Five-eighth Bernard Foley guided Sydney University First Grade Colts to a gripping 32-18 win over Southern Districts in the season decider at Concord Oval on Saturday.
Foley scored two well-taken tries and kicked three conversions and two penalty goals for a 22-point haul in windy conditions.
While the scoreline might indicate a decisive win for a third consecutive title, it was anything but the case. A try on the stroke of half-time saw Southern Districts go to the break leading 15-14 with the wind literally in their sails.
With the lead changing hands four times, Souths led 18-17 until the 60th minute when the Students regained the advantage through a Foley try and conversion. But even at 25-17, a combination of University blunders and Souths; aggressiveness and counter-attacking flair saw them in with a big chance until six minutes from stumps when the Students posted a fifth try to seal the result.
It was a nice end to a long day that saw University Third Grade Colts throw away a 17-nil lead to go down 19-17 to Gordon, and University Second Grade Colts grab a fourth consecutive title with a 17-16 win over Eastern Suburbs.
Having finished with the minor premierships in the three grades, club president David Mortimer was on hand to accept the Eric Spilstead Shield for the Colts Club Championship. Sydney University now has its name etched on the Shield for 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.
And those wins coincide with the arrival at the club of coach Nick Ryan who has now won seven Colts premierships, including Third Grade (2002), Second Grade (2003), Second Grade (2004), First Grade (2005), First Grade (2007), First Grade (2008) and First Grade (2009). His 2006 First Grade side were grand finalists.
Although newspaper reports suggested Waratah centre Rob Horne would be turning out for Southern Districts, it proved to be a red herring. Reports that Sydney University centre Michael Hodge would be ruled out with injury turned out to be true.
Souths kicked off and soon showed their intentions through a huge pack and an in-your-face defence. Five-eighth Blake Davies missed a fifth minute penalty attempt and having weathered the storm the Students hit back with searching runs from inside-centre Jack Marples and fullback Clinton Sills whose grubber kick almost brought results.
The Students made the most of the ensuing lineout, with a rolling maul and a snipe from halfback Nick Phipps before he sent straight-running outside-centre Chris Jarvis over next to the posts from close range. Foley’s conversion gave the Students a 7-nil lead after 10 minutes.
Davies reduced the margin to 7-3 with an 18th minute penalty and Souths took the lead two minutes later when flanker Callum Reilly made big inroads off the back of a lineout. A sweeping backline move ensued, featuring Davies, inside-centre Sean Doyle and fullback Jordan McGregor, and resulting in winger Iosua Autagavaia diving over in the corner for an 8-7 lead.
When tempers flared in a rolling maul midway through the half, University hooker Sam Roberson and Souths prop Viliami Ma’umalanga received yellow cards.
A great bomb defusion from Sills in the 28th minute allowed the Students to mount some pressure. Flanker Jordan Brown continued the surge and Foley attacked the short side at pace. An effective palm put him through the defence and he raced away to score and convert for at 14-8 scoreline.
A series of University blunders kept Souths in the game and they made the most of the invitation with a try on the bell when second-rower Alister Parsons, prop Micah Watene and winger Luke Jarvie combined to send Autagavaia over for his second try. Davies nailed the sideline conversion to give Souths a 15-14 half-time lead.
It was short-lived, however, with Foley slotting a penalty goal early in the second half for University to regain the lead at 17-15. A very physical 10 minutes followed before Davies put Souths ahead again – 18-17 – with another penalty goal.
The University pack gradually gained the ascendancy at the scrum and a tighthead midway through the half allowed them to mount some pressure. A great run from Sills took play deep into Souths half, where halfback Nick Phipps took the short side with Foley, who dummied his way through and dragged two defenders over the line for his second try. His conversion attempt just failed but he slotted a penalty goal three minutes late for the Students to hold sway 25-18.
Phipps made the most of a turn-over deep in University’s half with five minutes remaining. After sniping his way through the defence he sent replacement centre Tom English on a long run downtown. He found support in winger Alex Rokobaro, who slipped and regained his feet before eluding two defenders to score the match-winner. Foley rounded out proceedings with another conversion.
This was a keenly-contested affair where Souths bustled University into losing composure at times and fed off the mistakes. But the Students were good enough to keep putting points on the board when it mattered. It was a character-building exercise that should keep the senior ranks stocked with a host of talent.