Byron Bay Rugby were beaten 35-14 by Lismore at home last Saturday, beaten but not bowed by a traditional powerhouse and one of this season’s title favourites.
Weather delayed the game by almost an hour but the Bay were quickly into their stride with an early 30 metre dash to set up play deep into the Lismore red zone. The visitors diffused the threat and soon demonstrated their experience at putting pressure on the Byron ball carriers.
The Byron forwards were more than willing at the breakdown but the team lacked the poise to control possession laterally and reverted to low percentage plays and wasteful kick options. In fairness, Lismore’s superior set pieces resulted in Byron having barely a third of possession in the first half.
Adding to Byron’s frustration was a gale force wind at the back of their opponents and Lismore’s judicious kicking game virtually pinned the home side in their own quarter. Territory and possession inevitably turned into points with Lismore running in three converted tries in the space of 15 minutes. On the stroke of half time, the Bay conceded a fourth try from their own lineout to trail 28-0.
A revitalised Byron Bay returned after the break. The team missed more than a dozen tackles in the first half but with the wind at their backs Byron barely made a defensive error. Mitch Loane was a true general at fullback and English duo Harry Nuttall and George Kitching now had the better of the opposing centres. Halfback Jack Dickson continued his stellar season, bravely playing with a shoulder injury.
In the forwards likeable behemoth Jamie Blair was responsible for leaving a slew of Lismore players writhing on the ground while his young second row partner Ryan Betts looked every bit a first grade footballer. It was now the Bay putting pressure on Lismore and with renewed confidence Byron attacked with precision and potency. Byron’s best player was front rower Craig Wallace who scored his team’s first try. Not far behind him was Michael Armstrong, the Bay’s brilliant attacking No.8, who scored Byron’s second.
Byron will be frustrated by the result but there were many aspects of the performance that underlined the Bay’s deserved place in first grade. Despite the loss, Byron is in third place after eight rounds. The team is still desperate to attract tight forwards. With half a dozen players injured, Byron had only 16 players against Lismore. Four of Byron’s tight-five forwards were playing out of their preferred position including Josh Smith who scrummaged the entire game despite a lower back injury.
For many years this has been the Byron way. Somewhat at odds with the town’s reputation as a pleasure haven, Byron Rugby is synonymous with toughness, courage and resolve in the face of adversity. The team will need all these qualities away to champions and competition leaders Lennox Head this Saturday.