In conditions which resembled Club Med Pyongyang, University ended their season triumphant. Captain Jack McCalman’s team waged an almighty dog fight 26-19 victory over Gordon. The game went down literally to the wire with the final set piece of the day.   

Running against the prodigious wind in the first half, University were repelling a bustling Gordon who focused on disrupting the Students continuity. The heavy hits resulted in an early casualty with University’s hooker Ciaran Loh concussed and being helped from the ground. His replacement Pat O’Doherty would then commence an exhausting journey likened to watching the epic movie Lawrence of Arabia to play virtually an entire 1st Grade grand final and 2nd Grade game after his 2nd Grade’s narrow loss in the curtain raiser. Thank the lord that his mother Dr Margaret Bryce. Who needs to run on adrenaline when his medico mother can carbo load him the night before with an extra baked Irish soda bread. University however did manage to eventually gain some field position inside the tartan quarter. Once inside this precinct the methodical play of University was on show.

An early penalty saw Gordon momentarily in the lead. But a series of rucks and mauls was strung together which allowed University to press. Ruthless picks and drives were about to fracture the Gordon defensive line. However, from a ruck, halfback Henry Robertson’s pass was loose. But the ball was fortunately knocked back which allowed five eighth Ben Hughes to consolidate proceedings by regathering. Seeing something more tantalizing than a Donald Trump skin tan, the quick thinking Hughes darted through a gap to score adjacent to the posts. Hughes converted his own try for a 7-3 lead.

Another Gordon penalty to their fullback McDonald kept them on University’s tails at 7-6. Gordon later decided to give the ball some inner west air with the ball being shifted along their backline. An overlap through a looping long ball allowed their zippy winger Pollack to dart over for a converted try.  11-7 was the halftime score in favour of Gordon.

The day was wet, windy, cold and generally miserable. But the next forty minutes would define University. The formula was simple use the prodigious wind and secure that field position to squeeze the breath from Gordon’s playmaking.

The start of the second half was everything the coaches dreamt of. University secured field position inside the Gordon quarter. The precision rucking and mauling was then ramped up. Wave after wave of blue and gold hoops were bombarding the Gordon line. Then University’s loose head prop Charlie Hancock received the ball. As if it was a scene from 1981’s sports epic Chariots of Fire, the Wesley College icon tucked the ball under his arms. One step, two steps, Hancock’s face taught with determination legs pumping. You could almost hear the movie theme from Vangelis coming over the Wayne Pearce hill as Hancock in slow motion thundered towards the Gordon line. Big Charlie smashed through the poor deer’s who must have been affected with a dose of stravage * planting the ball to tumultuous applause from his comrades and the crowd. University were ahead 14-11 but University now had that added momentum.

Like a mirror image University gained field position and commenced to clobber Gordon with their ruthless rucking. Picking and driving back pedalled Gordon to their line. The Cumnock colt Jack McCalman took the ball from the back of a ruck and stretched over to score. The conversion was missed but the Students had slight breathing space at 19-11.  

Gordon shaken but not stirred decided to liberate themselves with all-out attack . From a lineout the ball was quickly shifted along the backline towards the hill. Again the fast Pollack received the ball. Some mistimed University tackles gave Pollack a clear run for the corner. The covering defence was desperately trying to cut him off at the pass but to no avail. There was no Koroibete moment to save a try.  Pollack dived over into the corner for a difficult wide conversion. The conversion was missed and University were just a whisker ahead at 19-16 with the clock winding down.

The final quarter saw both teams punch and counterpunch each other. Whenever University gained some territory a mistake or penalty squandered valuable continuity and allowed Gordon an opportunity to pressure University. The clock saw ninety seconds left in the game and Gordon were applying incredible pressure inside the University half. University were able to acquire a turnover and sixty seconds were remaining. University were treating the ball like a freshly baked souffle gently taking the ball up delicately and not allowing it to spill. Twenty seconds remained and there were two rucks left to see out the game and say to Gordon in the words of the 38th Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger “hasta la vista……baby!”

But in the heat of battle anything can occur, and the ball was fumbled by the Students. Gordon were in ideal field position just outside the University quarter to mount their last raid. Gordon had the loose head scrum. Their scrum was reasonably strong and everyone expected them to win the ball and spread it along their back line. The scrum packed and the ball was fed by their halfback Goddard. But for reasons unknown to the populace the front row of Gordon collapsed allowing University to channel the ball back in almost sprezzatura * fashion. Robertson passed the ball back to winger Angus Bell who nonchalantly kicked it into the hillside to see out University premiers for the 2022 season. Commiserations Gordon a gallant effort.

Amongst the back slapping post game some select individuals voiced their opinions of the day. Former club President and stalwart, David Mortimer AO, was beaming with immense pride. “I’m really very proud of how our current President, David Lyons and his team were able to assemble a coaching crew to secure once again a premiership.”

Club sponsor, Buildcorp principal, Tony Sukkar AM was impressed. Jack McCalman led the team down to the wire and finally brought it home. I’m very proud of every player in first grade this year.”

The team could not achieve this result without the formidable coaching team.  University lost nearly all their 1st Grade team during the off season which puts into significance what the coaches have achieved.  Head Coach, Sean Hedger was all smiles in his maiden season after the game, “To win a Grand Final with a tight head is an exciting finish if you ever want one. Conditions were difficult. But in the second half we controlled conditions, field positions and ultimately controlled the ball to score.”

Forwards Coach, Mark Bakewell was emotionally drained. “Forty years I’ve been involved in rugby and twenty-two years I have been involved in coaching. This is my first year with SUFC and ended up with a Premiership. I’m so happy for the team. It was ugly but I don’t care!” said Bakewell.

Players  with their families were enjoying the moment . Tight-head prop Darcy Breen was creating history by playing Gordon in a Grand Final fifty years after his grandfather his Honour Justice, Dick Edmonds playedin the same game and was also victorious. Big second rower Zac von Appen who secured a training contract with the Waratahs after a tremendous season was seen downing VB’s afterwards and sporting a cauliflower ear bigger than his auntie Heidi’s semmelknodel *. Last words are from Captain, Jack McCalman enjoying the moment of euphoria. “I’m just so ecstatic and proud of the guys after a tough year. To finish an arm wrestle like that I couldn’t be more prouder of this team.”

Until the sound of that whistle, the crispness in the autumn air a meat pie and an ale on a Saturday afternoon farewell 2022.

Up the Students!

*stravage – To wander aimlessly

*sprezzatura- The ability to make one’s actions effortless or disguise one’s true desire feelings or meaning.

*semmelknodel- German potato dumpling.


Tries – Ben Hughes, Charlie Hancock, Jack McCalman, Mitch Ryan
Conversions – Ben Hughes (3)