Sydney University will be pushing for a fifth successive Sydney grade rugby union premiership when they take on Randwick in the 2009 Shute Shield grand final at Sydney Football Stadium on Sunday.
Having won the 2009 minor premiership, Sydney University earned the right to defend their Shute Shield title with a 37-13 win over Eastwood in their elimination final at Concord Oval on Saturday. Randwick won their way through with a 53-32 disposal of Gordon at Woollahra Oval on Sunday.
The Students have won the past two Shute Shield premierships following wins in the Tooheys Cup grand finals in 2005 and 2006 when the Shield was contested in the first half of the season and the Cup in the second half. And number eight Tim Davidson will be captaining the side for a fifth successive title.
After leading 13-5 at the break on Saturday, Sydney University went on with the job in the second half, running in another four tries. Five-eighth Daniel Halangahu continued a wonderful season, contributing 17 points from a try, two penalty goals and three conversions.
Indeed it was Halangahu who opened the scoring in the 16th minute. Having sent winger Peter Betham on a long excursion downfield, he then sent flanker Pat McCutcheon and Davidson on tryline finders before taking matters in hand with a dummy and a left-foot step to score under the posts. Halangahu converted the classic four-phase build-up for a seven-nil lead. Having had a fortnight off, the Students had been rusty in attack until they produced the well-drilled ensemble play that has been a feature of their march to the grand final.
Halangahu added penalty goals in the 29th and 31st minutes for a 13-nil lead, but some indifferent play, particularly at every restart, and a willingness from the Woodies, kept them at bay.
With halftime nigh, Eastwood flanker Gareth Palamo took a quick tap from a penalty 40 metres out and sent hooker Damien Fitzpatrick on a run to the corner. University fullback Jacob Taylor, filling in for the unlucky Nathan Trist, whose season ended with an ankle injury in the final round, collected Fitzpatrick in a classis cover tackle. Referee Steve Walsh called on the video referee to adjudicate and he ruled in the affirmative for the Woodies to go to the break down 13-5.
The statistics show possession was even in the first 40 minutes, although Eastwood held a territorial advantage. But with Phil Waugh at openside flanker, the Students held sway at the ruck and won some crucial turnover ball to extradite themselves from danger. They also had a try go begging when a pass to Dave Dennis was deemed forward. The big second-rower was tryline bound with no cover defence in sight. It was a near thing. And while Halangahu and Taylor were clearly targeted, both held their nerve and produced their own telling plays.
After a long build-up early in the second half, Eastwood were rewarded with a penalty goal from five-eighth James Foote in the 49th minute moving them into striking distance at 13-8.
But the Students replied with another structured five-phase play that saw Halangahu send prop Pat Ryan, Dennis, McCalman and winger Nick Edwards on searching runs before he turned an inside pass to Davidson who steamed over untouched. Halangahu’s conversion pushed the score to a more comfortable 20-8.
Eastwood tested University’s defence for a long period in the middle of the half, but failed to produce points in the face of a resolute line.
Halfback Scott Stumbles sighted an opening in the 65th minute and darted down the middle of the field with Waugh in support. When the flanker was collared 30 metres out, Stumbles shifted the ball to the right through inside-centre Tom Carter and Davidson, who sent outside-centre Mitch Inman over in the corner. It all happened at speed as the scoreboard ticked over to 25-8.
Another dummying run from Halangahu sent Edwards close to the line in the 70th minute and from the ensuing ruck McCalman barged over for a 30-8 scoreline.
A Stumbles tackle in the 75th minute produced a turn-over which Davidson, Ryan, Carter and McCalman used to take play into the Eastwood quarter where Carter backed up to score wide out. Halangahu converted for a 37-8 scoreline.
The Students once again messed up the restart reception and found themselves 30 metres from their own line when the final bell sounded. That was when a regulation ruck pass from Stumbles to Halangahu was intercepted by Eastwood number eight Lachlan McCaffrey, who ran away to score in the corner. While everyone at the ground and in television land waited for referee Walsh, or his touch judges Stuart Dickinson and Nathan Pearce, to rule that McCaffrey was at least 10 metres offside, a try was awarded. (Usain Bolt is now looking over his shoulder.)
