History in the making for Rugby Club

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Sydney University Football Club (SUFC) will start the new season on a field of dreams. 

SUFC will be putting a large chunk of history to bed and starting a new era when they take on defending premiers Eastwood in the opening round of the 2016 Shute Shield competition on March 19.

The match will be played at the reconfigured No.2 Oval, which will become the club’s new home ground, complete with grandstand and training facilities.

SUFC farewelled No.1 Oval in the final home match of 2015, ending an association dating back to 1863 when the club was founded.

New SUFC General Manager David Haigh said 2016 will be a season of firsts on many fronts, not least his appointment to the role after a long playing career and a three-year coaching stint with the club.

“We’ll be playing full trials against Eastwood and Randwick before taking on the Woodies in Round 1 at our new field,” he said. “That’s another first for the new season; a new football square and grandstand. “The players are excited to be playing their first game there, despite leaving the history of No.1 Oval behind. And with a new First Grade coach (to be announced), it provides opportunities for everyone.”

A product of the Central West, Haigh played with the Orange Emus and Forbes Platypi before coming to Sydney University to study Mechanical Engineering. He went through SUFC’s Colts system and worked his way into First Grade, where he played 60 games, 12 of them as captain.

He also played two seasons with Chubu Electric Power in Japan in 2010-11 before a knee injury ended his career and he returned to his alma mater as Head Coach of the Colts program, where he had three successful seasons.

“Now that I’m not coaching, I’m looking at the club from a different perspective,” he said. “My take on it is it’s not really a new start, rather a chance to have a look at the club with refreshed eyes and see how we can keep improving.

“It’s a great opportunity to question the way we’re doing things and reiterate what we’re doing. The challenge is to make any changes good ones.

“We have a new President following David Mortimer’s long and successful reign, a new Head Coach, and new staff. While there will be many new faces, we’ll be building on the success of our predecessors and the legacy David left. I think we’re in good shape at this stage.”

Mr Haigh said the appointments of a new SUFC Head Coach and a Performance Co-ordinator were imminent, but the club had already appointed Robert Taylor as the new Rugby Performance Manager Director of Colts.

“Robert has previously been a player and Director of Rugby at Auckland University Rugby Football Club in New Zealand enjoying success as a championship winning colts and senior coach with the club, coached age grade and senior Auckland representative teams and more recently a specialist skills coach across a number of Provinces and rugby academies. Rob has just spent four years as Director of Operations/Rugby at Auckland University Rugby Football Club in New Zealand and comes with plenty of experience,” Mr Haigh said.

“In the playing ranks, we have a notable addition in Brad Wilkin, an openside flanker from the Queensland Reds. He’s a former Australian Schoolboys and Australian Under 20s player and has been signed by the NSW Waratahs. He’s yet another connection from the NSW Central West – he comes from Wellington – and he’ll be living at St Andrew’s College and studying business.”

Whether he plays much Shute Shield rugby will be dependent on the Waratahs. Mr Haigh said the Waratahs have signed props Tom Robertson and Matt Sandall, halfback Jake Gordon, winger Henry Clunies-Ross and centre Jim Stewart since last season. They’ll join Dave Dennis, Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Tolu Latu, Dean Mumm, Nick Phipps, Paddy Ryan, Will Skelton and Jeremy Tilse as SUFC players on the NSW books.

The club also has Laurie Weeks, Nic Stirzaker, Mitch Inman, Sam Jeffries and Tom English at the Melbourne Rebels; Nathan Charles and Ben McCalman at the Western Force; Sam Talakai at the Queensland Reds; and Sam Carter and James Dargaville at the Brumbies. And second-rower Dave McDuling has gone from the Queensland Reds to the Sharks in South Africa.

“As well as the 26 fully contracted Super Rugby players, we also have four in the Australian Sevens program: Greg Jeloudev, Pat McCutcheon, Ed Jenkins and Tom Kingston,” Mr Haigh said. And just to thwart any Super Rugby players from playing club rugby, the Shute Shield grand final and the Super Rugby finals will be staged on the same day, August 6, 2016.

Should SUFC claim the Shute Shield, it would start the new era on the right note.