2020 is shaping up to be a huge year for SUFC. Many influential players have moved on to higher honours, young guns are pushing their way up and the monumental task of a 17th consecutive Club Championship along with team Premierships loom large. With all of this in in the background, a high-performance tour to New Zealand presented a great opportunity to test ourselves against some of the world’s best opposition and more importantly, start to build a group that were connected and energised for a common goal.

A group of 49 players and several coaching staff flew to Christchurch on 4th March. This group consisted of three teams who were each to play a fixture; a Colts side that would play Lincoln University U20s; and two grade teams, one to play the Highlanders’ Bravehearts Development Team and the other to play the Crusaders’ Knights Development Team. All three games were played at a very high standard. Overall the results were mixed with 2 losses to both the Bravehearts and the Knights, and a great win for the Colties against Lincoln University.

The Bravehearts game, played in Oamaru, showcased some great, enterprising footy. Papillon Sevele, the young backrower, had big impact early with a turnover and some barnstorming carries. Eddie Poolman made some incisive runs and made the most of a skilful Charlie Hancock linebreak and offload to open the account. Ed Renton crossed for a five-pointer off the back of some fantastic support play and Connor O’Doherty finished off the scoring for the Students from a dominant maul display towards the end of the game. The Bravehearts made life difficult with their clinical work over the ball and their outside backs were very effective at breaking tackles as well. Special mentions to Peter Fenwicke for a huge 80-minute effort, Connor Grindal’s destructive defence and tireless engine and to young Josh Bowd who is beginning to make his mark in the Students fold.

The Lincoln University game was a terrific display of fast and exciting rugby. Jude Gibbs controlled the game well at 10, putting numerous Uni men through space. Tom Woodcock showcased his skills with several line-breaks and Max Robson bagged an impressive four tries for his efforts on the sting. The young tighthead, Daniel Botha, crossed early after picking up an inside ball on a damaging line. It was great to see some players get their first taste of Uni rugby with Aidan Wearne, Paddy Tagg and Alex O’Reilly all putting in tremendous efforts. This younger team of Students dominated proceedings and amassed a wealth of tries whilst preventing Lincoln from scoring any.

The Crusaders are world renowned for their rugby prowess and the budding professionals in the Knights team showed exactly why. They were quick to pounce on turnover opportunities and highly effective in punishing mistakes. Having said this, the Students played some unreal rugby. The first 15 minutes was almost a one-sided affair, and not for the team you might expect. Matt Sandell had a blinder and found gainline multiple times with dominant carries. Hugh Summerhayes and Nick Champion de Crespigny were causing numerous headaches with linebreaks and massive hits in defence. The Uni backline were unstoppable when they clicked and provided some of the best tries of the game. Over time, execution errors started to creep in for the Students, providing the Knights with ample ammunition to deliver the punishing blows they did. It was a great game nonetheless, and the Uni side will walk away with plenty of positives and some key learnings.

Rugby aside the touring party were able to spark and ignite a great bond that will no doubt continue to grow and burn like wildfire. It was so good to see some big personalities getting to know some of the quieter guys in the group. Some of the new players were introduced to the Uni culture that makes our club so special. As we return to the whole playing group, the Buildcorp Australian Club Championship this weekend presents an excellent opportunity to showcase all that we took away from the trip. Physical, tactical and skill-based improvements will no doubt surface, but crucially, the boys are more comfortable with the players either side of them. The tour reinforced the desire of our players to go above and beyond for their Uni team mates. These takeaways will surely lead to some good wins ahead of the 2020 Shute Shield season.

Up the Students!