Eastwood tested the Students at the scrum and the lineouts evened out in windy conditions. But it was Sydney University’s efforts at the breakdowns and their defensive line that ruled the day. Eastwood scored a late, suspect intercept try in their 81-7 loss to the Students in the final competition round and on Saturday they managed a debated five-pointer off a penalty tap, and a consolation gift after the final bell.
Taylor pulled off two try-savers and McCalman, McCutcheon and Waugh came to the rescue when the line was stretched. When the Students were allowed to put some phases together, they turned them into points.
The coaching menu from Damien Hill and Greg Mumm this week will no doubt include kick-off receptions and scrummaging.
Sydney University Second Grade might question the new finals format. After finishing minor premiers 22 points clear of the pack, they lost 24-21 to Eastern Suburbs in an elimination final on Saturday and were immediately out of the competition. Under previous finals incantations, they would have had a second chance of making the grand final via a final. There are no major and minor semi-finals in the new system.
Sydney University Third Grade advanced to a grand final showdown with Gordon when they defeated Warringah 27-13 in their elimination final, while Sydney University Fourth Grade bowed out of the competition when they lost their elimination final 31-3 to West Harbour.
Sydney University’s three Colts teams backed up their minor premierships by advancing to the grand finals.
First Grade defeated Eastern Suburbs 41-22 to earn a grand final berth against Southern Districts; Second Grade will meet Eastern Suburbs in the grand final following their 39-14 win preliminary final win over West Harbour; while Third Grade will meet Gordon in the grand final following their 50-7 preliminary final win over West Harbour.
Sydney University supporters should note that the Colts grand finals will be played on Saturday and the senior grades will be contested at the Sydney Football Stadium on Sunday.
Shute Shield – Preliminary finals
First Grade: Sydney University 37 (Daniel Halangahu, Tom Carter, Mitch Inman, Ben McCalman, Tim Davidson tries; Daniel Halangahu 3 goals, 2 pen goals) d Eastwood 13 (Damien Fitzpatrick, Lachlan McCaffrey tries; James Foote pen goal) at Concord Oval. Sydney University to play Randwick in grand final.
Second Grade: Eastern Suburbs 24 (J. Rowels 2, W. Percival tries; W. Percival 3 goals, pen goal) d Sydney University 21 (Dan Kelly, Hugh Hawkins, Toby L’Estrange tries; Dan Kelly 3 goals).
Third Grade: Sydney University 27 (Tom Coolican, James McMahon, Hayden Bushell tries; Hayden Bushell 3 goals, 2 pen goals) d Warringah 13 (W. Sare, C. Sulman tries; M. Ruthven pen goal). Sydney University to play Gordon in grand final.
Fourth Grade: West Harbour 31 (C. Borle 2, S. Yeonlee, T. Kalai, T. Tokakauleva tries; L. Schafer 3 goals) d Sydney University 3 (Will Stow pen goal).
First Grade: Sydney University 41 d Eastern Suburbs 22. Sydney University to play Southern Districts in grand final.
Second Grade: Sydney University 39 d West Harbour 14. Sydney University to play Eastern Suburbs in grand final.
Third Grade: Sydney University Sydney University 50 d West Harbour 7. Sydney University to play Gordon in grand final.
Decade of excellence
The First XV’s record since 1999 is:
1999: Lost Shute Shield grand final 34-17 to Eastwood.
2000: Lost grand final 34-33 to Randwick.
2001: Won Shute Shield grand final 27-20 over Eastwood.
2002: Lost Shute Shield grand final 19-15 to Eastwood.
2003: Lost Shute Shield final 32-25 to Randwick.
2004: Lost Shute Shield minor semi-final 35-nil to Manly.
2005: Lost Shute Shield grand final 29-23 to Warringah.
Won Tooheys Cup grand final 41-5 over Eastwood.
2006: Lost Shute Shield grand final 17-10 to Eastwood.
Won Tooheys Cup grand final 16-10 over Randwick.
2007: Won Tooheys New Shute Shield grand final 34-11 over Eastern Suburbs.
2008: Won Tooheys New Shute Shield grand final 45-20 over Randwick.
2009: Sydney University v Randwick – result pending.
The first time Sydney University won three premierships in a row was in 1926-1927 and 1928. The club repeated the effort in 1954, 1955 and 1956. The club achieved back-to-back premierships in 1919 and 1920, in 1923 and 1924, and in 1961 and 1962.