Sydney University Football Club moved one step closer to another grand final appearance with their close-fought 26-23 win over Warringah in their qualifying final at Pittwater Rugby Park on Saturday.
The Students will now meet Southern Districts in a semi-final at Sydney University No.1 Oval on Sunday. Southern Districts earned their semi-final spot courtesy of an upset 38-36 win over Eastwood in a qualifying final at Woollahra Oval last Sunday.
Minor premiers Manly made it through to the major semi-final with a 42-5 shellacking of Randwick in the other qualifying final, played at Manly Oval. They will host Eastwood this Saturday. The winners of each semi-final will meet in the grand final at Concord Oval on Saturday, August 16.
Sydney University can thank halfback Jock Merriman for the win over Warringah at Rat Park. Trailing 23-19 with 10 minutes on the clock, the Students made a late surge, mounting extreme pressure on the Warringah line.
Merriman chanced his arm after the sustained build-up by throwing a huge dummy and scurrying over under the posts. Fullback Jack Macklin converted and the Students lived another day. Macklin had replaced Angus Roberts, who left the field in the opening minutes with an ankle injury.
Warringah gained an early lead in the match courtesy of a Hamish Angus penalty. The Students replied with a try in the corner from winger James Dargaville, but the 5-3 scoreline was soon changed with two more Angus penalty goals.
And when winger Brad Dixon score a length-of-the-field try, which Angus converted, the hosts were leading 16-5 and looking strong. But a Jake Gordon try saw the Students go to the break trailing 16-10.
Macklin levelled proceedings at 16-all with two penalty goals in the early stages of the second half. But when University prop Sam Talakai was sin-binned for a professional foul, Warringah skipper Luke Holmes made the Students pay, calling on a rolling maul for Warringah to force their way over. Angus added the extras for a 23-16 scoreline, but another Macklin penalty kept University in contention.
Strong work from the University pack put them in position for Merriman to weave his magic and he duly responded.
Saturday marked the ninth consecutive year Sydney University had all teams – three Colts and four grade side – in the qualifying finals. Only Second Grade lost their qualifying final, but they have a second chance in the semi-finals this weekend.
Should all teams win, it will be the second hear in a row that all will contest grand finals.
Meanwhile, SUFC has eight players in the 32-man squad to contest the Bledisloe Cup and the 2014 Rugby Championships.
Hooker Nathan Charles, second-rower Sam Carter, backrower Ben McCalman, halfbacks Luke Burgess and Nick Phipps, five-eighth Bernard Foley and fullback Israel Folau were named in the squad last week. An injury to prop Scott Sio paved the way for Sydney University and Melbourne Rebels tighthead prop to be included. He could well be SUFC’s next capped Wallaby.
Sydney University flanker Dave Dennis, the NSW Waratahs captain, was one of the unlucky players not considered after injuring his knee during the recent three-Test series against France. And leviathan Sydney University second-rower Will Skelton, who made one of the finest Wallaby debuts for many years when he helped Australia to a 39-13 win over France in the recent Third Test in Sydney, must have been close to selection.
On the Super XV Rugby front, SUFC had nine players in the NSW Waratahs squad who defeated the Canterbury Crusaders 32-32 to secure the 2014 title.
SUFC members of the squad included fullback Israel Folau, five-eighth Bernard Foley, halfback Nick Phipps, hooker Tola Latu, prop Paddy Ryan, prop Jeremy Tilse, second-rower Will Skelton, flanker Pat McCutcheon and winger Peter Betham.
And, for good measure, two SUFC players have returned for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow with bronze medals.
Ed Jenkins, a former Elite Athlete Program sports scholar, and Greg Jeloudev, a present EAP sports scholar, made their Commonwealth Games debuts with the Australian Sevens rugby team in the two-day competition.
Jenkins, the Australian Sevens captain, led them to wins over Sri Lanka (62-5) and Uganda (43-5) on day one.
Australia opened the second day with a 15-7 win over England to move into a quarter-final clash with Wales, which they won 21-19 with a try on the bell.
Their run came unstuck in the semi-final against New Zealand which they lost 17-7, relegating them to a play-off for third and fourth. Jeloudev scored two tries in Australia’s 24-nil defeat of Samoa to take the bronze medal, while South Africa ended New Zealand’s long winning run at the Commonwealth Games with a 17-12 result to take the gold.
Women through to grand final
Sydney University won a berth in the 2014 Sydney Women’s Premier Rugby Union grand final with a comprehensive 22-3 win over Warringah in their semi-final at C.A. Redmond Field on Saturday.
Having already won the minor premiership after losing just one game during the competition proper, Sydney University will be out to reclaim the major title, which they won in 2011 and 2012 before losing to Warringah in last season’s decider.
The Students will be up against Rockdale, who defeated Parramatta 25-10 in the other semi-final on Saturday. The grand final will be played at Granville Park, with the kick-off scheduled for 2pm on Saturday, August 16.
Sydney University will be without the services of fullback/five-eighth Ashleigh Hewson, who is playing with the Wallaroos in the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup in France.
Hewson starred in Australia’s 26-3 win over South Africa in the opening game of the tournament at Marcoussis. The fullback contributed 16 points with a well-taken try, three penalty goals and a conversion.
She also kept the South Africans on the backfoot with her strong kicking game.
Australia meet Wales today in the second pool match.
Hewson is one of nine Wallaroos in the present team who were members of the 2010 World Cup squad, which finished third.
Sydney Men’s Premier grade competition – Qualifying finals:
First Grade: Sydney University 26 (Jock Merriman, James Dargaville, Jake Gordon tries; Jack Macklin goal, 3 pen goals) d Warringah 23 (Luke Holmes, Brad Dixon tries; Hamish Angus 2 goals, 3 pen goals) at Pittwater Rugby Park.
Second Grade: Gordon 31 (Michael Manners 2, Andrew Turner, Lachlan Mitchell tries; Will Shirvington 4 goals, pen goal) Sydney University 25 (Jonny Lolesi 2, James Swan, Ben Lenehan tries; Jack Macklin goal, pen goal) at Pittwater Rugby Park.
Third Grade: Sydney University 36 (John Mokofisi 2, Alastair Ryan, Sam English, Dave Dillon tries; Dave Dillon 4 goals, pen goal) d Southern Districts 8 (Luke Smart try; Brendan Davis pen goal) at Pittwater Rugby Park.
Fourth Grade: Sydney University 17 (Nick Lyall, Nathaniel Deans, Fadi Saard tries; Billy Macklin goal) d Eastern Suburbs 11 (Ryan Jones try; Luke Rowntree 2 pen goals) at Pittwater Rugby Park.
Colts – Qualifying finals
First Grade: Sydney University 57 d Eastern Suburbs 15.
Second Grade: Sydney University 22 d Southern Districts 18.
Third Grade: Sydney University 66 d West Harbour 0.