‘Davo’ & ‘TC’: A Rugby Union Pt 2: The Odd Couple

In Part One, we tracked Tim and Tom’s journey from the country NSW town of Young to the big city, Sydney University 1st Grade, and Super Rugby.

Part 2 digs a little deeper into their incredible friendship, their rugby ‘partnership’, and the united passion for all things Uni that has driven their ambitions since they first pulled on the jersey…

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As the saying goes, ‘opposites attract’, and when you get to know Tim Davidson and Tom Carter a little more than the sound bites offered from a post match interview, it’s even more apparent how vastly different these two otherwise interconnected personalities are.

Tim is measured in his responses, polite to a fault, and takes humility to new boundaries. Tom meanwhile is gregarious and voluble, his fingers permanently plugged into the socket of life as he rattles off his thoughts on anything and everything. He’s more opinionated than his best friend, but also makes his case with charm, warmth and passion. Both are intelligent, erudite, and concise.

Once they cross the white line however, any comparisons end as Tim approaches the contest with quiet efficiency, offering the odd word here and there when required but for the most part, leading by example. Tom on the other hand, is a force of nature. A whirligig of emotion and aggression driven by an intense desire to succeed. But it’s an intensity that often boils over in a way that leaves opposing players and supporters with a less than favourable opinion of him.

He will be the first person to admit that sometimes he “acts like a goose on the field”, such is his parochially driven fire and brimstone. He simply has to win.

The ire that is thrown his friend’s way is something Tim has become accustomed to defending. But he wouldn’t change the person he’s known his whole life for anything. However, that doesn’t stop him setting him straight some times either.

“It’s not very often in your life that you get the chance to be totally honest with someone and know that whatever you say, you’re not going to be judged by it or that there’s nothing you can do that actually surprises them anymore,” he reflects. “Tom can be being Tom and I can tell him to stop being an idiot and he’ll listen to me and vice versa. You take that information and you accept it because you know that the other person is only saying it because it’s what’s best for you. That really helps us on a footy field where you don’t have time to question things. You trust the other person’s call and do what you have to do.”

Tim Davidson_Tom Carter portraits_SPA

The Odd Couple in game mode – Photos: SPA Images

Naturally, even the best and closest of friends can clash on occasion, especially when they’ve lived in each other’s pockets for such a long time. Perhaps not surprisingly, it is rugby that has provided the catalyst for Tim and Tom’s most famous blues.

“One day at Gordon in 2010, I’d been giving it to ‘Davo’ about the set-pieces because he was at no.8 and our scrum was struggling,” says Tom. “He reckoned he was going to punch me out over the Harbour Bridge because he’d had a gutful of me in the showers, in the sheds, and then on the way home in the car!”

Then there was the time Tom texted Tim to question his commitment to Uni.

“He was coming back from the country and I sent him a text and said ‘Mate, you should retire because you’re not putting in the work and making enough sacrifices’,” says Carter. “The story goes that he sat on that text for an hour, kept driving down the Hume Highway and couldn’t get reception, so he turned around and drove back towards Sydney for an hour just to spray me back. That’s the type of guy he is, he’s so loyal and passionate about the club. I was pressing his buttons but it clearly worked because he came back to Sydney full-time after that.”

In an era of virtual domination of the Sydney club scene, it is hard to find many negatives in the Uni careers of both players. But it hasn’t always been rosy. Ask Tom to nominate any lowlights during his time with the Students and there’s two that stand out. Firstly, his injury enforced absence from the 2008 Grand Final which Uni won – “Watching the boys win and celebrate and not being a part of it was bloody hard”. But what burns him more than anything, is the time back in 2010 that he assumed the captaincy role in Tim’s indefinite absence.

Nobby Tribute

A task that the uber confident Tom felt he could handle with aplomb, turned out to be harder than imagined.

“I put my hand up, that was probably the biggest mistake of my life,” he rues. “I’d had a really good Super Rugby season and thought that it’d be something that would be easy to do, and I just didn’t realise the enormity of it. People like Phil Waugh, who’d run teams and organisations and achieved what he had in the game, and ‘Davo’ who’s done it for so long, I just have so much respect for them after that experience.

“I don’t have any shame in saying it’s a bloody hard job to do, and I probably wasn’t capable of doing it. I don’t think anyone should ever play down the role Davo’s played as captain and the results that he’s had. I’m fortunate enough to have been involved in a professional environment where I’ve been exposed to some really good rugby brains, so I can help drive the strategy with Tim. But it’s his ability to manage people and manage so many different personalities that mark him out. He does a tremendous job with that, and I’m happy to be one of the boys when that type of thing needs to be done.

“He’s the composed, calm one in the friendship and I think that’s why he’s such a great leader because of his ability to relate to every person on their own level and get the best out of them, whereas I probably fly off the handle a little bit and have a worse temper. I’m probably not as measured sometimes and become a bit emotional and he’s good at tempering that. He has an incredible capacity to manage so many things and still be a great player and a great leader.”

Tim remembers it as a tough period of time in their Uni careers, but doesn’t feel his friend should beat himself up too much. In his eyes, there were mitigating circumstances.

