West Harbour defeated Sydney University 43-34 at the Football Ground on Saturday despite the home team’s dominant pack and scoring five tries to the visitors’ four.
Pirates five-eighth Tayler Adams collected 23 points, converting all four tries, kicking four penalties, and knocking over a field goal to boot.
It’s clear from the tactics Randwick, Manly and West Harbour have taken into recent matches, and a testament to decades of success, that Sydney Uni remain the Shute Shield benchmark. This despite not appearing in the past two deciders.
All have taken an up-tempo, helter-skelter approach with an aim of creating half chances and maximising scoring opportunities. On Saturday, West Harbour introduced another element, incessant niggle, including rucking the man or “stomping”, which was banned some time ago. Whether through Uni ill-discipline or strange officiating, it worked.
These tactics counter to an extent the dominant Uni set piece. Certainly there was much West Harbour high-fiving, backslapping and trash talking that followed rare and contentious scrum penalties. And Uni’s lineout functioned effectively with six men.
West Harbour scored after five minutes thanks to Uni inattention at the breakdown. It was the first of two tries for abrasive backrower Tom Patterson. Adams’ conversion made it 7-0.
Uni retaliated five minutes later through halfback Jake Gordon after sustained pressure on the Wests line and the option of scrums over three points. At this stage it looked like Wests would be in for a long afternoon. Angus Roberts converted for 7-7.
Adams kicked a penalty at the 15-minute mark for Wests to take a 10-7 lead. Referee Anthony Moyes’ adjudicating kept Wests in Uni territory for long periods of the match.
Uni’s second try gave a glimpse of the possibilities that await. Midway through the half, from a scrum 10m in their own territory, inside centre Thomas Carter breached the defence with nous (he ran at the half gap) and determination (he ran hard). Quick ball from the breakdown was transferred from Gordon to five-eighth Ben Hughes, fullback Roberts and finally winger Saia Tanginoa who scooted over unopposed for 40m to score in the corner. Uni 12-10.
If the alignment, timing and crispness of passing on the second phase had been repeated more often in this game, and in recent weeks, it’s hard to think Uni wouldn’t be on top of the comp. But too often we’ve seen passes dropped or passes not made. Rarely have so many Uni backs ended up in or near touch.
It was reminiscent of former first grade coach Rupert Rosenblum’s remonstrations to a winger playing on No.1 in the early 1980s. “If you keep running across field like that you’ll be hit by a bus on Parramatta Road.”
Uni squandered chances, not the least outside centre Jim Stewart after 26 minutes.
Wests hung on, and their niggle received its desired result when Uni hooker Folau Fainga’a was binned after half an hour and lock Jeremy Tilse after 35 minutes.
It allowed Wests to score in the championship period just before and just after halftime, interspersed by a Roberts penalty. The Pirates took a 17-15 lead into the break and went out to 23-15 frontrunners early in the second half through another two Adams penalty goals.
The five-eighth then cleverly kicked for fullback Liam Windon to gather an in-pass to winger Justin Marsters. A sideline conversion made it 30-15. Time enough if good enough for Uni, but it wasn’t to be. Adams continued to turn pressure into points thanks to territorial domination brought about by Uni’s lack of attention to detail.
Gordon scored his second try with Uni playing “catch-up football”. He took a quick tap and eventually picked up a grubber at the other end of the field. It was still game on at 36-22 and Uni sensed it with a classic try with about seven minutes to go. A sweeping backline movement put winger Matthew Narracott in space and his blistering speed ensured the rest. Roberts’s sideline conversion made it 35-29.
But Wests weren’t to be denied. They started to create midfield space and in turn field position. Eventually inside centre David Minute “picked and dove” as opposed to “picked and drove”. Adams was never going to miss the conversion and it was 43-29.
Uni rounded out the scoring with a Carter try, again from good backs skills and a solid finish.
The Students’ great set piece is being wasted at the moment, compounded by turnovers. The pack is premiership quaIity, the backs a work in progress. Maybe it’s just attention to detail and countering the frenetic starts other teams are throwing up.
Despite an otherwise exemplary season to date, halfback Jake Gordon could improve the chances of his outside men with clearances from the ground, rather than after a couple of crabwise steps. Kick pressure and kick reception needs attention as well. There’s no point in outside backs chasing a kick, especially from a planned move, if they do nothing on arrival.
Maybe it’s the No 1 Oval effect. Nothing compared with the Grandstand corner atmosphere in the last five minutes of a game, whether in attack or defence. How often did it lift Uni? No doubt the Football Ground will become a showpiece of Harbour City rugby, but at the moment Uni is missing a home-ground fortress aura.
The ability is there, as is the forward muscle and skill. And as with the Randwick match, this was a game there for the taking. The spent arrow, the spoken word, the lost opportunity … they never come back.
Sydney Men’s premier competition – Round 6
First Grade: West Harbour 43 (Tom Patterson 2, David Minute, Justin Marsters tries; Tayler Adams 4 cons, 4 pens, field goal) defeated Sydney University 34 (Jake Gordon 2, Saia Tanginoa, Thomas Carter, Matthew Narracott tries; Angus Roberts 3 cons, pen goal) at Sydney University Football Ground.