22.09.2008 – Graham Croker
Sydney University created a slice of history in stifling heat at Concord Oval on Saturday when they defeated Randwick 45-20 to claim a fourth straight First Grade premiership in Sydney First Division club rugby union.
Since the competition kicked off in 1900, the club won three premierships in a row in 1926, 1927 and 1928 and repeated the effort in 1953, 1954 and 1955.
But with number eight Tim Davidson captaining the side for the fourth year in a row, the class of 2008 went one better, and they did it in a comprehensive manner, despite being on the wrong end of an 18-7 penalty count from referee James Leckie.
With man-of-the-match, five-eighth Daniel Halangahu, directing proceedings, University led 17-8 at the break, and systematically took Randwick apart in the second half, to establish a 45-8 lead with five minutes to go.
Indeed, as the second half dragged on and the score mounted, an eerie silence enveloped the ground. A forest giant was being felled. For so long the nemesis of other teams come September, Randwick came to earth with a thud and the crowd knew it.
The Students had ring-barked the Wicks in a dramatic 2006 decider, but they brought out the sharpened Plumb this year and every blow became more telling.
The win was built on the back of a wonderful pack. The University scrum became more dominant as the game progressed and they claimed three tightheads – one on the push and two on the wheel. Tighthead Laurie Weeks, who anchored the eight, can claim much credit. He handled or mastered every opponent through 22 rounds and was a dominant force in the finals. The question remains: why was he snaffled by the Queensland Reds for 2009?
Randwick applied most of the pressure in the opening stages but were stymied by a keen defence. Their only reward was a penalty goal to five-eighth Tim Walsh at the 10-minute mark.
The Students hit their rhythm from the restart and established the pattern of the game – choke Randwick of possession with multiple phase play, maintain field position and let the points come.
And come they did. In attempting to clear the ball from a ruck after the restart, Randwick halfback Josh Valentine was confronted by the massive form of prop Jerry Yanuyanutawa, who charged down the kick and sprinted 25 metres to score in the corner.
Yanuyanutawa almost scored again in the 13th minute when hooker Nathan Charles snaffled a loose ball and sent the prop on a 40-metre surge for the line. He spilt the ball in a tackle underneath the uprights.
The Students maintained pressure and in the 18th minute, halfback Nick Haydon looped around Halangahu and found outside-centre Mitch Inman, who sent fullback Nathan Trist over for a well executed try. Halangahu’s conversion took the scoreline to 12-3.
Walsh and Halangahu traded missed penalty goal attempts before the Wicks struck in the 30th minute through flanker Rodney Voullaire, who scored after some sustained pressure on the University line. Walsh missed the conversion and another penalty attempt from in front.
With half-time approaching, University flanker Phil Waugh set sail off the side of a ruck and grubber-kicked to the line. While Randwick fullback Matt Nethery waited for the ball to go over the deadball line, Trist sprinted through and touched down to send the Students to the break with a 17-8 advantage.
The try just before the break was followed by another four minutes into the second half. Attacking from a scrum 30 metres from the Randwick line, University number eight Davidson sent Haydon away on the blind side. After cracking the defensive line he found Trist, who unloaded to Davidson for another structured try. Halangahu converted and added a penalty goal and a field goal in quick succession for a 30-8 scoreline.
Having established dominance at the scrum, the Students were allowed to dictate possession and maintain their pattern of multiple-phase play.
A break from Inman in the 34th minute was followed by surges from Charles and Davidson, who dummied his way down the blindside to send replacement winger Nick Edwards over in the corner. Halangahu’s conversion attempt bounced off the uprights.
Randwick regained some momentum on the back of a run of penalties, but couldn’t crack the University defence. And when they opted for a midfield kick, Trist tucked the ball under his arm and careered downfield through some tired defenders. He found support in Charles, who cruised the final 20 metres to score. Halangahu’s conversion pushed the scoreline to 45-8.
The Wicks regained possession from the restart and Walsh shifted to ball to giant winger Ratu Nasiganiyavi who, having earlier dropped a pass with the line wide open, picked up a low ball in one hand to score in the corner.
The Students hit back off another wheeled scrum and a three-phase build-up saw Haydon send second-rower Al Campbell, playing in his eighth grand final in nine years, on a charge. He was brought down on the line and the ball bobbed free into the hands of Nasiganiyavi, who set sail down the left flank. As he crossed the half-way line he was collared in a wonderful piece of cover defence from Davidson, who had sprinted over 50 metres. But the effort was in vain as the big winger lobbed an inside pass to centre Morgan Turinui who raced away to score under the posts. Walsh converted, but it was all too late.
Davidson’s covering tackle after 80 minutes in seering heat typified his season and his standing. At 25, he has captained the team to four premierships and, if history is a guide, that won’t be emulated for a long, long time.
His backrow cohorts, Waugh and Dean Mumm, helped snuff out any danger Randwick’s Wallabies Adam Frier, Tim Hoiles and Mark Chisholm posed.
The Students were skilled at the breakdown and recycled plenty of clean ball for Haydon and Halangahu to direct proceedings. It was a clinical performance.
Sydney University coach Damien Hill would be most pleased with this win for several reasons.
He lost inside-centre Tom Carter (to injury) and utility backs Lachlan Mitchell (to England) and Dan Kelly (to injury) and struggled to put together a centre pairing. He settled on Leo Afeaki and Mitch Inman and they produced their best performances on grand final day.
Hill would also be pleased that his team didn’t try to defend a good lead – they stuck to the game plan and kept the scoreboard ticking. Get field position, maintain possession, build pressure and let the points come.
He also put great faith in Halangahu, who has been man-of-the-match in the past two grand finals.
And he would have been proud of his scrum coach Trevor Woodman, who has developed one of the best young front-rows in the competition.
In other results, Randwick Fourth Grade, who had gone through the season undefeated, accounted Sydney University 24-14 to win the Henderson Cup. The Students had their chances against the all-conquering Wicks and led 14-10 at one stage in the second half. (Full match report to come.)
Northern Suburbs won the Colin Caird Shield for Second Grade with a 16-14 win over Gordon, and Gordon won the Henderson Shield for Third Grade with a 15-14 win over Manly.
Colts take the treble
Sydney University’s remarkable run in Colts continued at Concord Oval on Sunday, when the three grades successfully defended their 2007 titles.
Third Grade scored after the final whistle to run out 17-12 winners over Manly; Second Grade ground out a 16-9 win over Eastern Suburbs, and First Grade were clinical in defeating Eastern Suburbs 39-5. (Full match reports to come.)
The three Colts team dropped just two games during the course of the season and finished with the minor premierships in each grade and the Colts Club Championship.