Sydney University


Hunter Wildfires

15 April 2023

By Bruce ‘China’ Lin

The sun was shining and the sky was a brilliant blue. Perfect conditions on a Saturday autumn afternoon to view Sydney University battle the undefeated Hunter Wildfire at Camperdown.

In a game resembling a see saw or tobu chamjo for our underground North Korean fans, University slugged it out for a 29-26 victory.

Both sides showed no breaches in the opening ten minutes until five eighth Connor O’Shea decided to use a bit of *mountebankery with a short stab kick behind the Hunter defence. The kick was perfectly executed to bounce into the arms of the trailing University winger Eddy King who scored a try. The conversion was unconverted and the Students were up 5-0.

But this moment of satisfaction was momentary as Hunter hit back a short time later with a try after camping themselves inside the University quarter. Relentless pressure was pushing University into dire straights defending their goal line. The fracture occurred when the walls finally burst with a drive crashing over for a converted try. The Novocastrians were now ahead 7-5.

Both sides decided to give the ball more width from then on. Once inside the Hunter quarter University applied their signature phase play to drive Hunter back. Repeated phases was being played exhausting the defence. University ran to the blind and a delicate short ball was handed by halfback Smith to flanker Aiden Wearne who scored his second try in consecutive weeks.

But again the Students were inconsistent to maintain the momentum. An uncharacteristic loosely marked rucked allowed Hunter to dart through a gap more prodigious than Donald J Trump’s combover! Hunter took advantage camping out from the University line to score an easy try. Head coach Damien Hill was visibly annoyed this glitch materialized and voiced instructions behind the in goal. Whatever was said worked as the next score by University was the best try of the day.

University formed a lineout on the grandstand side of the ground. The ball was spread wide with fast sets of hands. Fullback Tom Morrison made an extra man injecting himself and made a bee line towards the northern touchline. But instead of tip toeing down the touchline Morrison passed back inside to the rampaging outside centre, the great influencer Henry Clunies-Ross who scored under the posts.

This was precisely at half time and there’s no better feeling than a lead of 17-14 going into the dressing sheds.

There are always welcome visitors returning to Camperdown. One today was former University fullback-winger Jacob @ Jake Taylor the club’s most recent Rhodes scholar visiting from America with his wife Nina. Jakes entourage of American family and friends was amazed how two teams of  fifteen players could crash into each other without helmets or padding!

Again in the second half the undulating nature of the game continued. Hunter spread the ball wide  with a try through their speedy outside centre Pohla burning rubber to score in the corner.  Hunter was ahead 19-17. But like the late-night telemarketing advertisements – there’s more! University was attacking just from the Hunter line and were awarded a penalty from offside at a ruck. Smith sensing Hunter unprepared took a quick tap. Before you could blink Smith scored a try hoodwinking the defence for University back in the lead at 22-19.

Call it groundhog day but Hunter again never threw in the towel. A five-metre lineout was formed and the rolling maul caused another try to be scored in the far northern corner for another slender lead of 26-22 after the conversion.

Less than ten minutes remained in the game. Ample time for the Students to snatch a victory and this came soon after. The play was positioned once again outside the Hunter goal line. University was turning the screws on Hunter with ruthless picking and driving resulting in a burrowing try adjacent to the posts. The Theo Strang conversion edged University ahead 29-26. But with less than three minutes left Hunter could still snatch victory.

Those in the crowd may have thought this might have been the case with Hunter stealing a University lineout and proceeding for the final time to grind away inside the Students quarter. Hunter was applying the blowtorch along with the sledgehammer pounding towards the University line. University could ill afford to give away any penalties to allow Hunter an opportunity to snatch victory. University was repelling these raids and then a moment of sheer luck befell the Students. Hunter in their exuberance knocked on. The ball spilled out of the ruck at full time and the referee blew full time to end a pulsating game.

Hunter has improved by a quantum leap since reentering the competition and will be a threat to all opposition teams. To University a bonus point win is always welcome and improvements are being delivered every week.

Captain Jack McCalman saw the benefits of a home game, “It’s good to be playing back at home. We played our first game here against Norths but didn’t get the result. But today we played and impressed our supporters against a strong Hunter.”

Head coach Damien Hill saw the gradual improvement in the team every week, “We found a way to win. We still have some errors in our execution which we need to fix. Our focus will be to improve on reducing these errors.

Next Saturday University will head west to Eric Tweedale Stadium and battle the Western Sydney Two Blues.


*mountbankery: deception, guile