Newcastle Rugby: Reworked engine room powers Wanderers to win over Merewether

SQUEEZE: Wanderers front-rowers Stephen Neli, Ben Christensen and Blair Rush prepare to pack a scrum in the Two Blues' 29-10 win over Merewether on Saturday. Pictures: Stewart Hazell
SQUEEZE: Wanderers front-rowers Stephen Neli, Ben Christensen and Blair Rush prepare to pack a scrum in the Two Blues' 29-10 win over Merewether on Saturday. Pictures: Stewart Hazell

WANDERERS coach Darren Young admits that physics has played a part but insists there has been more to the Two Blues’ improvement at the set piece than just bigger bodies.

The scrum has been an area of concern for Wanderers in recent seasons, most notably in big games. Hamilton’s past three grand-final triumphs have been forged on a dominant scrum. 

However, the arrival this season of big boppers Stephen Neli and Noah Taufaao, combined with the switch by Blair Rush from a lock into a powerhouse loose-head prop and the continued progression of Leeland Marshall has helped turn the Wanderers scrum into a weapon.

The Two Blues were awarded a penalty try from a scrum in the 29-10 win over arch rivals Merewether at Townson Oval on Saturday.

The penalty try – after the Greens had collapsed twice – just before half-time put the visitors ahead 14-10. They were never headed.

STRONG: Lock Marcus Christensen got through a power of work.

STRONG: Lock Marcus Christensen got through a power of work.

“We identified the set piece as an area where we could attack them,” Young said. “Physics plays its role but it has moreso been the boys’ application. They are so driven and understand the importance of the set piece. We have changed our unit work at training. In previous years, you might do lineouts for 20 minutes and them scrummage for 20 minutes. Now they go from a lineout to a pick and drive. They might set three quick scrums, then got to a rucking drill.”

SNIPE: Merewether's Eli McCulloch darted over from the base of a ruck to score a try.

SNIPE: Merewether's Eli McCulloch darted over from the base of a ruck to score a try.

Merewether co-coach Trent Considine conceded that the penalty-try “hurt” but believed the Greens were “very much still in the game” at that stage. 

“We knew they had that secondary shove in the scrum,” Considine said. “We really missed (tight head prop) Wendall Wilhelmus and gave away a bit of size. They used the wind well in the second half. They played simple footy and got over the top of us.”

Merewether had led 10-0 after 10 minutes in a scrappy affair. Wanderers, as their scrum gained ascendancy, got into the grind. Breakaways Tom Eymael and Sam Schmidt created turnovers and slowed down the Greens’ ball.

Simmons landed a penalty to open a 17-10 gap before replacement prop Marshall crashed over for a converted try. Winger George Ashworth completed the scoring.

As well as Welhelmus, the Greens were without fly-half Sam Bright (shoulder) and captain Jay Strachan (knee), and lost Tom Smith (concussion) mid-game.

“I thought Will Frost played really well, but we did miss Sam Bright’s talk and direction,” Considine said. “We wanted to play direct and go at their 10 and 12 but we tried to go around them.”

Elsewhere Saturday, captain Chris Logan scored a brace to lead Maitland to a resounding 46-19 win over Southern Beaches at Marcellin Park and all but end the visitors’ finals hopes.

Prop Dan Collins and halfback Charles Fielder scored two tries each as Nelson Bay shut out University 48-0 at Strong Oval.

Singleton ran in nine tries on the way to a 55-15 win over cellar dwellers Lake Macquarie at Rugby Park.