Grand Final Preview – Mumm’s the Word…
Photos: SPA Images
For the last two years, the human interest story of the Shute Shield Grand Final between Sydney University and Randwick was the coming together of two brothers on opposite sides. Daniel Halangahu (Uni) and Nio Halangahu (Randwick), were the obvious choice for a tale of unity at home, and division on the rugby field. But with Daniel currently on the long road back from injury, and Nio kicking up a storm in South Africa with Currie Cup side the Eastern Province Kings, where to turn to this year as the two old foes meet for the third successive year?
Well, they’re two brothers alright, but this time they belong to the same side. And the only dividing line in this instance is the touchline, with one the head coach calling the shots, and the other carrying those instructions and his 23-test Wallaby experience into the heat of battle. Today, they will join forces on both sides of the line to try to lift Sydney University to their sixth successive Shute Shield title…introducing Greg and Dean Mumm.
Greg (30) is in his twelfth year of coaching, and his fifth since taking it up full-time. This is his second Grand Final with the Students, and his first as head coach having been an assistant last year to Damien Hill, now a part of the new Melbourne Rebels coaching team under Rod McQueen. His professional coaching career previously included a year in charge of Northern Suburbs in the Shute Shield, and an assisting role with the Fijian national side that reached the 2007 World Cup Quarter-Finals.
Dean (26) returned from Tri Nations Wallaby duties to the Students line-up two weeks ago, just in time for the Elimination Final against Eastern Suburbs. Despite only training with the team that week, his presence was felt immediately with his height, speed and skill-set a constant thorn in the Beasts’ side as he helped Uni to a comfortable 42-17 victory. His ability at the lineout, and athleticism and aggression at the tackle contest, was much needed in last weekend’s brutal Preliminary Final against Southern Districts.
The brother’s rugby pedigree is well known, with father John serving on the board of the ARU, and grandfather Bill a former All Black. But I wanted to know what it was like to stand at opposite ends of the changing room as siblings, and just how Greg goes about telling his younger brother – who happens to be a Wallaby – what he should be doing out on the field. So I managed to tie the pair down in Grand Final week to get the low down on their sibling accord.
There’s obvious respect between the two, and a mutual admiration for each other’s achievements in the game, and Greg admits that they are close. “Dean and I are tight, and whilst I wouldn’t describe us as competitive, I know I have definitely taken inspiration from his achievements and used them in my own endeavours,” he said glowingly.
Despite never having played together in the same team, Dean has been coached before by Greg at U16A’s at King’s School, in Colts at Uni, and for the Waratahs A team in 2006. However, this year is the first year Greg has been the head coach calling the shots.
In many situations in life where family relationships crossover into a working environment, there is often a tendency for the senior member of the hierarchy – the elder sibling or in some cases a parent – to over-compensate for any perceived possible favouritism by pushing the younger relation that bit harder. So I wondered if Greg had ever felt the need to send Dean around the park for a couple of extra laps?
“It’s enjoyable coaching him, and I think any over-compensation has petered out by now, but you’d have to ask him,” he says. “I think it’s easier to coach Dean because of the history we have had together in rugby environments, but the same can be said for the whole Sydney University team. All the players have come through Colts together and understand each other so well on and off the field that it means they work particularly well with each other, and are prepared to go that little bit further for their mates when they need to.”
But how does Dean rate the experience?
“I enjoy playing under Greg,” he affirms. “He is a genuinely good coach, and the enthusiasm and work he puts into the side gives him a deserved level of respect. He doesn’t beat around the bush with me and gives me direct feedback, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Going back to Greg’s comments about the environment and culture that Sydney University have created, it’s important to note here that there was a polite reticence on his part to give this interview, for fear of the spotlight being placed on individuals rather than the team in the build up to a Grand Final. From my experience, a more courteous, thoughtful and humble person than Greg you could not wish to meet, and his desire to remain under the radar and, if anything, for any focus to go to his brother, speaks volumes about his character and the ethics that drive the Uni dressing room.
Witnessing the magnificent defensive efforts that have repelled all-comers in recent weeks, you cannot help but be impressed with the sense of togetherness, the bond of mateship in times of great pressure, the sheer desire to put their bodies on the line for each other time and time again, and the exhibitions of gleeful camaraderie that ensue once the door has been shut on the enemy once again.
It’s a potent mix, and one that no side has found an answer to in the last five years. It’s certainly part of the reason that Dean comes back to don the blue and gold whenever the opportunity arises.
“I love playing for Uni. It’s a place that has given me some great memories and enabled me to play with some of my best mates. You can’t help but be refreshed when you come back and play, because the passion that the boys have for playing for the club is inspiring. It’s what rugby is all about.”
Heeding Greg’s desire for relative anonymity, I persisted with Dean for more of an on-field rugby perspective, beginning with his take on the big match ahead and where he sees the possibilities for Randwick to hurt Uni and break their Shute Shield hegemony.
“The Randwick pack has been playing very well, and their scrum has been excellent in recent weeks,” he observed. “It will be a significant challenge for us to match that, and that may well be an important indicator for the game. The danger men for them are both props – Lotu Taukeiaho and Sekope Kepu, as well as Benny Mowen in the forwards. If they hold the ball in hand they will be dangerous from anywhere, and Patrick Phibbs is also extremely dangerous from half.”
Mowen has been named at lock for the Wicks. But with the injury to Rocky Elsom, he may well revert to his accustomed position in the backrow. Dean sees him as a threat at the set-piece from either position.
“He has only just reached 100kg and has put on a lot of weight recently, so maybe he is moving forward in the pack,” he offered. “Benny is an exceptional lineout jumper and caller, so we have to watch out for that. He actually calls himself the Australian version of Victor Matfield! The key will be set-pieces and a belief in their own teams ability. Whoever does that will take the spoils.”
Alongside Mowen and Kepu, Mumm will also be facing off against another couple of Waratahs team mates in Drew Mitchell and Kurtley Beale. Cue a clamour for bragging rights…
“You get excited when you get the opportunity to play against these guys,” he admits. “Being mates doesn’t really matter until you’re on the bottom of the ruck, then you can have a little joke. It is also important to get a win up so you’ve got something over them for the next year!
“Wherever the Waratahs are as a team, you seek the results from club footy, and it’s a great source of pride and banter for the boys. Greg keeps me updated about what’s happening within the team, but generally a member of staff at NSW has the full round results. I was always confident that we would make the finals series as I have a lot of faith in the leaders and the quality of the team.”
Three weeks ago, he was at Telstra Stadium in front of 70,000 fans as a brave Wallaby outfit were eventually run down by the all conquering All Blacks. But while the experience of running out in front of 5-10,000 today at Concord Oval is markedly different, Dean maintains that the same basic tenets are required to achieve success.
“Grand Finals are very special occasions, but different to a Bledisloe Cup. The quality of finals rugby is very good, and you definitely have to be on your game to get up. To be honest, what is needed to win Grand Finals is the same that is required to win test matches – essentially that is a strong set-piece and a strong belief in your ability.”
Whatever the outcome this afternoon, one thing’s for sure. The discussions around the Mumm dinner table are always going to revolve around one thing – rugby. And that’s never a bad thing.
Original version published by clubrugby.com.au on October 2nd, 2010