Devils Edge Out Shandong With Thrilling Comeback
To echo the words of the late Kobe Bryant, “turn every setback into a comeback”, and the great man would have been proud of every Devil who took the field on Saturday against an athletic, well drilled teamfrom Shandong Sports University.
From the first whistle, the Devils knew they were in for a long afternoon as some hard carries and slick backline play from Shandong put the boys on the back foot from the offset. Despite some stubborn defending and phase play from the Devils, the pressure became too much, and the opposition touched down inside the first ten minutes. Two tries would soon follow as Shandong continued to apply pressure through a string of well-organized backline moves and denting runs from their well- fed forward pack.
With the score at 19-0 inside the first 20, the Devils had a fight on their hands and started to play some smarter rugby. A bone shuddering hit from Chris Planchant set the tone for a period of Devils attacking play, which culminated in a number of dominant scrums, penalties, and a lineout on the opposition’s five-meter line.
The end result was a pushover try from the ever-attritional Chairman Steven Lynch. Shandong immediately threw everything back at the Devils, but some smart box kicking from Vincent Guillaume placed the boys on the front foot once more and led to some ill-discipline from the Shandong pack. As the penalty count increased, a breakdown off a devils five-meter scrum led to an opportunity for the lean, mean Qingdao machine, Joe Rodden to spot a gap and touch down from close range. The halftime score,19-10.
Some smart observations from coaches Buxton and Danielson during the break filled the Devils with confidence for the second half, but thelads were quickly brought back down to earth as an enraged Shandong side came flying out of the traps to score another try within the first five minutes.
Not dismayed, the Devils finally started to implement their famous training ground systems, with piercing carries from Taylor Muller and debutant Lewis Foster making inroads into the opposition half. As the Devils turned the screws, the opposition penalty count began to rack up once more. Camped in the Shandong 22, some smooth lineout play (for once) and excellent martialing by Justin Van Jaarsveld and Brent “should have been captain” Michie drew in the defense and enabled an overlap for Dwayne Brition to touch down in the corner.
With the wind in their sales, the Devils started to spot advantages. A huge nudge from captain and man of the match, Matt Maynard, gave Dwayne a further opportunity to chase, collect and touch down for his second score (which may have made him a bit tired). The South African contingent continued to lead the Devils charge, with Justin, playing with the maturity of a high-school graduate, spotting a gap to touch down under the sticks.
With the score at 29-24 and about 10 minutes remaining, it was here that the Devils showed their true heart. Impact subs Orisi Rasalala, Owen Garaeben, Laki Faamamafa, Robin Ford-Condon and Ton Van Woerkom came flying into the game with some huge hits and carries, as the Devils fought to keep the admittedly fitter opposition at bay.
Camped on our 10-meter line and down to 14 men (cheers Chris), the team spirit was illustrated as Nii Oku Noi stopped their danger man in his tracks while reinforcements from captain Maynard and the lads quickly arrived to hold the opposition up, facilitate a scrum and create an opportunity to clear our lines.
As the final whistle blew, the Devils and all their supporters gave a victorious cheer and breathed a huge sigh of relief. This had been one of the toughest games for many years, which was reflected through the signs of respect from both sides after the game through an exchange of gifts and cultural traditions (danger chops). This rounded off what was an excellent game of rugby. Final score, 29-24 to the Devils.