Waratah in the waiting

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Sydney University welcomed back halfback Henry Robertson for their Round 3 Shute Shield clash with Eastwood at Glen Willow Stadium, Mudgee on Saturday. And what a welcome return it was.

In one of the best games of Shute Shield rugby played in many a decade, Robertson helped lead the Students to a 49-44 result – the win being sealed with a try 90 seconds after the final whistle.

With the lead changing four times in the second half the Woodies seemingly wrapped up the result two minutes from time with a converted try to take 44-42 lead.

But a pressured restart from Sydney University produced a turnover of possession which the Students’ forwards utilised for five phases before the backs created space for a try under the posts which Connor O’Shea converted. The seven-try-to-five win kept the Students undefeated after three rounds.

Robertson has had plenty of time to ponder on club rugby, having sat on the bench for NSW for four of their seven Australian conference Super Rugby games – all losses – this season.

When club mate and NSW skipper Jake Gordon was injured in the first round of the Super Rugby season, Jack Grant came into the starting side and Robertson was called up to the bench. He made his NSW debut late in the Round 2 clash against the ACT Brumbies, a disappointing 61-10 result.

With Gordon out for the next three rounds, Robertson was Grant’s understudy, with lengthy stints on the woodwork to ponder his next starting game, which turned out to be Saturday’s trip to Mudgee and a memorable result.

Robertson’s NSW debut was a long time in the making. A member of the NSW Waratahs Generation Blue program in 2018 and 2019 he was called into the Waratahs squad in 2020 after several strong performances for the NSW Schools. And following further eye-catching performances in the Academy system and for the NSW Country Eagles, Robertson earned selection in the 2019 Junior Wallabies (Under 20) wider training squad.

He later joined Sydney University Football Club teammates Angus Bell and Darcy Breen at the 2019 World Rugby Under 20 Championship in Argentina where they came home with silver medals after being edged out 24-23 in a tantalising final against France.

Coached by Jason Gilmore, the Junior Wallabies contested the 16-team tournament taking on Italy, Ireland and England in Pool B. Halfback Robertson was in the starting line-up against England and came off the bench in the other four pool matches.

Australia opened the tournament with a 36-12 win over Italy at Club de Rugby Ateneo Inmaculada, Santa Fe and backed that up with a 45-17 result over Ireland before going down 56-33 against England. They then defeated the host nation Argentina 34-13 in a semi-final at Racecourse Stadium, Rosario to make it through to the final against France who were defending the title they claimed in 2018 when they hosted the Championships.

The 2019 final was a tight affair, with the Junior Wallabies pushing for a first title. The lead changed hands seven times before France fly-half Louis Carbonel kicked what proved to be the winning penalty with 15 minutes to go.

The 28-man Australian squad was selected after the 2019 Oceania Cup, which was contested in May between Australia, Japan, Fiji and New Zealand at Bond University on the Gold Coast. Robertson, Bell and Breen were in the Australian squad that won the Oceania Cup, with a 64-14 win over Japan, a hard-fought 16-nil win over Fiji, and a 24-nil win of the Junior All Blacks. It was just the second time the Junior Wallabies have beaten the New Zealand Under 20s.

Hailing from the Hunter Valley, Robertson played his junior rugby with the Scone Brumbies before attending The King’s School where his game really developed.

He then joined Sydney University Football Club, following in the footsteps of one of the players who influenced his career, Wallaby No.9 Nick Phipps. “He is the hardest worker in everything he does,” Robertson said, adding “hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

With the retirement of Phipps, Jake Gordon took over the NSW No.9 spot and Robertson slotted neatly into the Sydney University First Grade and the NSW bench. He’ll be hoping to maintain the form he showed on Saturday to keep the Waratahs selectors interested when the Australia-New Zealand Super Rugby conference begins in mid-May.