clearing kick from inside their goal going out on the full at just the 5-metre mark.
After a wayward lineout, Albury had a scrum, but Andy Graham showed some nouse, knocking down the arm of his opposing scrumhalf and scoring a smart try to the left of the sticks.
Friswell missed the conversion and Tumut led 12-nil after 28 minutes.
In the final 10 minutes, Tumut were forced to play mostly in their own half and were under pressure at times.
Tumut’s line couldn’t be cracked though, with the likes of Lewis Simister and Karl Oliver offering real starch to the defence when throwing their shoulders at Albury ball carriers.
In spite of the good field position and multiple chances inside Tumut’s 22m, the Steamers were forced to opt for penalty goals on two separate occasions with Tully MacPherson slotting both, making the half time score 12-6 in favour of Tumut.
Minutes after the half time break, Karl Oliver looked like he was over before being stopped just short, but Tumut had Albury under pressure, causing a grounded ball in goal, which led to a 5m scrum to the hosts.
It was easy pickings for Tumut, who dominated the scrum, allowing Oliver Toma to pick up the ball and crash over to the right of the sticks.
Friswell missed the conversion and Tumut led 17-6 after 45 minutes.
The next 25 minutes was tough going, with a lot of ball going to ground from both sides as the muddy conditions played its way into the contest.
Will Kingwill and Jim Meya both made telling runs at times and Tumut’s forwards were a shining light, working hard on both sides of the ball.
With kicking becoming more prevalent as the game wore on, Harrison Friswell rose to the occasion, booting the ball into space and forcing pressure on Albury.
At the 70th minute mark, Tumut were over again when Toma cashed over for his second and after a Vincent Wise conversion, Tumut led 24-6.
Tumut sealed the win just on full time, with a swift right-side play finding Wise, who crossed the line, making the score 29-6 as the final whistle blew.