‘Davo’ & ‘TC’ – A Rugby Union Pt 1: ‘Young’ At Heart
Today sees the end of an era in both Sydney University rugby, and Shute Shield rugby. When Uni’s 1st Grade take on Southern Districts for a spot in the following week’s Grand Final, Tim Davidson and Tom Carter may well be playing their very last game at the birthplace of Australian rugby – Uni Oval No.1.
Tim has definitely decided to hang up the boots at season’s end, and there is every chance that his best friend and lifelong rugby brother Tom, will call it a day too, in what is the 150th anniversary year of the famous club.
Many a rugby icon has passed through the hallowed hallways of Sydney University Football Club. From Rupert Rosenblum, through Nick Farr-Jones, and on to Phil Waugh and Dan Vickerman, the Students have proven to be a consistent breeding ground for players capable of going to the next level and beyond, and success for the club has gone hand in hand as a result. However, few have contributed so much to shaping the ethos, identity and legacy of modern day Sydney Uni rugby, as Davidson and Carter.
Hailing from country NSW and the small town of Young, the childhood friends – alongside fellow school mate Will Caldwell – arrived at Uni Oval No.1 back in 2002, all three quickly progressing from colts into 1st Grade. By 2005 they had lifted their first Shute Shield Premiership together, and the rest is history.
Club captain Davidson has now played 164 1st Grade matches, guiding his side to an almost unheralded 90.16% winning record under his leadership, and lifted a further six Premierships – a club rugby record as a captain. He has played the most 1st Grade games for Uni as a forward, crossed the chalk an impressive 65 times in the process – not bad for a back rower – and has featured in 39 Super Rugby matches for three different franchises; NSW Waratahs, the Western Force and most recently, the Melbourne Rebels.
Carter, an uncompromising centre with a huge work rate and an unbridled passion for the game, will be playing his 150th 1st Grade match against Souths this afternoon. With a tally of 81 tries he is Uni’s second highest all-time try scorer in the top grade, and ended his Super Rugby career with his beloved New South Wales this season with 19 tries in 84 games, making him the 17th most capped Waratah of all time.
But beyond the statistics*, lies a story of commitment, passion, enthusiasm and good old-fashioned hard work. And when current Uni head coach Chris Malone says “It would be safe to say that without them we wouldn’t have had the success that we’ve had,” he isn’t overstating his case.
Theirs is a story of grit, determination, application, hunger and self-sacrifice, all shot through the prism of an unbreakable friendship forged by mutual respect and ambition. They have been at the forefront of Uni’s dominance in the last decade of Sydney club rugby, a tour de force perhaps even greater than the sum of its parts.
I caught up with them both this week to reflect on their rugby journey and – with the help of a few recollections from some of the key figures in their story – to pay tribute to two fine players and rugby men.
Young is a farming town of approx. 7,000 people situated in the South-West of the state of New South Wales, roughly 375 kilometres and a four hour drive from Sydney. It was there that our two subjects first encountered each other almost 30 years ago…
“I first met Tom when I was six months old and he was three months old. I can’t really remember it though!” laughs Tim. “Our parents were very good family friends and my Dad and Tom’s Dad had played rugby for the Young Yabbies together. We were both the youngest siblings in the family (Tim has two elder sisters while Tom has two elder brothers and an elder sister) and I guess, because we were the youngest we just grew up together.”
Life in Young was a dream for two young boys looking for adventure, with plenty of outdoor activities on offer, and plenty of space to explore. “Growing up in the country, the space is the biggest thing that you grow to love and miss when you don’t have it,” says Tim. “We had horses and motorbikes and used to make up our own games in the backyard and get covered in dirt. There was always something to do.”
“It was awesome,” confirms Tom. “We had enormous amounts of space to play in, and kicking around in the backyard with my older brothers is probably where I learned to play the game. We were pretty good kids, we just loved playing footy in the backyard, riding horses and playing cricket.”
There was however, a third amigo in the troop back then, with former Waratah lock Will Caldwell also living just up the road from Davidson’s family farm outside of town. It turns out that the man known as ‘Ducker’, held sway amongst the youthful trio.
“Will was a lot bigger than Davo or I,” recalls Tom. “And because we wouldn’t move from the see-saw one day, he threw a rock at my head and I ended up in hospital with stitches. So it’d be safe to say that Will had the edge there, while I had the lip and the energy, and Davo was the quiet one.”
Their first forays into sport were with a round ball – soccer providing their first team bonding experience at the age of five. But when they reached eight-years-old, rugby league took over. “Young was a rugby league town,” explains Tom. “Davo was a pretty skinny kid and I was a bit bigger, so I played in the forwards and he played in the backs. I was either lock or second rower and I loved it.”
Tim remembers his friend’s prowess with a steeden all too well. “He would have gone pretty well in that code. He can’t catch and can’t pass, so Tom’s naturally a leaguie!”
Their first game of rugby union didn’t come until Year 12. But when all three moved to the big city to further their education, it became the main course on the sporting menu. However, the country imports were separated.
“We came to Sydney in 1995,” recalls Tom. “Will Caldwell went to Scots and I went to Kings with Tim, but left at the end of 1996. At the end of 1997 Will left Scots to join Tim at Kings, and I ended up at Knox Grammar on my own, because my family sold their property in Young and moved to Sydney, and Knox was 5 minutes away from where I lived. The three amigos had been split!”
