Sydney University’s NSW representatives Tom Carter and Daniel Halangahu helped put the club’s Shute Shield defence back on track when they engineered a 28-8 win over Eastern Suburbs at Sydney University No.1 Oval on Saturday.
After suffering back-to-back losses to Randwick and Gordon, the Students were languishing in seventh place on the Shute Shield ladder after eight rounds, a nadir not felt previously by any of the present players.
But the return of five-eighth Halangahu and inside-centre Carter after solid seasons in the Super 14 competition made the difference. While Halangahu guided the team around a water-logged park and converted each of the Students’ four tries, Carter engineered the first two tries and scored the third himself.
Indeed, there was a deep dose of irony in the ball-playing performances of pair in muddy conditions, given their treatment by NSW selectors this year.
After being man-of-the-match in the past three Shute Shield grand finals, Halangahu battled to gain a berth at five-eighth for the Waratahs, but cemented the spot when given a chance mid-way through the Super 14 season and excelled in the Waratahs’ unbeaten three-match tour to South Africa.
Meanwhile, Carter was used as a Nathan Grey-style battering ram for the Waratahs, earning the false impression that he was not a ball-playing inside-centre. When he was relegated to the bench on the South African tour, the Waratahs’ tactics changed from battering across the advantage line to running rugby. And who was the winger NSW brought on to take advantage of the running game? Peter Playford.
The same Peter Playford who set a new Shute Shield try-scoring record three seasons ago, with many of his 28 touchdowns coming from deft ball play by . . . Carter and Halangahu!
But back to Saturday.
After Ben Ward landed an early penalty goal for the visitors, Carter took control.
He took a blind-side option off fifth phase play in the 6th minute to put hooker Ben Roberts through a defensive hold. Roberts linked with winger Alfi Mafi, who streaked away to score.
Four minutes later a deft Carter pass put straight-running outside-centre Mitch Inman in the clear. He linked with flanker Jono Jenkins, who broke one tackle on his run to the line.
Carter started and finished the third try. After sending winger Robert O’Reilly on a run down the right flank he backed up to win a race for the ball after O’Reilly found fullback Nathan Trist who chipped ahead when the defence closed in.
Eastern Suburbs replied with a try to halfback Luke Irwin, who darted over after a sustained assault on the University line.
But just before the break. the Students answered that when O’Reilly scored courtesy of a cut-out ball from Halangahu that found Trist, who put the winger in the clear. It was a welcome bonus point try that was to elevated the Students to fifth place on the competition ladder.
The teams went to the break with the hosts up 28-8 and that was that.
Well, they did contest a second half, but it was a mud wrestle between the quarter lines, with iron-clad defence, dropped ball and kicking dominating the play. The forward battle was a tough affair, the scrums even and the penalty count 15-5 in favour of Easts. The Students’ first penalty (a short-arm) came in the 51st minute.
The lower grade match were called off because of the conditions, but the Students prevailed in First and Third Grade Colts, while losing Second Grade.
Shute Shield – Round 9
First Grade: Sydney University 28 (Jono Jenkins, Alfi Mafi, Tom Carter, Robert O’Reilly tries; Daniel Halangahu 4 goals) d Eastern Suburbs 8 (Luke Irwin try; Ben Ward pen goal) at Sydney University No.1 Oval.
Second Grade, Third Grade and Fourth Grade called off because of wet weather.
First Grade: Sydney University 33 (5 tries) d Eastern Suburbs 7.
Second Grade: Eastern Suburbs 12 d Sydney University 5.
Third Grade: Sydney University 19 d Eastern Suburbs 13.
Fourth Grade: Eastern Suburbs 7 d Sydney University 0.