After destroying Southern Districts at Forshaw last weekend, Sydney Uni are just one bonus point win away from claiming the 2018 Shute Shield minor premiership.
It’s an impressive feat in a competition as tight as this.
But it’s even more impressive considering the Students missed the playoffs last year, for the first time in almost 20 years.
“It’s definitely nice to be on top of the table and even though there isn’t a big gap to the other sides, it’s pretty tight below us, so it’s nice to be just ahead of that at the moment,” rookie coach Rob Taylor told Rugby News.
Following the departures of club stalwarts Tim Davidson and Tom Carter, Taylor inherited a young first grade squad this year with bucketloads of potential.
But the Kiwi born coach deserves plenty of credit for implementing an unusual game plan that has transformed the Students into the competition’s best attacking and defensive side.
In 2018, Sydney Uni have scored more points than any other side (ave 42.1 points per game), with the least amount of possession (ave 13:27 minutes with possession per game).
Essentially, the Students don’t want the ball. And when they do have it, they want to score and score quickly.
“Yeah, it is intentional. I don’t want to give away too many secrets but we’re pretty comfortable defending,” Taylor explained.
“You look at a side like West Harbour and they are happy to hold the ball for lots of phases and long periods of time, whereas we’re not afraid to push the ball once we get it. We’re not really looking to build phases, we want to find some space and attack with a really positive mindset.
“The downside to that is you sometimes cough up early ball and at the moment, we’re doing that a little more than we’d like to, but that’s something we’ll continue to work on.”
While a big, structured forward pack and fast, expansive backline is nothing new for Sydney Uni, the Students defensive pressure in 2018 is almost unprecedented.
And again, it’s by design.
“Defence wins you championships and looking at the last three Shute Shield champions, they’ve all had the best defensive record at the end of round 18,” Taylor said.
“It’s nothing groundbreaking, but you don’t want to be leaking points at this time of the year.”
Sydney Uni need just one bonus point win over either Randwick or Gordon in the final two rounds to secure the minor premiership and home ground advantage in the playoffs, something Taylor thinks will be crucial in the coming weeks.
“I think any team playing at home in the finals is going to be tough to beat. I don’t know the exact numbers but every side has done really well at home this year and struggled a bit on the road. Norths lost at Souths, Manly lost at Easts, Warringah lost at Eastwood, then beat them at home.
“I think everyone is aware of it, but home ground advantage is going to be really important in the finals and that’s our big focus at the moment.”
If that still isn’t enough to shorten the Students odds to win their first premiership in five years, Uni are also expected to welcome back several Waratahs after their season ended on the weekend.
“We haven’t heard from them just yet, they’re enjoying a few days off,” Taylor said.
“Anyone we get back will be a bonus but the good thing about the Souths’ performance is that we showed we can win without them. Harry Johnson Holmes and Brad Wilkin have played a bit throughout the year, so it’d be nice to get them back but hopefully the others are in the Wallabies squad.”
Uni head to Coogee on Saturday to play for the inaugural Poidevin – Farr-Jones Cup and while Taylor said his side was looking forward to honouring two of Australian rugby’s best, the club had a more important goal this weekend.
“We’re hoping to wrap up the Club Championship on Saturday, that’s our main focus. We’ve got a bit of a lead over Easts and they have a bye in the final round so as a club, we’d like to wrap that up this weekend.
“Randwick will be tough though. They were really good against Manly and pushed Easts last weekend, so we just need to focus on winning each individual battle and if we can do that, hopefully we’ll get the result.”