01.04.2008 – Graham Croker

Sydney University’s 34-16 disposal of Manly in the Shute Shield opener at Manly Oval on Saturday was highlighted by the efforts of a new brigade of youngsters and the successful return of Wallaby number eight David Lyons.

All of the new faces called up for the fray handled the willingness of First Grade, particularly hooker Nathan Charles, second-rower Ben McCalman, centre Mitch Inman, winger Hayden Bushell, flanker Jono Jenkins, replacement halfback Nathan Sievert and prop Jerry Yanuyanutawa, whose previous game in the top grade was the 2007 grand final.

While the young guns battled away, the 44-Test veteran Lyons was like a dog on a leash on the sidelines until 10 minutes into the second half when, in accordance with a NSW Rugby edict, he was allowed 30 minutes of game time.

After a lengthy stint overcoming leg injuries, he soon made his presence felt, with one trademark run leading to a try. With 99 games for NSW under his belt, he is certain to notch his century during the next few rounds of the Super 14 competition.

Another encouraging sign from the five-try-to-one win was putting to rest the Spit Bridge hoodoo. Despite winning competitions, the Students have turned in some of their worst performances at Manly Oval in recent seasons.

SUFC supporters could also take encouragement from the young University scrum, anchored by Laurie Weeks, which more than held its own against the very competitive Marlins eight, and the lineout, which snared five Manly throws while conceding one.

And the youthful backline looked more dangerous as the match wore on, particularly when fullback Nathan Trist straightened the attack.

Not so encouraging were untidy kick-off receptions, long the bane of Sydney University and NSW teams, and some needless kicking in the second half when a bonus point had been pocketed and the match was in hand. Kicking while not under pressure can be practised in the backyard.

The first half was a tight affair, with the Students leading 10-6 at the break. Weeks scored off a trademark University maul from a lineout near the Manly line, while five-eighth Dan Kelly landed the conversion to go with an earlier penalty goal. Manly fullback Adam D’Arcy kept the hosts in the hunt with a brace of penalties.
The Students took control in the second half, with the scrum applying pressure and the lineout bringing down a steady supply of good possession.

The half was only three minutes old when Jenkins collected a loose ball at the back of a lineout 10 metres from his own line and set sail upfield. When the cover defence converged 50m out he off-loaded to fellow flanker Patrick McCutcheon, who outpaced the defence to score. Kelly converted for a 17-6 lead. D’Arcy soon made that 17-9 with another penalty goal.

A big break from Lyons led to Sydney University’s third try. Having taken play to the red zone before being collared, Lyons was able to watch the young University backline shift the ball wide through Kelly and Trist, whose long cut-out pass allowed Bushell an unobstructed run to the line.

The bonus point (fourth) try was another regulation rolling maul, with skipper Tim Davidson collecting the high-fives.

Manly second-rower Pat Maile delivered in the 73rd minute when he scampered 30m to score under the posts for D’Arcy to convert.

But the resurgence was short and it was the visitors who topped off the afternoon with one of the plays of the match – a wonderful show of skills and strength from Yanuyanutawa, who shrugged off a host of tacklers in a 30m run to the line. He was finally stopped shot of a deserved try, but that went to Sievert, who darted over from a maul two phases later.

For the first match of the season, this was a great start to the Shute Shield defence.

In the lower grades, Seconds lost 5-3; Thirds won 19-6 and Fourths lost 13-12.

The news from Colts was better, with Firsts posting seven tries in a 47-30 win; Seconds collecting a bonus point (four tries) in a 24-12 result, and Thirds scoring four tries in a 29-7 win.