Sydney University vs Northern Suburbs
By Bruce ‘China’ Lin
The venue for the 2016 Grand Final, North Sydney Oval was revisted last Saturday. On this occasion the Students achieved victory over the Northern Suburbs Shoremen – but not without many anxious moments till the very end.
Both sides were bolstered with some heavy artillery in the form of available Super Rugby players. University had a mean look to the forward pack while the backline was full of speed.
However the match started on a sad note when captain and breakaway Jake Wainwright after five minutes was stretchered off with a nasty ankle leg injury. Hamish Dunbar was called upon as the replacement despite playing a full 2nd Grade game beforehand.
University were gaining good field position and set a five metre scrum. A phase of exhausting picking and driving resulted in halfback Jake ‘the snake’ Gordon scurrying over for a try.
Norths kept chipping away at University with penalties through their five-eighth Sinclair. The scoreboard showed 6-5 favouring the red and blacks but not for long! Once again University were dominant inside the Norths 22 metre area. From a ruck Gordon fed the ball to the open. But instead of spreading it wide the first man off the ruck was returning Waratah hooker Tolu Latu. Latu running at full speed demonstrated a Tongan torpedo by splitting the defensive line for a spectacular crashing over for five points. Score-line of 12-6 quickly changed to 19-6 when a phase of aggressive recycling resulted in second rower Dave McDuling peel off a ruck to score.
Stung by University’s head start Norths retaliated soon after. Receiving a kickable penalty Norths instead opted for a scrum on the 22 metre line. A set move was played where Sinclair passed back inside to Waratah winger Cam Clark who raced through a gap to score a converted try. 19-13 still favoured the Students as the half time bell sounded.
The old world charm of North Sydney Oval on a cold but brilliant winter Saturday is a joy to Rugby die-hards. The second half did not disappoint those at the ground.
University continued their focus on attaining good field position. At an early juncture the Students were attacking inside the Norths 22 metre area. University inched their way inside the five metre area and were pounding the Norths line. Fullback Tom Kingston injected himself and drew defenders down the blind-side. Kingston delicately timed a pass received by the flying left winger Christian Kagiassis. Kagiassis launched himself towards the corner post likened to his school holidays diving off a Mykonos jetty to score.
University possessed the momentum. A loose ruck saw replacement second rower Australian U20s player, Lachie Swinton looking very clean cut with a Justin Bieber look score a further try. 34-16 was the University lead but the wounded Shoremen was not about to give up.
Some perplexing decisions by the referee punished University with Latu sent to the sin bin for ruck infringements. A quick reshuffle of the card deck saw Dunbar off and usher the 1st Grade debut of colt, Tom Horton at hooker. Young Tom’s debut was a learning experience as the big Norths pack applied enormous pressure at the set piece. With one man down it was inevitable that University’s scrum back pedalled causing a penalty try to be awarded. To keep a sufficient buffer an opportunity emerged and University had Kagiassis kick a crucial penalty to creep ahead to 37 points.
Norths on the other hand continued to exert immense pressure on the Students causing two more tries to be scored. There was less than five minutes left and Norths were coming back at University with venom. Scores were 37-35 still in favour of the Students. Norths were acquiring field position to launch an all-out attack. The bell sounded and the ball was still alive. Norths spread the ball to the flanks and were recycling inside the University half. The entire University contingent in the stands and around the ground were on edge chanting the positive thoughts of Buddhist zen master Thich Nhat Hahn to hold out the Shoremen.
University were tackling desperately. But good luck befell the Students as the Norths winger was encased by University defenders like in a David Jones gift wrap and bundled into touch. The gripping encounter had finally ended and University took back across the bridge the John Thornett Cup.
A relieved coach Tim Davidson was still breathless five minutes after the bell. “Norths applied enormous pressure from the set piece. It went down to the wire and in the end it was a great game,” said the relieved coach.
Finally the future of the Club was echoed by a sweat and dirt caked Tom Horton. Resembling a cast member of that Irish soul band movie The Commitments with his long locks held back with tape Horton was equally drained. “It’s so much different to colts. Intensity, everyone wants it a bit more and they’re a lot bigger!”
There are no easy games and University take on the abrasive Manly Marlins at University next Saturday.