Daniel Halangahu’s unerring boot helped Sydney University to a 29-17 win over Eastwood in their Round 11 Shute Shield match at T.G. Milner Field on Saturday and with it second place on the competition ladder.
The Sydney University five-eighth potted seven goals (two conversions and five penalties) from as many attempts to keep the visitors ahead of the hosts throughout a very physical encounter.
Manly remain at the head of the competition on 45 points, with Sydney University (36), Gordon (35), Eastwood (34), Randwick (33), Eastern Suburbs (31) and Warringah (30) making up a cluttered field of semi-final contenders.
Halangahu set the standard with a sixth-minute penalty goal from the touchline. Four of his other conversions and penalties came from similar positions in a masterful display of goal-kicking, including one that went in off the woodwork.
With Wallabies Phil Waugh (Sydney University) back from captaining the Barbarians against Australia, and Matt Dunning (Eastwood) returning to club duties after injury, the forward battle was always going to be intense.
The Students were more disciplined and resourceful around the ground and controlled possession and position for longer periods, while Eastwood won the battle at the set piece, with four wheeled scrums giving them the equivalent of four tightheads. Although the Students’ scrum was disrupted when they lost tighthead Jeremy Tilse early in the match.
Waugh was a constant menace at the breakdown, securing several important turnovers, while Dunning and Jerry Yanuyanutawa enjoyed a full-on, 80-minute battle at the scrum.
Having secured an early three-nil lead. the Students stretched it to 10-nil in the 16th minute when a Waugh steal at the tackle – 40 metres out – led to a fine try.
Halfback Scott Stumbles took the blindside option and linked up with Yanuyanutawa and number eight David Haigh to take play to the Eastwood quarter line.
The ball was then shifted through Halangahu, second-rower Ben McCalman and winger Peter Betham, who was collared near the line but managed to off-load to McCalman who took two defenders over the line to score.
Halangahu penalties in the 20th and 25th minute stretched the lead to 16-nil as the Students continued to dominate territorially.
With eight minutes of the half remaining, the hosts hit back through their most dangerous player, winger Mark Frost, who tested the defence every time he touched the ball. Having made the initial thrust down the left flank he grubbered ahead for the hosts to set up camp close to the University line.
When halfback Chris O’Young and number eight Locky McCaffrey went down the blindside of a ruck, Frost was on hand to score in the corner. Five-eighth James Foote converted from the sideline for a 16-7 scoreline at the break.
The Woodies looked good when the ran the ball but too often relied on chips and grubber-kicks which were defused by University custodian Nathan Trist, while the visitors controlled possession for long periods of the first half. But with the defensive lines operating at close quarters, the combatants could only score one try apiece.
A deep kick from Foote led to the host’s second try 12 minutes into the second half. Beetham fielded the kick in his own quarter and ran it out, only to be met by Foote who stole possession in the tackle and linked with wide-running second-rowers Ben Hand and Josh Dunning, who sent flanker Hugh Perrett over for a fine try in his 100th First Grade appearance. Foote, a New Zealander who has played in the NPC, converted for an interesting 16-14 scoreline.
The five-eighths traded penalty goals in the 17th and 20th minutes for 19-17 scoreline and McCalman was sin-binned for 10 minutes for a tackle on O’Young.
The Students found some breathing space in the 22nd minute when Waugh took a quick tap from a penalty in the Eastwood quarter. Stumbles opted for the blindside from the resulting ruck and combined with replacement prop Patrick Ryan to send winger Nick Edwards over in the corner. Halangahu’s conversion and a penalty goal in the 33rd minute pushed the score to 29-17.
With the Eastwood scrum – coached by former Sydney University prop John Manenti – dominating as the match wore on, the hosts were able to pressure the University defence, but turn-overs at crucial times and commitment at the tackle by the Students kept them at bay.
As Waugh said in a post-match interview, defence won the game. “Eastwood came back well,” he said. “Club rugby is very strong and there’s another good crowd on hand – it’s good to be back.”
Defending the Shute Shield is becoming harder by the week, and Saturday’s effort was another worthy test for the premiers.
Lower grades and Colts
The University lower grades made it a clean sweep, with Seconds winning 51-14, Thirds 48-15 and Fourths 78-41.
Sydney University Colts also cleaned up, winnings Firsts 51-24, Seconds 13-nil and Thirds 62-nil.