Chris Dutton June 24, 2012
Brumby and Gungahlin Eagles' No.8 Ita Vaea pushes through the Vikings defence. Photo: ROHAN THOMSON
THE GUNGAHLIN Eagles bashed and belted their way to the biggest upset of the season yesterday and in the process blew the John I Dent Cup premiership race wide open by inflicting the Tuggeranong Vikings' first loss of the year.
The Eagles physical game plan stunned the previously undefeated Vikings as Gungahlin secured a boilover 29-12 victory at Nicholls Oval.
The win was made even more impressive by the fact the Eagles were reduced to 13-men in the second half with Rutikha Ilolahia red-carded and Xavier Duffy in the sin bin.
Their 17-point triumph will give every team in the competition hope that they can be a title contender in the coming weeks.
Prior to the match the Vikings had not been beaten in their nine games and appeared destined to win another premiership.
They had scored 380 points and conceded just 111.
But the Eagles have given rival clubs a blueprint on how to challenge the premier division powerhouses - be aggressive.
Boosted by the inclusion of ACT Brumbies No.8 Ita Vaea and some outstanding play from inside- centre Matt Hawke, the Eagles were ruthless.
''I got some lucky hits and sometimes it was like they didn't know where I was coming from so I got some good hits on,'' Vaea said.
''I'm absolutely knackered, we were playing with 13 boys for a while so I was just trying to stay positive.''
The Vikings have set the benchmark this season and have rarely been troubled in their rise to the top of the ladder.
They beat Easts 73-8 two weeks ago. In nine matches they had never scored less than 40 points and had ran in more than 70 points in three matches.
The last time the teams met, the Vikings won 40-0 and the game was even called off with 20 minutes to go after an injury to Ben McGee.
But the Eagles were ready for the challenge this time.
The match had everything. Ilolahia was sent off for kicking while referee Brett Bowden gave yellow cards to three other players.
The Eagles held a 24-5 lead at half-time thanks to tries from James Lovell, Xavier Duffy and Vaea.
Vaea was dangerous in defence, landing several bone-crunching hits on unsuspecting Vikings.
The Eagles defended staunchly after the break and despite having two less players, the only time the Vikings got over the line in the second half was when they were awarded a penalty try for repeated scrum infringements.
''Tuggeranong are the benchmark so we spoke all week about being physical and aggressive,'' Gungahlin coach Owen Finegan said.
''We worked hard for each other … everyone is a contender now and we've showed it's about coming with the right frame of mind.''
Three Tuggeranong players - Tom Murday, Darragh Fanning and Rodney Iona - had played trial Super Rugby games during the week, but coach Dan McKellar said that wasn't an excuse for his side's poor performance.
''Full credit to Gungahlin, they were full of energy and enthusiasm … we were a bit flat,'' McKellar said.
''If you're off a little bit, you'll get beaten. We're not kicking cans, but we definitely got out enthused.''
GUNGAHLIN EAGLES 29 (X Duffy, I Vaea, M Hawke, J Lovell tries; M McMahon 3 conversions, penalty) bt TUGGERANONG VIKINGS 12 (B Taueki try, penalty try; R Iona conversion); UNI-NORTHS OWLS 61 bt EASTS 7; WESTS 19 (M Pankhurst, F Auelua, J Luteru tries; A McKerchar 2 conversions) bt QUEANBEYAN WHITES 16 (N Murray, C Barbaro tries; S Windsor 2 penalties).