Senior statesmen, number eight Tim Davidson and halfback Nick Haydon, guided a young Sydney University XV to a pulsating and bruising 23-15 win over Eastwood at a gloomy University Oval on Saturday.
Down 15-11 at the break, the Students found themselves in dire straits late in the match for the third weekend in a row. After winning on the bell at Warringah a fortnight ago and losing on the bell at Randwick last weekend, they edged ahead with a penalty try in the 75th minute against Eastwood and wound things up with a try at the death.
While they might by only 25, skipper Davidson and Haydon provided the experience and the spark to keep their young team-mates on track in what was a war of attrition.
The visitors crowded the University attack and infringed at the breakdown too often for referee Andrew Lees and most of the many penalties against them were for being off-side in defence or at the ruck.
Two yellow cards – to second-rower Marty Wilson and flanker Seva Rokobaro – finally resulted in the closing stages, and with a six-man pack the visitors conceded two late tries and the match.
Eastwood exploded out of the blocks from the kick-off with a 50-metre bust from number eight Josh Dunning and outside-centre Jesse Leota, who sent winger Filipo Toala on a dash to the corner. Fullback Ben Batger’s angled conversion was charged down by winger Lachlan Rosengreen, but the visitors held sway five-nil inside the first minute of play.
University five-eighth Dan Kelly reduced the margin to 5-3 with a penalty goal in the 10th minute before the Students took an 8-5 lead midway through the section with a slashing try from outside-centre Lachlan Mitchell.
Operating off a lineout win 65-metres out, Mitchell jinked to the outside of Leota and accelerated away. While pointing where he might pass to support players, he rounded Batger and outsped the defence to the corner.
Eastwood winger Mark Frost had revenge minutes later when he fielded a lame clearing kick 45-metres out and instigated a counter-attack that resulted in Toala collecting his second try on the same spot as his first.
Batger converted and traded penalty goals with Kelly for the visitors to go to the break with a 15-11 advantage.
The Students had played the final minutes of the half without winger Ed Jenkins, who was sin-binned for ill-discipline when he slapped the ball away from Eastwood halfback Dave Rimmer.
The hosts controlled possession and territory for much of the second half but couldn’t breach a determined Woodies defence that gave up penalty after penalty for off-side or breaches at the breakdown. Referee Lees finally acted on the indiscretions, sending Wilson and Rokobaro for 10-minute holidays in the sin bin.
With a six-man pack, the Woodies could not contain a series of five-metre scrums and the hosts were awarded a penalty try in the 75th minute. Kelly’s conversion edged them 18-15 ahead.
The onslaught continued and Haydon scored off a rolling maul as the final whistle blew.
The win kept the University’s home-ground advantage intact since the first round of the 2004 season and kept the Sir Roden Cutler Shield at home.
In attack, the visitors employed a series of towering bombs from Batger and five-eighth Chris Donnelly, grubbers along the lines and the occasional backline sweep, with Toala making the most of every opportunity.
The Students played the ball wide for the most part, with the occasional ineffective kick, but needed to vary their options against a defence that lived on the advantage line. Laurie Weeks anchored a competitive scrum, Davidson, Lachlan McCutcheon and David Fungalei won tidy lineout possession, Mitchell and Rosengreen were dangerous with ball in hand and Haydon might well have had a second try from a quickly taken tap penalty.
First Grade: Sydney University 23 (Nick Haydon, Lachlan Mitchell tries, pen try; Dan P Kelly goal 2 pen goals) d Eastwood 15 (Filipo Toala 2 tries; Ben Batger goal, pen goal) at University No.1 Oval.
Second Grade: Northern Suburbs 43 (James Price 3, Corey Brown 2, Aaron Taylor tries; Todd Sly 5 goals, pen goal) d Sydney University 31 (Matt Schwager, Harrison Brown, Jon Burnett, Nicholas Edwards, H Hawkins tries; Justin Bosilkovski 2, Dan Kelly goals) at Tunks Park.
Third Grade: Sydney University 17 (H Hawkins, Dan Kelly, Tim Birch tries; Dan Kelly goal) d Northern Suburbs 5 (Ben Collins try).
Fourth Grade: Sydney University 55 (Brian Green 3, Christopher Stratton 2, Jamie Whelan, C McNaughton, D Amituiania, J Atkins tries; Jamie Whelan 5 goals) d Northern Suburbs 0.