By DAVE MORRISON
A RAMPANT Redmen rugby pack set up another comprehensive win against top opposition with Grafton gaining maximum points in their 29-17 victory over University at Grafton on Saturday.
The final score line probably under stated the Mighty River Redmen's dominance, their tight five crushing the student eight and the Grafton backs finishing off with clinical efficiency to have the match well and truly sealed with a 26-3 lead at the break.
The Grafton scrum, led by hooker turned prop Scott Forwell, and Dan Hayne crushed their rivals and the Grafton lineout, with lock Jono Speechley and flanker Paul Cameron sensational in the air, dismantled their taller opponents.
This set piece superiority laid a platform that the Grafton backs dined on, scoring four first-half tries with centre Ray Mercy picking up a treble.
Mercy opening the scoring early, strolling over near the posts following a series of possessions in the student quarter.
Ten minutes later winger Tom Gerrard finished off more sustained team pressure in a passage of play that started near halfway and featured great movement of the ball down a congested blind side. Gerrard's pace carried him to the line as the defence ran out of numbers.
Two more tries to Mercy, the first following dropped ball on halfway and the other, secured the bonus point by half time.
Grafton's opening 40 minutes was about as good as it gets. Indeed it was probably as good an effort seen from the Redmen in the last few years and one that a full strength University side with plenty of raps on it had no answer to.
It was form that has set the early-season standard for the Far North Coast Rugby season.
The second stanza saw a more committed effort from the students as they lifted considerably.
Grafton seemed to drop off some intensity and their fitness flagged a little in the hot conditions.
Nevertheless, the second 40 minutes produced hard, grinding rugby from both sides, University bringing some respectability back into the score with two tries in the latter stages however, at no stage was Grafton's victory in doubt.
In a tough call, Forwell was probably Grafton's best, adapting superbly to his unaccustomed prop position, and was closely followed by the youthful and rapidly improving Speechley and Mercy.
Big lock, Matt Runge also had a barnstorming game using his and strength to great effect and making a couple of fine covering tackles in the second half.
The win puts the Redmen on top of the table with maximum points after two rounds.
University's added pace in the hot conditions was instrumental in their victories in the lower grades.
Grafton's seconds seemed to forget how to tackle in their 36-3 loss while the Redmen Thirds were a little unlucky to lose 27-20, picking up a bonus point but finding the pace out wide telling in the middle stages of a high quality game.
First grade: WOLLONGBAR-ALSTONVILLE 22 (J Bell, K Sharman, F De Villiers, A Bennett, L Nunn tries; S Caldwell conversion) d YAMBA 10 (P Davis, A Miller tries).
GRAFTON 29 (R Mercy 3, T Gerrard tries; A Taylor 3 conversions, penalty goal) d SOUTHERN CROSS UNIVERSITY 17 (H Vanderglas, B White tries; D Thom 2 conversions, penalty goal).
BALLINA 48 (B Horan 2, C Davey, T Nichols, T Fisher, M Robinson, B Milner tries; Andrew Fisher 5 conversions, penalty goal) d LENNOX HEAD 7 (B Cochrane try, conversion).
CASINO 26 d COOLANGATTA-TWEED 19 (no details provided).
Point score: Grafton 10, Wollongbar-Alstonville 9, Ballina 6, Casino 5, Southern Cross University 5, Yamba 5, Coolangatta-Tweed 1, Lennox Head , Lismore 0.
Best and fairest awards:
3 points - Mitch McLennan (Yamba), Jonathon Speechley (Grafton), Brent Horan (Ballina);
2 points - Daniel Williams (Lennox Head), H Vanderglas (SCU), Andrew Bennett (Wollongbar);
1 points - Paul Davies (Ballina), Ben Grayndler (Wollongbar), Gary Powell(Grafton).
Reserve grade: Mullumbimby 18 d Casino 12, SCU 36 d Grafton 3.
Under-19s: Lismore d Coolangatta-Tweed, Casino 35 d Mullumbmby 5, Wollongbar-Alstonville d Yamba, SCU d Grafton on forfeits.
Third grade: Ballina 12 d Lennox Head 10, SCU 27 d Grafton 20.
Evans River 47 d Iluka 8, Kyogle 22 d Woolgoolga 3, Bangalow 20 d Byron Bay 3.