Ruthless Students leave Rebels an uphill task

Photo: SPA Images

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Sydney University have given further evidence of their growing title threat, disposing of Southern Districts in clinical fashion with a 52-20 scoreline at Uni Oval No.1 at the weekend. The loss puts the Rebels hopes of a second successive finals appearance on a knife edge, and they will need bonus point wins and other results to go their way if they are to stand any chance of sneaking into the top six.

For the Students however, the outlook grows rosier with each game, as they posted a half century of points for the second week in a row against another side with title aspirations. Berrick Barnes continued his impressive rehabilitation, having a significant hand in at least half his team’s tries, while centre Tom Kingston gave further evidence as to why he is one of Australia‘s hottest young prospects with a display of poise and purpose beyond his years.

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The platform for victory was set by the forwards who, having obviously taken note of Souths struggle to defend their try-line last week at Gordon, repeatedly set up rolling mauls and pick and drives from five metres, plundering three of their first four tries in just such a fashion.

The first was a sight to behold with the entire Uni pack, plus what seemed like half of the backline, uniting as one to carry the pill a full 30 metres before Sam Carter touched down. That score usurped the opening points from the Rebels through a Ben Volavola penalty. But despite Berrick Barnes missing the conversion, it wasn’t long before he played his part in extending the Students lead.

A quick throw-in near halfway from Matt Schwager gave Barnes the chance to hit the ball at speed and dissect the unsuspecting defence. Weaving his way through the line he found Dave Dennis in support, and the Waratahs flanker pinned back his ears for the line and a 12-3 advantage.

To the Rebels credit, they kept their composure and stuck to their structures, and it paid off when prop Aaron Tawera backed up some solid possession to cross the white line. Volavola’s conversion brought them back to within two points, and with half-time looming, a confident start to the second stanza would have been assured had the status quo remained.

Barnes, Berrick passing 060811D-3477.JPG

Berrick Barnes played a pivotal role in many of Uni’s best attacks – Photo: SPA Images

As it was, the shadows of the break – as they have done on so many occasions in recent history – proved to be the springboard for Uni’s eventual dominance. No other team is quite as clinical in punishing the opposition either side of oranges. They simply go up a level in both focus and intensity, and for sides that aren’t expecting it or can’t react quickly enough, there is very rarely any comeback.

12-10 became 19-10 just before the siren. And despite plenty of possession and territory for the visitor’s immediately after the break, the Students soaked it up and struck again to rack up the bonus point try in the 49th minute, and forge a commanding 16pt lead.

Following the maxim of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, both were a result of impressive rolling mauls, and both were finished off by hooker Ben Roberts. But head coach Todd Louden revealed that they weren’t necessarily part of the game plan, more a case of opportunist scores when a situation presented itself.

“If it works it works, but it’s not that we practice it very often,” revealed the head coach. “We knew that they’d come out hard after the break. Teams know that we’ve got a really good second half, so we knew that if we could get over that initial ten minutes, we’d be fine and really get going.”

And get going they did. With the added spark of Wallaby Nick Phipps’ introduction to the fray, they set about carving the Rebels apart and as the half wore on, were met with increasingly less resistance. The half-time entertainment had seen a mock arrest display by a Police dog handler and his faithful canine, and it’s tempting to say that the German Shepherd showed more bite in his five minutes on the pitch than the Souths tacklers did in the subsequent forty.

Time and again they stepped out of the line to leave holes for Uni to plunder, while Wallaby Rob Horne – making just his second comeback appearance after long-term injury – was again unable to put any of his renowned attacking imprint on the game due to the amount of traffic coming back at him.

Volavola, Ben runs 060811D-3508.JPG

Ben Volavola gets a helping hand from Rob Horne on a rare foray for the Rebels – Photo: SPA Images

Ben Volavola actually reduced the arrears in the 51st minute with a penalty. But with half an hour to go, a 16pt deficit, and Souths realistically needing a bonus point win to save their season, a kick to touch and a shot at all seven points may have sent out a more positive message. And when a further penalty shot at the posts a couple of minutes later missed it’s target, it signalled the opening of the floodgates at the other end.

