Back-to-back wins after an indifferent start to the season have installed defending Shute Shield premiers Sydney University back into the top six of the Sydney grade rugby competition.
The Students accounted for last season’s grand final opponents Southern Districts 18-13 at Forshaw Park on Saturday to put them into fourth spot on the ladder.
Eastwood top the table with 31 points after seven rounds, with Southern Districts (27), Manly (25), Sydney University (21), West Harbour (21) and Northern Suburbs (19) making up the top six.
The gritty win was built on a solid defensive platform and the handy boot of second-rower Byron Hodge, whose conversion and two penalty goals made the difference after each side scored two tries.
Boasting a host of young players, Sydney University opened the season encouragingly with a 44-21 win over Parramatta at Merrylands RSL Rugby Park.
But they came back to earth with a 34-13 loss to Eastwood at No.1 Oval, a talking point at the 150th anniversary celebrations that night.
Eastern Suburbs triumphed 13-10 at Woollahra Oval in Round 3, and Warringah won 23-18 at No.1 Oval the following weekend.
The Students returned to the winner’s list with a 34-15 result against Penrith at Nepean Rugby Park and followed that up with a 41-13 disposal of Northern Suburbs in a Friday night fixture under lights at No.1 Oval.
Saturday’s win over Southern Districts was a real test of character and not lost on skipper Tim Davidson, who said the Northern Suburbs and Southern Districts results were “season-defining”.
“We were really forced to make a decision on where we wanted our season to end up,” Davidson told The Daily Telegraph’s Jamie Pandaram.
“If we’d dropped those two games we were looking down the barrel for the season. We were able to stand up.
“We started with Norths and the key for us was backing it up for the young blokes in the team to learn what it takes each week.”
The Students led 10-8 at the break on Saturday after prop Sam Talakai finished off a rolling maul to score and Hodge landed the conversion and a penalty. Five-eighth Rohan Safolio landed a penalty and winner Alex Gibbon crossed for the Rebels first try just before the break to keep them in contention.
Winger Greg Jedoulev edged the Students further ahead with a try soon after the resumption, but after a gruelling arm-wrestle it was the final 10 minutes that provided the drama when Davidson was yellow-carded and spent the term watching from the sideline.
And when Gibbon bagged a second with several minutes to go the resolve of the Students was severely tested.
Davidson, who has skippered the Students during their golden run, said it was a great learning experience for the young brigade.
“We had quite a few different combinations in the halves throughout the year,” he said. “We struggled to get continuity in the area and have a settled attack.
“In the past couple of weeks we’ve been able to keep a similar team on the park. It is just amazing what can happen when you keep it simple. We’ve gone back to basics.”
The win capped off a clean sweep for the Students, with the other three grade sides and the three Colts teams winning by big margins.
Davidson is hoping the winning run continues when Sydney University venture to Chatswood Oval to take on Gordon on Saturday afternoon.
Sydney Men’s Grade competition – Round 7
First Grade – Shute Shield: Sydney University 18 (Sam Talakai, Greg Jedoulev tries; Byron Hodge goal, 2 pen goals) d Southern Districts 13 (Alex Gibbon 2 tries; Rohan Saifolio pen goal) at Forshaw Rugby Park.
Second Grade – Colin Caird Shield: Sydney University 66 (Dane McCarthy 2, Benn Melrose 2, Jo Akira, Josh Elice-Flint, Hugo Dessens, Levi Dodd, Stuart Dunbar tries; Byron Hodge 9 goals, pen goal) d Southern Districts 10 (Mick Kauter try; Rayhan Laulala goal, pen goal).
Third Grade – Henderson Shield: Sydney University 55 (Willie du Plessis 2, Jordan Chapman, Hugh Frazer, Duncan Boyd-Jones, Ben Murray, Ollie L’Estrange, Sam English, Ben Cannon tries; Cameron Mason 3 goals, Ben Cannon 2 goals) d Southern Districts 0.
Fourth Grade – Henderson Cup: Sydney University 71 (David Pohlen 2, Conor Foley 2, Al O’Donnell, Tom Halliday, Sam English, Cameron Lawrence, Kurt Larsen, Taku Wada, Billy Macklin tries; Ben Lenehan 7 goals, Cameron Lawrence goal) d Southern Districts 3 (Robert James pen goal).
First Grade – W. McMahon Memorial Shield: Sydney University 92 (14 tries) d Southern Districts 13.
Second Grade – Shell Trophy: Sydney University 64 (10 tries) d Southern Districts 10.
Third Grade – Bill Simpson Shield: Sydney University 54 (9 tries) d Southern Districts 0.