Byron Bay rugby union were beaten 16–5 by Bangalow’s Eastern Rebels on Saturday. In a triumph of grind over glamour and beef over brilliance, it was fair reward for the disciplined Rebels. Byron Bay remain comfortably in the First Grade top four, six points clear of Ballina and Bangalow. Still with a game in hand, the Bay will look to secure maximum points in the coming weeks against trailing teams University, Casino and Grafton.
Byron had been rocked midweek by a shoulder injury to Josh Smith. The charismatic front rower will miss a month of football after a training mishap and his absence was a boon to the Rebels, whose game relies so heavily on scrum dominance.
Byron’s smaller scrum was on rollerskates in the slippery conditions and the Rebels turned territory and possession into points to lead 6–0 at the break. Byron were forced to play a counterattacking game but still looked the most likely to score tries in the first half. Centre Harry Nuttall grounded over the line but after a long consultation between referee and linesman the Byron star was judged to have made contact with the corner post.
The Rebels extended their lead to nine after a third penalty conversion early in the second half but the Bay replied in scintillating fashion when Jash Saeck delivered a marvellous ball to put fullback George Kitching over in the corner. With twenty minutes to play the tide seemed to have turned in the Bay’s favour. The Rebels’ back three remained effective but their ponderous inside backs and midfield posed no threat despite a glut of quality possession. The Rebels’ big forwards were also visibly tiring.
Much to their credit, desperate defence from the home side forced Byron into the unforgivable error of conceding a penalty when in possession of the ball. In a frustrating afternoon Byron had already missed five shots at goal and another successful Rebels’ conversion relieved the scoreboard pressure. The Rebels closed out the match with a late forwards try.
In a performance lacking nothing in courage but a good deal in composure, Saeck and Kitching were excellent as was evergreen centre Robert Lynch who must surely be closing in on 100 appearances for Byron Bay. Nathan Nicholls showed his quality and versatility at halfback but the Bay sorely missed the attacking edge and direction of Jack Dickson, who was serving a controversial one-match suspension.
In the forwards the great Michael Armstrong was still dominant in a pack outgunned at the set piece. Captain and expectant father Pete Shaw was brave as always, the reliable Tom Homer was never far from the ball, and new-look Matt Larsson returned to his best form. On the score of desire the Bay’s front rower Craig Wallace was unmatched.
Byron Bay have a bye this Saturday ahead of a midweek trip to Southern Cross University. Byron will again rest up over the Splendour weekend before taking on Casino at home on 3 August.