In what was originally looking to be a game of attrition for Philadelphia-Whitemarsh, eventually turned out to be a game of patience for the east coast team. They always knew they were going to be outweighed in the pack but they had a game plan to counter act the lack of size and sticking to their structured play and moving the ball wide into space, paid off in the end for the team who last made it to a national final twenty three years ago.
As expected, Southbay Rhinos dominated in the first 15 minutes of the game, using their size to their advantage. Rhinos fly half, Tonga Tupou, missed a penalty conversion in the first five minutes but made good minutes later with a try conversion - after flanker, Tevita Falevai, put first points on the board for the Rhinos following a successful series of phases put together by the forwards which allowed them to crash the ball over the try line.
Tupou’s yellow card in the eighteenth minute, gave Philly the opportunity to take advantage of the Rhinos being one man down and within minutes, Philly’s forwards had gathered momentum in the Rhinos 22 and a push over try gave flanker, Timothy Foley, the opportunity to put points on the board for Philly.
The Rhinos answered Philly’s try three minutes later with full back, Vernon Onofia, using his speed and a series of passes down the backline to score. This time, center, Talalelei Gafa, kicked for poles and he was successful in adding the two points to the board.
Rhinos replacement back, Johnny Chang, in the thirty eighth minute, took full advantage of a gap in the Philly defense and after receiving a short pass from Gafa, galloped down the touchline to add more points to the scoreboard for the Rhinos. Tupou, after serving his time in the sin bin, was back on the field and converted the try just before the whistle blew for half time. Rhinos led Philly by 21 – 5.
As the second half commenced, the clouds started to gather in the sky and a breeze picked up which seemed to give the players some respite from the heat that had taken its toll on them in the first half. Philly seemed to step it up a gear as the weather cooled while the Rhinos struggled to overcome the impact the weather, and perhaps the altitude, had had on them in the first half.
The second half belonged to Philly as winger, Brian Engle, began the sequence of tries that got the scoreboard tipping the other way in their favor, with a classic try after the back line moved the ball down the line to Engle who took it over the try line. It was the try by captain and No 8, Robert Haller, four minutes later that got the crowd cheering and Philly on the trot. After picking up the ball at the back of the scrum on their own 22 line, Haller out stripped the defense all the way down the touchline, side stepping and handing off the Rhinos full back along the way, to touch down under the poles. Center, James Rosato, converted Haller’s try.
Philly never looked back from that moment onwards. Rosato went on to score two of his own tries, converting both of them as well as tries by full back, Louis Tulio, scrumhalf, Bryan Oteri and no.18, Kurt Engle. The quick handling of the ball by the backs to get the ball wide in the second half made it difficult for the Rhinos to keep up and it paid off for Philly as can be seen by the number of tries scored by the east coast team in the second half.
Southbay Rhinos were only able to add five points to the scoreboard in the second half with a try by hooker, Ian Pula, in the fifty eighth minute. The try went unconverted and thus the full time score was Southbay Rhinos 26 – Philadelphia-Whitemarsh 50.
“It feels surreal to know we are going to be playing in the final,” beamed player and coach for Philadelphia-Whitemarsh Turei Maraki. “Two years ago we didn’t even have a team and over the last two years we have acquired some local players as well as some Penn State players and now we find ourselves in a position to play for a championship title.”
“We knew the Rhinos would be big and physical,” said Maraki, “so we knew we would have to keep moving the ball side to side with the hopes of tiring them out. I guess it paid off, although there was a period when we were also suffering from the heat and altitude.”
“We knew we were more athletic in the forwards,” said captain and No. 8, Robert Haller, “and as long as we stayed away from their big guys and executed at the holes, we would be able to have control.
“We knew we had to play a more expansive game and the boys stuck to the game plan which helped us overall.”
Philadelphia-Whitemarsh Rugby Club will meet New Orleans Rugby Club in the DIII semi final to be played at 11:00 am tomorrow at Infinity Park, Glendale.
South Bay Rhinos 26
Tries : Falevai, Onofia, Chang, Pula
Convs: Tupou (2), Gafa (1)
Tries : Foley, Brian Engle, Haller, Rosato (2), Oteri Tulio, Kurt Engle
Convs: Rosato (5)