The Old Bar Tavern shook, rattled and rolled on Saturday night as the town’s rugby union team, the Clams, celebrated their first win in six years by overcoming last year’s premiers and this season’s unbeaten Wallamba Bulls at Trad Fields.
Roars of delight and disbelief echoed from Forster-Tuncurry’s clubhouse and Gloucester with news of the biggest upset in the 11 years of Lower Mid North Coast rugby as the Dolphins, Manning River Ratz and Cockies contemplated the Clams’ “impossible” 27-26 victory.
“The biggest win since Old Rowley won the Melbourne Cup in 1940 at 100-1,” one observer remarked.
“I was praying for rain,” Clams’ coach, Tim Tout said.
“Wallamba like to throw the ball around and it barely stopped raining throughout the game, making the surface very slippery.
“Our boys were fantastic. They didn’t stop tackling. It was terrific watching the Bulls’ backs running across-field and getting nailed.
“We had 21 players midweek and for reasons of work and one bloke in hospital having a baby, we started with 15 with one 44-year-old player on the bench nursing a hamstring strain.”
Tout said the Clams had taken to Trad Fields intent on playing in the spirit of their rugged former No 8, Matt Paulsen, who has passed away suddenly from a major heart attack at the age of 34.
The Clams’ win was secured essentially by their goal-kicking winger and man-of-the-match, Ben Petrisic, who converted their three tries, two by inside-centre Jake Thurling, as well as driving over two crucial penalty goals.
“They got rattled,” front row champion, Teia Ambrosoli, said.
“We gave them no space to run.
“Someone had to stop the Bulls and it took the wooden-spooners to do it.”
Some splendidly brave men and women were responsible for the Clams’ triumph, people like undaunted president Anthony Barber, tireless secretary Brian Groughan, irrepressible coach, Tim Tout, and the maestro of their premiership seasons of 2009 and 2011, Richard Crook.
In between times, the club endured a season of hibernation when playing numbers almost forced the Clams to close their doors permanently.
At Tuncurry, a cross-breeze southerly, weeping rain and biting cold conditions made any rugby hazardous, the Dolphins capitalising on the Ratz’ slipshod defence to claim a half-time four-try and 24-0 lead before the Ratz revealed mobility and attacking flair for a try apiece in the second half.
Tight-head warrior, Ben Manning led the Dolphins’ charge with a third-minute try after which Scott Walmsley’s scrum gained a strike against the feed for hefty No 8 Nathan Johnson to plunge under the posts.
Former Mid North Coast Axeman representative centre, Tom Harris, mobility reduced by a water skiing accident, continues his invaluable service at halfback, working well with pivot Matt Nuku and his skillful centre partner Mark Hagarty.
Fast-moving Tom Holman and his fellow Australian Rules convert, Johnson, continued their outstanding development with Sean Hassett displaying his versatility and flanker Pat Randall relishing the freedom of the back row.
The Ratz were best-served by forwards Sam Hartnett, Brodie Howard and David Rees with Mitch Carter and Jake Maurirere displaying flair in the backs.
In the women’s sevens, Old Bar 12 drew with Wallamba 12; Manning River 15 beat Forster- Tuncurry 5.
Old Bar 27 beat Wallamba 26; Forster-Tuncurry 31, B Manning N Johnson P Randall M Hagarty, B Newcombe tries; L Crozier two goals M Nuku goal, beat Manning River 7, J Howard try; S Harton goal, and Gloucester had the bye.
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