An incredible 50-minute resurgence enabled Sydney Uni to garner an unlikely 43-41 victory over Eastern Suburbs at Woollahra on Saturday.
It seemed Jim Barry’s Vineyard would be Uni’s graveyard with the hosts leading 34-0 after 24 minutes and 34-14 at “oranges” before the Students produced their trademark second-stanza rally.
Easts ran in five first-half tries through eschewing the bane of Australian rugby, the cut-out pass, instead using a traditional draw-and-transfer method ultimately to well-angled runners hitting gaps. Quick recycling of ball aided and abetted this approach as did an assured set piece.
Easts looked to play an expansive game from the get-go, went nowhere in multiple phases and resorted to a kick. Uni obliged with a turnover and the Beasties had their first try before three minutes thanks to inside centre Josh Toole running a straight line. Archie King missed a relatively easy and ultimately telling conversion.
A rare Uni foray into Easts territory resulted in a missed Christian Kagiassis penalty, but it was an early indication the tricolours were prepared to chance their arm at the breakdown in the red zone. It ultimately proved their undoing. Despite establishing a 34-point advantage they were happy to transgress, which only provided Uni with points, momentum and hope.
Stuart Dunbar replaced Uni five-eighth Ben Hughes before 10 minutes but he had few opportunities to display his wares as Easts continued on their merry way. They added a penalty to King to make it 8-0 after 11 minutes and then tries to halfback Angus Pulver (15 minutes), fullback Jack Maddocks (19 minutes) and two to prop Clay Brodie (27 minutes and 30 minutes). King converted two including a boomer from the sideline, and Maddocks one.
Easts were playing an attractive brand of 15-man, ball-in-hand footy. Brodie backed up down the middle of the field for his first after King put flanker Rowan Perry on a barnstorming run. The lightning prop had a double within three minutes, after popping up on the left wing and streaking into the corner. What? Had the Students been sipping the grapes of wrath?
They are made of sterner stuff and a succession of penalties provided them with a sniff. Discipline prevailed despite Easts’ stout defence and halfback Jake Gordon was able to dive over under the sticks after multiple phases. Kagiassis converted and it was 34-7 six minutes before the break.
Right winger Chris Ingate crossed a couple of minutes later after fine lead-up work by lock Lachlan Swinton and fullback Angus Roberts. Kagiassis nonchalantly potted and it remained 34-14 until the juncture.
Uni definitely had the 20-plus points in them required for the second half. It was just a matter of how much resolve they would show in defence.
Once Dunbar started to run onto the ball the chances came for Uni. Flanker Hugh Frazer was in not long after the resumption following sustained Uni attack and insightful play from rake Folau Fainga’a. Kagiassis goaled, 34-21 Easts and game on. Uni looked positive and Easts nothing like the slick outfit of the first half.
Uni’s set piece improved, the penalties came and so did the inroads. Fullback Angus Roberts was in for the first of his well-deserved double inside 50 minutes, duly converted, and it was 34-28 in a transformed game.
Tom Carter’s pick-and-drive try at the midpoint of the second half after well-co-ordinated and structured attack put the game at 34-33 in Easts’ favour, but the ascendancy was all with Uni and it showed in their spirited defence that rejected a 17-phase attack.
Roberts scored his second soon after from a lineout and straight, purposeful running from his inside backs. Kagiassis missed the conversion but at 38-34 Uni’s way entering the championship stage all the signs pointed to the Students.
Woollahra has always been a good kicking ground and Uni were able to apply pressure with a territory game as well as ball in hand. It paid dividends when sustained pressure and backline basics resulted in Kagiassis crossing over wide out. He couldn’t complement his determined finish with the conversion but it was Uni 43-34 and Easts shellshocked.
The home side did complete the scoring through a Ratu Tagive try, albeit against 14 men, with replacement Nick Champion de Crespigny off the field on Yellow Card duties.
Jake Gordon’s ability to assess and control the tempo of a game complements his clearance, kicking game and ability to snipe. Locks Jordan Chapman and Lachlan Swinton are players around which Uni can build a dynasty.
Uni are to be commended for coming from nowhere two weeks in succession, but leaking 82 points to sides unlikely to figure at the very pointy end of the season obviously needs addressing. And if we must kick, pressure should apply.
First grade’s win topped off a useful “Super Saturday” at Woollahra with Uni only dropping second and fourth grade. All in all a productive trip to the leafy harbour suburb, once a prime source of arboreal material for infamous former students and their university holiday moneymaking “landscape gardening” businesses.
But whatever killed Jim Barry’s grapes was residual, with the Woollahra surface drier than a teetotaller’s wake, an event similar in mood to Easts’ celebrations.
Sydney Uni 43 (Angus Roberts 2, Chris Ingate, Thomas Carter, Christian Kagiassis, Jake Gordon, Hugh Frazer tries; Kagiassis 4 goals) d Eastern Suburbs 41 (Clay Brodie 2, Angus Pulver, Josh Toole, Ratu Tagive, J Maddocks tries; Archie King 3 goals, pen goal; Maddocks goal) at Jim Barry Vineyard, Woollahra.