Tom and Will played representative schools footy and had maybe one eye on a future in the game, but it took Tim a bit longer to realise his destiny was set along the same path. “I actually went home for a year when I finished school while they went straight to Uni,” he says. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do so I went home and played for the Yabbies, and it was one of the most enjoyable years I’ve had, playing country rugby and getting to know everyone in the town. It took me a while to realise I wanted to go to Uni and get an education behind me, in case it didn’t go too well on the farm.
“I never really thought that rugby might be something I could get paid to do,” he admits. “I always loved the game and enjoyed playing with my mates. But it wasn’t until I’d played a couple of years of first grade at Uni whilst getting soundly beaten by Randwick and Eastwood, that we started to turn things around in 2005, and I realised I really enjoyed playing at that level.”
Tom and Will had already taken their bow in University colours, Tom following firmly in the footsteps of elder brothers Charles Jnr and Ed. When ‘Davo’ rejoined the gang in 2002, they set about helping Uni claim their first colts Premiership in 17 years. The side also contained another future Waratah in Al Kanaar, as well as the Varsity’s future record points-scorer Nathan Trist, USA international winger Nick Edwards, prodigious flyhalf Nick Hayden, and loose forward Tom Egan, who went on to captain Eastern Suburbs in 1st Grade.
The trio progressed rapidly in a club that was attempting to restore itself to former glories. It may seem unthinkable now given their domination of recent times, but back in 2001, Uni were a club that had gone very close to disappearing off the Sydney club scene altogether, and hadn’t won a 1st Grade Premiership since 1972.
With the possibility of history in the making, and brother Ed in the side, Nathan Trist remembers the excitement that gripped Tom Carter as they set-off to the Sydney Football Stadium to watch the Students take on the might of Eastwood in the 2001 Grand Final.
“I really didn’t know how big a deal it was but Tom made us dye our hair blue and wear academic gowns to the SFS,” he laughs. “It was pretty clear at that stage that Tom was going to bleed Uni.”
By 2003 the boys from Young were becoming a regular fixture in 1st Grade themselves, under the auspices of former Wallaby winger and current Wallaby team manager Bob Egerton, and captain Ed Carter. Two years later the baton had been passed, as Davidson took over the leadership role and Tom matched his brother’s achievement of 2001 with a 1st grade Premiership, as Uni defeated Eastwood 41-5 in the Grand Final.
It remains one of the biggest highlights in his time with the Students. “We were so young. It was incredible, and I think you never forget your first Premiership if you’re lucky enough to win more than one. It was truly special. We learned so much under the coach [former All Black] Steve Surridge. He was someone who challenged the way we train and the way we thought, which has had a big effect on our approach to the game ever since.”
By 2006, the boys had become 22-year-old men with an increasing influence over the dressing room and the way Uni went about their business. As Trist recalls, it is their willingness to put their bodies on the line, their appetite for hard work, and their drive for success that marked them out.
“They’re very good role models in terms of training, and in getting the most out of your body and whatever ability you’ve been blessed with. Tom doubles as a strength and conditioner as well, and Tim sets the standards on the field. Tom provides the passion and Tim the direction.”
When you look at the reasons as to why they have dominated the Sydney club scene ever since, fitness and hard work have certainly been key factors. Uni are infamous for their ability to go the full 80 minutes, with no half-time deficit a cause for concern given their powers of longevity – both mentally and physically. They back themselves to get the job done because they’ve done the hard yards during the week.
Talk to anyone associated with Uni and they will mention the name of Tim Leahy as someone who has been a pivotal cog in their wheels of success. The strength and conditioning coach came on board back in 2006, and was immediately struck by the warm welcome afforded him by both Davidson and Carter, and by the clear focus they had in utilising his skills in order to better themselves and the club as a whole. It has proven to be a formidable partnership.
“I was a young bloke working with first grade and with a lot of professional guys like Phil Waugh and Dan Vickerman, and Tim and Tom grabbed me and said ‘Look, we’ll back you, we back your ability and if you need anything give us a yell. Whatever you tell us to do, no problem, it’s one in, all in’. So from an early stage they put a lot of faith in me.
“They are the corner stone in maintaining our fitness program,” he explains. “Tom is the hardest trainer that I’ve been involved with, and Tim’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever trained as well, he’s a wonderful athletic specimen. They have an ability to continually review and be objective about where we were at, and keeping the process right. The processes come from our strength and conditioning, but it comes from how we prepare on the field as well. We don’t make excuses, and we can’t cut corners.”
Another Premiership followed in 2006 thanks to a narrow 16-10 victory over Randwick, and so did recognition at a higher level, with Tim heading West to the fledgling Force, and Tom and Will getting a chance closer to home with the Waratahs. They had certainly come a long way from the backyards of Young.
“It is amazing how the three of us all came to the big city together, joined Uni and progressed through to first grade and onto Super Rugby,” reflects Tim. “We all trod such a familiar path together through our childhood, and my parents believe that was a big factor in us succeeding. We all knew exactly how the others played the game and exactly what we could offer each other, and when things got tough you could count on them to put their shoulder to the wheel because that friendship and trust that we forged over 20 years, you can’t really account for how important that is in helping to connect a team together.”
ENJOY THIS? THEN CLICK HERE FOR PART 2, where Tim and Tom open up on their unique friendship, recall a few of their disagreements along the way, and explain their passion and commitment to the Uni cause…
*All Sydney University statistics kindly provided by Craig Fear, S.U.F.C. club statistician
First published by Rugby News on September 7th, 2013