Uni ran two passes off the ruck for Sam Carter to crash over by the posts for his second, before a turnover forced on their own 10 metre line was moved through precision phases into the opposition red zone, and Michael Hodge eventually crossed after a couple of unsuccessful dabs at the line cleared away tacklers. Barnes increased the punishment, converting both for a 40-13 scoreline, and the game as a contest was over.

The Rebels showed good heart to grab a second five-pointer through Nick Seymour’s pushover try in the 68th minute. But the damage was already done, and further scores in the last 10 minutes from Trent Dyer from in close, alongside a Nathan Trist intercept, left a 52-20 finish, and a bruising experience for the visitors.

The momentum is building, the combinations are clicking, and the scoreboard is ticking over with rapid succession. Despite Eastwood’s richly deserved stranglehold on top spot, it looks increasingly likely that any side with their eyes on the big prize this year will have to produce one hell of a performance to wrest it from the Students grasp.

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SYDNEY UNIVERSITY 52 (Sam Carter 2, Ben Roberts 2, Dave Dennis, Michael Hodge, Trent Dyer, Nathan Trist tries; Berrick Barnes 6 cons) defeated SOUTHERN DISTRICTS 20 (Aaron Tawera, Nick Seymour tries; Ben Volavola 2 cons, 2 pens) at Uni Oval No.1 HT 19-10

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FINAL THOUGHTS…

Sydney University head coach Todd Louden:

“There were times today where we were in and out of our own game, and that’s something we’re going to have to fix. Going into the finals, it’s about some of our young guys learning how to sustain that focus for eighty minutes and playing our rugby, and not getting thrown out of our – I don’t like using the word structure – but what we’re trying to achieve. Souths kicked a lot of ball back to us today and that’s fine, but then we got a little bit erratic and tried to do things we haven’t done all year.

“We’re aiming for the number two spot but it’s going to be tough. The main focus is to just keep evolving and developing our game, I don’t think it’s about fine tuning at this stage. We’ve just got to really keep driving ahead with what we do. The finals series is only three weeks, so we’ve got four games now and then finals of some type, and if we don’t finish second, well then that could be a blessing in disguise too because it would give us an extra game for combinations.”

Sydney University back rower Pat McCutcheon:

“We spoke earlier in the week amongst the forwards, that we really need to tighten up as a group and start to become a dominant forward pack out there. And I think we saw glimpses of the pack coming together as an eight today.

“Souths are a quality side, and we knew that they needed this win today and would go right down to the wire. They pushed to the end but the boys are really starting to stick and understand our game plan. The more we practice it, the more we execute it, and we’re getting the desired result.

“Our current position is credit to the boys that have been in there since round one and played the eighteen rounds. They trained hard, they had a solid pre-season, and they definitely put in the work to get the results they got. Now, the Super Rugby guys are trying to pass on as much knowledge as they can to the younger guys and the less experienced guys, and that’s really improving our football week-in, week-out.”

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Sydney University: 1. Jeremy Tilse; 2. Ben Roberts; 3. Paddy Ryan; 4. Tom Heslop; 5. Sam Carter; 6. Dave Dennis; 7. David Hickey; 8. Pat McCutcheon; 9. Matt Schwager (c); 10. Bernard Foley; 11. Jacob Taylor; 12. Michael Hodge; 13. Tom Kingston; 14. Greg Jeloudev; 15. Berrick Barnes

Southern Districts: 1. Tetera Faulkner; 2. Nick Seymour; 3. Aaron Tawera; 4. Rome Nifo; 5. Andrew Rossiter; 6. Lopeti Timani; 7. Sean Doyle; 8. Ita Vaea; 9. Grayson Hart; 10. Ben Volavola; 11. Denan Kemp; 12. Apo Latunipulu; 13. Rob Horne; 14. Brackin Karuaria-Henry; 15. Graydon Staniforth

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First published by clubrugby.com.au on August 7th, 2011

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