Davidson leads Students to sixth title

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Graham Croker

An impregnable defensive line and astute play from five-eighth Berrick Barnes were the keys to Sydney University’s 46-6 demolition of Randwick in the 2010 Shute Shield decider played at a wet and windy Concord Oval on Saturday.

After establishing a 16-6 half-time lead, Sydney University ended up running in five tries while keeping Randwick tryless in a dominant display. It was the sixth premiership on the trot for the Students – a Tooheys Cup in 2005 followed by five Shute Shields – equalling Randwick’s effort from 1987-92. Sydney University need one more title to join Randwick with 27 apiece.

And it was the sixth premiership in a row with Tim Davidson at the helm. Indeed, when Davidson rejoined the side midway through the season, they were running ninth and long odds to defend their title. After he took over the captaincy, the Students won 10 successive games to finish fourth on the competition ladder, followed by two sudden-death finals matches to reach the grand final. The 13 straight win earned them the Shute Shield.

Randwick also trod the tightrope to the season decider, losing three games at the end of the competition proper to finish sixth on the ladder and then defeating Manly and minor premiers Eastwood in the sudden death finals. The Galloping Greens aura still affects some teams, but not so Sydney University.

The win topped off another strong season for Sydney University, who reclaimed the Sir Roden Cutler Shield late in the season, won a seventh successive Club Championship and a sixth successive Colts Club Championship and premierships in First and Second Grade Colts. And, it is believed Sydney University is the first club to claim the men’s and women’s grade titles in the one season. Sydney University Women’s First XV won their first Sydney Women’s competition with a 23-10 result over Warringah three weeks prior.

With injured five-eighth Daniel Halangahu, man-of-the-match in the past three grand finals, watching from the sidelines, Barnes emulated his efforts with a 26-point haul on Saturday – a try, five penalty goals and three conversions – and a clever kicking and passing game. And he was only on the park for just over an hour, being given an early mark and replaced by Dan Kelly in the 63rd minute.

Randwick showed their hand early, targetting University halfback Luke Burgess at the breakdown and the scrum, and employing an in-your-face defensive structure to accompany a vocal barrage. The high-risk tactics earned the ire of referee Stuart Dickinson, with openside flanker Tim McGann the main culprit in all of those areas. He was replaced late in the match after yet another verbal assault and with a yellow card imminent. Flanker Seilala Lam, who was sin-binned earlier in the half, might have paid the price for McGann.

The Students also had a target in dynamic fullback Kurtley Beale, who was often turned around with some astute kicking to the corners and kept in check when he ghosted into five-eighth in attack. Beale played the full 80 minutes with intent, and made a number of try-saving tackles, including one late in the day when he had to turn and run down speedy University replacement Greg Jeloudev. The Wicks had another strong performer in loosehead prop Sekope Kepu, who almost scored in the opening minutes from a well-worked lineout move, and was bundled into touch in the closing seconds, agonizingly close to scoring his team’s first try of the day.

Sydney University soaked up the early Randwick pressure and made their mark in the ninth minute when hooker Nathan Charles and outside-centre Mitch Inman combined to send Davidson on an excursion down the left flank. He found second-rower Dave Dennis in support and the movement was stopped 10 metres from the Randwick line. Having gained field position and a scrum feed, Burgess took play to the shadows of the goalposts where inside-centre Tom Carter collected the ball from the back of a ruck and progressed two metres to score under the posts. Barnes landed the conversion and a penalty goal, from 40m out, three minutes later as the Students opened up a 10-nil lead.

The Wicks worked their way back into the University half on the back of successive penalties and five-eighth Toby Browne landed a penalty goal in the 26th minute to close the margin. But it was short-lived when Barnes landed another two minutes later.

He hit the uprights with another attempt in the 33rd minute – his first miss in three matches that had yielded 69 points – but struck again three minutes later to push the margin to 16-3. Randwick breathed a little easier when Browne landed his second penalty goal – on the stroke of half-time – but it was to be a barren second stanza.

Sydney University basically strangled the life out of Randwick in the final 40 minutes, with Barnes stretching the margin to 22-6 with penalties in the 49th and 52nd minutes.

The Students’ second try came from a rehearsed move off a five-metre scrum, with number eight Davidson peeling wide to find Burgess, who turned the ball back to blindside winger Alfi Mafi. He skidded over with the help of busy flanker Jono Jenkins. Barnes converted and the Students led 29-6.

Randwick replied with 18 phases of pick and drive and forward shuffles in the face of solid defence. There was plenty of green but little gallop and when the turnover came, fullback Julian Huxley countered and took play deep into the Wicks quarter, where Burgess found Barnes running the right angle to the line. He converted his own try and departed the scene soon after with the Students leading 36-6,

His replacement Kelly didn’t take long to make his mark, sending Jeloudev close to the line. Blindside flanker Ben McCalman appeared to have scored from the breakdown but it was disallowed. Fresh from Test duties, McCalman was one of the better forwards on the ground. Having won premierships as a second-rower for University, before making his Test debut as a number eight, he was back to his Australian Schoolboy position at blindside flanker on Saturday.

The try eventually came after a five-phase build-up before Kelly, Carter and Huxley combined to send winger Peter Betham over for a well-taken five-pointer.

With the clock running down Kelly made a long, angled run to the line where McCalman bobbed up on the blindside of the ruck to score a well-deserved try.

Randwick launched a final assault in the closing three minutes, but failed to breach the defensive line that had been rock solid all day

Sydney University’s scrum, minus unlucky loosehead Jerry Yanuyanutawa, who injured an ankle in the preliminary final, was solid throughout. Much to the delight of hooker Ben Roberts, who replaced the impressive Nathan Charles with 10 minutes to go, the Students took the only tighthead of the match with a big shunt late in proceedings. Roberts and replacement prop Alastair King each made their mark in the closing minutes with big defensive hits.

In difficult conditions, Huxley handled the high ball with aplomb, often counter-attacking and maintaining valuable possession.

The only disappointing aspect of the performance was that the Students didn’t post more tries in the final half-hour. The other disappointment was the early demise of the lower grades in the cut-throat finals.


Shute Shield First Grade: Sydney University 46 (Tom Carter, Alfi Mafi, Berrick Barnes, Peter Betham, Ben McCalman tries; Berrick Barnes 3 goals, 5 pen goals) d Randwick 6 (Toby Browne 2 pen goals) at Concord Oval. Man of the match: Berrick Barnes.

Colin Caird Shield Second Grade: Warringah 19 d Randwick 3.

J.R. Henderson Shield Third Grade: Randwick 12 d Eastern Suburbs 3.

J.R. Henderson Cup Fourth Grade: Eastern Suburbs 13 d Randwick 10.