The Rams pulled off an incredible upset of the Monaro pool leading Taralga Tigers, taking their winning streak to four and stealing them a finals berth for the first time since 2016.
After receiving word Crookwell had upset the Tigers on Wednesday night and had jumped the Rams in the pecking order, the importance of the weekend’s game grew exponentially.
It was now a do or die. Win, and the Rams make finals. Lose, and they miss out by the smallest of margins.
Travelling out to Taralga has never been an easy task for the Rams, but this is a very different Rams side and one that’s desperate to reverse their recent fortunes.
The Rams held off a surging Tigers to win 24-19 and book themselves in for a semi-final rematch against Taralga on the weekend.
“It’s a long time coming but we did it,” said an elated Rams Coach, Ian McFarlane.
Whilst a win against the side they’ll face in the semi-final on Saturday is a confidence boost, McFarlane expects a stronger Tigers outfit this weekend.
“They didn’t play very well and we nearly handed them the game there towards the end just through our own stupidity. I expect a bigger and tougher Taralga this week. They’ve been in the finals the last 10 years so this is not new territory for them. For us it is, we’ve got a reasonably young side,” he said.
What made the Rams win even more impressive was that it came despite taking a second-string forward pack. McFarlane was quick to credit those forwards for coming in and playing their role for the team.
“This week we’re going to be bolstered by the return of some of our key forwards. There were four missing and our goalkicker was missing too.”
“It’s a feather in those blokes hats to get us there,” he said.
The Rams have been blessed in recent weeks with the inclusion of some talented new additions to their backline.
“A couple of these young fellas coming in when Covid sent them home definitely helped.”
“Most importantly, they’re backs. I had forwards playing in the backline for most of the year this year and now you’ve got genuine centres and a genuine fullback, it definitely helps,” said McFarlane.
Being in 3rd position in their pool and 5th overall, it’d be wrong to assume the Rams are there to make up the numbers. With a win streak of four, aside from the undefeated Bungendore, the Rams are arguably the in-form team of the competition, and their overall record doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story of their year.
“We’re flying under the radar a touch. When you look at the overall picture throughout the year, there’s only one game we’ve been dominated in. All the rest of them have been close losses.”
“There’s a bit of belief there now that they can do it and it’s a belief that’s been missing, and now it’s arrived.”
“They’re all on top of the world. When I first came on board, we talked about winning three or four games. To now make a finals series, it’s the result of hard work,” said McFarlane.
Unfortunately, the Ewes did not have the same fortune, going down 20-12 to the last-placed Hall.
While the loss may appear like an upset, Ewes Coach Stephen Crisp wasn’t that surprised.
“We knew they’d improved a lot.”
“Ivy (Madison Watt) got injured in the first five minutes and they scored while she was down, and it just put us on the back foot and we didn’t quite recover.”
“It was a close game most of the game but we were always that two tries behind and didn’t really get close,” he said.
Despite being down most of the day, the Ewes had a tough run with the referees, and Crisp was left rueing what might have been had a few of the calls gone their way.
“I thought at times we put on great defensive pressure and we got them to knock on but we didn’t seem to be getting the calls. They’d knock the ball on and it was always play on. We struggled a bit with that side of things.”
“We stuck with it, it wasn’t a big loss. We still scored a couple of good tries and probably if the advantage was played our way a couple of times instead of giving us the penalty we probably would’ve scored one or two more,” he said.
The Ewes competed hard all day long, but again it was a lack of speed which was probably the difference between the two sides.
“Our scrum was very effective. We were always pushing them backwards but we never seemed to be able to get the tight head and once again it was just a little bit of speed that let us down. We made plenty of breaks but they were able to turn around and catch us.”
“We’re not an overly fast side. We’ve got some faster girls but other sides always have one or two really fast operators and they’re able to just provide that cover,” said Crisp.
That loss leaves the Ewes 3rd in the country pool and now means they’ll take on the undefeated and truly dominant Wests. For Coach Crisp, the advice to his ladies is simple.
“It’s just about keeping as much possession as possible. We know we’re going to be up against it and if we can just keep it as tight as we can and play as close to each other as we can.”
“Just give the opposition as little of it as possible. It is possible in our game to hold onto the ball for four or five minutes at a time and that’s what we’re going to have to do,” he said.
If this weekend is the last time the Ewes play this season, Crisp is confident the group have something now to build on for the future.
“The way the girls play now is really good. They understand each other, they talk, they know the calls and what they’re trying to do and what they’re trying to achieve. They can operate as a very good unit. We’ve got a solid base now and if we can get a few more girls there regularly, so they know exactly what the rest of the girls are trying to achieve, they could be a very effective team,” he said.
Both teams will play their semi-finals at the Taralga Showgrounds, with the Ewes kicking things off at 1:20 pm and the Rams following them at 2:30 pm.