After Sydney University failed to reach the Shute Shield finals for the first time in 19 years, the onus was on their 2nd grade side to come away with the next best thing, the Colin Caird Shield. And they did so in some style, rampaging through a stunned Eastwood to cross eight times in a one-sided 51-14 victory, and with an average age of just 21-years-old, they also offered up ample proof that the next generation of Students are ready to step up and reclaim their place amongst club rugby’s leading lights.
Their intentions to not only win, but make a statement in the process, were clear from the off, with an all-out assault on the Eastwood line that ended with flanker Declan Moore being held up over the line. But after a reset from the ensuing five-metre scrum, skipper Jackson McCalman showed the way, going low to find the chalk after his fellow forwards had splintered their opposing pack.
The only blot on Uni’s textbook start was James Kane’s missed conversion. But despite the Woodies regrouping well from such an early setback, turnovers at the breakdown and a misfiring lineout cruelled their progress, and every time they entered the opposition half, it was fullback Kane’s accurate boot that relentlessly kicked them all the way back to where they started.
A kick out on the full under pressure gave Uni a lineout on the edge of the 22 in the 12th minute, and after working infield and probing for an opening, an offside penalty enabled Kane to recalibrate the radar and open up an 8-0 lead.
Playing at a rapid pace and shifting the ball at will, Uni were forcing Eastwood to scramble and make plenty of tackles, while the scrum was another point of difference. A knockdown from Sione Ala on 17 minutes gave Uni the put in again inside the Eastwood half, and playing a penalty advantage after another powerful shove, flyhalf Theo Strang found his inside centre Will McDonnell, who broke through a soft tackle and offloaded for winger Henry Clunies-Ross – and you don’t catch the winger with clean air in front of him.
The Woodies then enjoyed their best period of the match so far, starting to stretch the Uni line but struggling to find the killer pass needed to break it open and get something on the scoreboard. Time and again the Students made a last-ditch tackle – step up McDonnell and Kane here in particular – or turned over opposition ball inside their own 22 and had the exit plays to see off danger, and perpetuate the frustration being felt by the Minor Premiers.
After 10 minutes of beavering away with no reward, the Woodies were hit with a sucker punch. Undone by a contentious breakdown decision, they were forced to defend a lineout 10 metres inside their own half. But in a very similar play to their previous try off a scrum, Strang took it to the line, fed McDonnell, and his pop pass put Kane through a hole and a chance to show that he had just as much gas as Clunies-Ross.
The fullback dusted himself off to add the extras, and Eastwood were in dire need of something at 22-0 down just after the half hour. But having thrown an awful lot of their best shots and not even seen their opponent blink, confidence was fast evaporating.
A third overthrow at the lineout, followed by a short-arm for an early engagement and then a scrum penalty, gave the air of a team beginning to unravel. And they duly conceded a fourth try in the shadows of half-time, falling off one too many tackles following a Uni lineout and Mitch Whiteley putting the industrious Declan Moore away for an easy score.
They escaped the punishment of a further two points from Kane’s missed conversion. But as the teams went to the sheds at 27-0, it was pretty hard to make a case for an Eastwood comeback, such was the disparity on the scoreboard, and in the body language of both sets of players.
The Students thought they were in again just five minutes after the break. Playing with yet another scrum penalty advantage, no.9 Dan Calavassy fed halves partner Strang, who put in the cutest of kicks in behind for outside centre Harry Potter to run onto and dot down. However, referee Charles Hartson – to the bemusement of everyone of a blue and gold persuasion, and many who weren’t – disallowed it, seemingly for ’crossing’, or maybe being in front of the kicker – neither of which appeared to be the case.
But if Eastwood thought that reprieve might be the catalyst for an unlikely comeback, the events of the next few minutes sealed their fate for good.
Fullback Jackson Bird was sent to the bin for an adjudged deliberate knockdown with Henry Clunies-Ross lying in wait for a run home. But when the same thing happened just two minutes later, with Sione Ala the accused this time and Clunies-Ross again the man ready to pounce on the same flank, the Woodies were left with 13 men, the mother of all uphill battles, and a Uni side keen to rub their noses in it even further.
That they didn’t punish the numerical disadvantage with immediate effect was perhaps the biggest surprise given their previous levels of execution. But in their rush to annihilate, they let slip the basics that had put them into such a lofty position in the first place, and as a result, several gilt-edged chances went begging before that man Kane was in the right place at the right time just before the hour for his second of the afternoon.
A pushed pass on 61 minutes landed kindly at the feet of Harry Potter, who didn’t need anything magical to pick up and scurry home for try number six. And an attempted chip from fullback Bird unfortunately landed straight in the midriff of Clunies-Ross, who duly glided home for the double he probably deserved given the prior miscreancy at his expense.
Yet finally, with a touch over 10 minutes of the contest remaining, the boys from TG Millner had something to cheer. A dart from openside Tom Murphy gained a few metres off a quick-tap penalty, impressive replacement Tevita Piukala took up the mantle to drive within sight of the posts, and fellow bench-warmer Sione Tangi was too big and too strong to hold from a couple of metres.
The half-century for Uni was perhaps inevitable, the influential but under-stated Will McDonnell paving the way for their last score of the day, keeping the Woodies defence guessing with the ball in both hands before releasing speedy winger Matthew Dowsett to the line. But it was the Minor Premiers that had the last say, Sione Fangia profiting from another loose chip-kick to say thankyou very much and go over for a final score of 51-14.
