New England Rugby: Tamworth edge out Robb College

A beaming Tamworth coach Peter Burke summed it up perfectly - “What a day!”

After enduring a string of close losses and draws there was, understandably, no hiding his delight after the Magpies – in front of the biggest crowd at Tamworth Rugby Park for some years – showed great resolve in the final minutes to topple competition leaders Robb College 32-31 in a heart-stopper.

Leading 32-26 with five minutes remaining the Magpies must have been thinking ‘not again’ when, after winning a tight-head about 10m out Robb created an overlap and winger George Jackson scored to give the students the chance to hit the front.

Virtually from the sideline, it was a valiant attempt from kicker Drew Walsh but just shaved the posts leaving the Magpies clinging to a one point lead with just over two minutes on the clock.

But they weren’t going to let another one slip.

“We knew that we had to get back up to half-way, kick it down into their 22 and try and play the football down in their end,” skipper Matt Blanch said.

“Evidently that’s what we did. We gave away a penalty there but once we got the footy back we just had to hang onto it and play out the two minutes-and-30-seconds, which full credit to the boys there, it was brilliant.”

“When you’re out of fuel and the boys are absolutely busted and you can ask them to hold possession for two minutes straight, just phase ball straight off the ruck, that’s an absolute highlight for me.”

As it was for Burke.

“The way we closed the game out that was pretty special,” he said.

Matt Blanch talks about Saturday's win over Robb

“Even though the heart-rate was up I felt like the boys were going to do it.”

It was a measure of their growing maturity, even if it has, as a very-proud Burke remarked, “taken us all season to get to here”.

Saturday was a see-sawing contest.

After walking out beside an influential woman in their life as part of the Ladies Day celebrations, the Magpies jumped out to an early 10-nil lead.

But they fumbled the kick-off after their second try and Robb capitalised.

Tamworth were swift with the reply, but Robb had by then started to find their rhythm and ran in three unanswered tries in the last 15 minutes to take a 26-17 lead into half-time.

“I think we became complacent after that first 10 minutes,” Burke said.

“It came too easy for us.”

Try-time: Tamworth fullback Isaac Roebuck slips through the Robb defence to score and put the Magpies ahead. Photo: Samantha Newsam

Try-time: Tamworth fullback Isaac Roebuck slips through the Robb defence to score and put the Magpies ahead. Photo: Samantha Newsam

His message at half-time was to play it more up the middle.

“I felt that was where they were weak and that proved to be the case,” he said.

“Our forwards made good inroads.”

Kieran McHugh illustrated that perfectly for the Magpies first try in the second half, the breakaway shrugging off at least six defenders.

Blanch kicked a penalty to get the home side back within one, before fullback Isaac Roebuck injected himself into the line after some strong charges from the forwards to put the Magpies back in front with around 15 minutes on the clock.

Blanch praised the way they kept turning up for those second efforts, especially in the last 15 minutes.

Robb co-coach Sam Ditchfield while disappointed, wasn’t too concerned by the loss, which was the students’ second in a row.

“I think for our guys they had three weeks off without playing footy,” he said.

“We had a hit-out last week.

“We’re going to get better by playing footy again.”

Similar to when they played the Magpies in Tamworth in the first round, he thought half-time probably came at the wrong time for them.

They were “on a roll” but then “just didn’t have enough ball in the second half”.

And when they did get the ball, because they had had to do so much defending they were cooked and made a mistake.

They are too a very young side.

“We’ve probably got seven or eight fresh first years, especially in the backs,” Ditchfield said.

“Of the backs that ran on today two aren’t first years.”

He thought Walsh had the best game he’s played on the wing.

The backrow also worked hard all day.