Though it may not have been the ultimate prize that Sydney University craved, this 2nd Grade title, and the manner in which it was achieved, laid down some marker for the future from those involved. Many of these young names have already taken their bow in the Shute Shield, expect them to take up residency over the next few years,
SYDNEY UNIVERSITY 51 (Henry Clunies-Ross 2, James Kane 2, Jackson McCalman, Declan Moore, Harry Potter, Matthew Dowsett tries; James Kane 4 cons, pen) defeated EASTWOOD 14 (Sione Tangi, Sione Fangia tries; Jackson Bird 2 cons) HT 27-0
SYDNEY UNIVERSITY: 1. Alex Batho; 2. Stewart Nutt; 3. Chris Talakai; 4. Jordan Chapman; 5. Nock Champion De Crespigny; 6. Declan Moore; 7. Jackson McCalman (c); 8. Mitch Whiteley; 9. Dan Calavassy; 10. Theo Strang; 11. Matthew Dowsett; 12. Will McDonnell; 13. Harry Potter; 14. Henry Clunies-Ross; 15. James Kane – Replacements: Ezrah Amituanai; Alistair Ryan
EASTWOOD: 1. George Francis; 2. Ed Craig; 3. Dean Doumbos; 4. Tom Alexander; 5. Jackson Larkin (c); 6. Kyle Shewan; 7. Tom Murphy; 8. Makoto Tosa; 9. Max Page; 10. Wes Sefuiva; 11. James Sarks; 12. Sione Fangia; 13. Tim Williams; 14. Sione Ala; 15. Jackson Bird – Replacements: Joey Afualo; Lefu Ioapo; Lachlan Cannell; Tevita Piukala; Jamieson Clark; Lachlan Burland; Fabian Goodall
What they said…
Sydney University Head Coach Ray Hudd:
“I pictured in my mind that if we executed a certain game plan we’d been working on, and if we did that with some energy, we’d get the result. We identified that if we played down the other end of the field, they seemed to struggle to get out of their own 20, so we would wait and see what they would do and try to capitalise on any mistake or option that they took if it didn’t come off too well. But I think the boys just blew them off the park early.
“I think the last three weeks in the finals in particular it’s been about 80 minutes. With a young group, we probably saw a lot of mistakes come about through small fumbles and so on from excitement, so we had to hold our composure in that second half. It probably didn’t help that Eastwood got two yellow cards early because it pushed our enthusiasm right to the top, and we started pushing passes. If we’d stuck to our structures we probably would have got a few more tries, but credit to Eastwood, they played a game that managed to chew up some time.
“Two-thirds of the team are colts with an average age of 21 or maybe even younger, so it’s been a case of identifying the talent within the Club, finding the ones who can handle grade, working with them over the last six weeks or so, and putting a side together that can win a competition.
“Part of my own plan for today was to let everyone know that the Club is still as strong as ever, and that we’re back on track and will be a force to deal with in the coming years. Sometimes you have to go through these rebuilding phases, but these boys have put in the work and it showed today. We only made replacements through injury and I thought the effort that was put in by the starting team was excellent to sit and watch.”
Eastwood captain Jackson Larkin:
“It obviously wasn’t the result we were looking for. We’d had a really good run into the finals and were looking confident. But at the end of the day, you’ve just got to perform in grand finals and we didn’t really put it all together, and the better team won.
“Starting well in a grand final is probably the most important thing. But we dropped the ball from the kick-off, which put us on the backfoot, and Uni being a really well-drilled side, they really put us under the pump for that first 15 minutes, and that led to the game getting a bit out of hand by the half-time break. It really doesn’t help when you lose two men as well. They weren’t ridiculous calls, they weren’t the best things for the boys to do, but at the end of the day, losing two men in a grand final, it makes it very hard, especially when the intensity is that high in the game.
“Uni have a lot of experience when it comes to finals and it really shines through at times like this. They kicked really smartly all game. We had a similar game plan, but I suppose they executed a bit better when it came to kicking to the backfield, finding grass and letting it run out, and their back three just covered our kicks that much better on the day. Their scramble defence is really great, and we knew that doing our review. But we just couldn’t get those offloads through, or that offload would go to deck, and unfortunately, the bounce of the ball just wasn’t with us today. We’ve just got to take it back to the workshop and next year, get into it again.
“There was a little bit of weight on our shoulders in respects to us being the only Eastwood side to make a grand final, and we really wanted to do the club proud. Getting six teams into the major semis was a great feat, and we almost took out the club championship again, which is always a massive goal for us. We prepared as well as we could, and we did as well as we could but unfortunately, grand finals are just another level of footy, and we weren’t up to it today.”
Sydney University captain Jackson McCalman:
“We knew that a complete performance from us was going to be very hard to beat, so we focused a lot on our game during the week and with all due respects to Eastwood, we knew that if we played it well, we were capable of scoring a lot of points. But I think today that a lot of the points came off the back of really strong defence, and in grand finals that is what it can come down to. It’s a bit of an old cliché but our defence was good, and 51pts was the benefactor of that.
“Our poorest moments of the game were when they went down to 13! I think we got over-excited and could have been a bit more clinical but credit to Eastwood, they weren’t too worried about how many men they had out on the field, they were busting their guts to keep us out and they did that well.
“The Shute Shield comp this year was very tight and there were a lot of good teams, and at the end of the day, our 1st Grade were a little bit unlucky not to make finals, but the teams that were in front of them were also very deserving of a place in the top six. So for us, it wasn’t really a matter of redeeming or avenging 1st Grade, it was about going and doing something that this group has been working towards. But I suppose to a degree it was important we won this today, and it is very nice that 2nd Grade can come away with the biccies . I think the average age of this side is 21-years-old, so you can look to the future and say that things are looking bright, and for them to perform that well at that age, can only mean good things to come.”