“It was very difficult at the time. Tom’s a very hard task master and he wanted to do a good job, and he probably doubted himself a little bit after what happened. But I think that whenever you’re given a job to do, you don’t automatically become good at it overnight. It’s something you’ve got to learn over a season or a couple of seasons to actually become confident at.

“We hadn’t actually won many games at the start of that year so there was a lot of pressure building up, and I think Tom took a lot of that pressure into his game and how we played, and he started questioning himself. It was almost like he just needed to go back to playing well and getting that right, and letting everything else come off the back of that. I think he was just trying to do too much and in the end it was costing him in terms of performance. I don’t question his ability for one minute that he couldn’t do it, I just think he needed more time.”

Tom Tribute

Photo: SPA Images

A major factor in Tom’s regret over that period is the fact that he felt he was letting the Students – and their reputation – down. It’s hard to find players with more pride in their jersey than these two. The weight of history and tradition that they feel comes with donning the Varsity colours is something that has been handed down from previous generations, and that they have become the custodians of in terms of making sure every incoming Uni player is aware of its brevity.

“We’re so fortunate that we’ve had 150 years of players that have gone before us,” says Tim. “You can look at the course of history over that stage and see the periods or games that the club has been through where they were either strong or weak, and figure out what you have to do to actually earn the right to wear the jersey and do it justice for the people that have gone before you.

“Diving into all that history is such a powerful motivator, and it’s something that Tom and I do drive hard. You want to teach the kids coming through the colts or lower grades that they don’t just walk into it, they have to earn it by displaying the type of qualities on and off the field that people have done for 150 years before us.

“I listened to Trevor Walsh present the jersey to us when I was very young, and he said ‘Every time you pull this jersey on, you play as if it’s your last game’ because you don’t know what’s around the corner, and I’ve been lucky enough to do that for nine years.”

For Tom, Sydney University and the game of rugby itself, has shaped his life.

“It’s given me everything,” he says proudly. “It’s given me the skills to become a professional footballer, to get educated, and to make decisions about who I’m going to be as a person. It’s the enormity of the place historically, and the people we have right through it is never lost to me. But it’s something that I consider myself very fortunate to be a part of. I saw the football club when it wasn’t great through my elder brothers, and now I see what it is today and it’s something that I hold very dear to my heart.

“The people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had, you just pinch yourself. Looking back on my career and the places I’ve been to and the footsteps of legends that I’ve walked in, I feel so humbled and grateful for what it’s given me, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. It’s an incredible club and an incredible game.”

Tim Davidson_Sydney Uni trophies_SPA

Tim Davidson has become rather acquainted with silverware, with Premiership victories in 2005, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’09, ’10 & 2012 – Photos: SPA Images

Tim will undoubtedly go down as one of the finest captains to ever grace Sydney club rugby, it just seems like a role he was born to do. As he prepares for his last ever game in the blue and yellow, fittingly another Grand Final against Eastwood this afternoon, the gravity of what he has achieved is not lost on him.

“To captain Uni first grade is a tremendous honour and something I don’t take lightly,” he says. “When you see so many guys who want to come back and help out, you realise what a special place it is to a lot of people. You forget that you’ve spent quite a bit of time down at No.1 Oval, and you hear about your mates getting engaged, or getting married, or having kids, or somebody’s parent passing away. So much happens in your life and the lives of those around you while you’re in that space that it just becomes a part of you.

“The support I’ve had in a leadership capacity has been second to none. Early on, in the teams that I’ve been a part of where we didn’t have Super Rugby players to bring back and we just had young kids, I think it was up to me to show the way. I was one of the most experienced players there at the time, and while I didn’t really know what it was to be a captain, I had heaps of support from players like Michael Griffin and Scotty Stumbles. So I was able to learn on the job and take in all their feedback about what was working and what wasn’t, and managed to shape it into something that was successful.”

While Tim’s leadership legacy is assured, strength and conditioning coach Tim Leahy feels that the role Tom has played in driving the club to reach new limits, is one that will also stand the test of time. Aware that the horizon was drawing ever closer on their careers, both players have worked tirelessly with the crop of youngsters at Uni in the hope that their mantra of hard work and application will be maintained.

Mortimer Tribute

“Tom’s legacy is definitely with the S&C program, and getting kids to work as hard as they possibly can and extract their ability,” explains Leahy. “Genetics are one thing, but being able to maximise your genetic capability is another, and I think Tom is the greatest example of that in this country. What ability he has, he’s sucked everything out of it and tried to take himself to new dimensions every day and every year.

“That’s a skill that he’s passed onto kids, and the amount of time he spends talking to them and bringing them through is amazing. There are kids that are going to come through in the next two to five years that both these guys have spent huge amounts of time with, teaching them to believe and teaching them how to prepare and making them better human beings.”

So, one game away from the end of an era. Whether it’s one or both men that sail into the sunset after today, their footprint on Sydney club rugby – and Sydney University rugby in particular – is undeniable. Friend or foe, team mate or opponent, you can only respect their achievements on the field, and the dedication and contribution that they have made to grassroots rugby.

On a personal note, I will never forget waiting to interview them both following a game against Gordon at Chatswood Oval a few years back. Player after player emerged from the dressing sheds with no sign of either one, to the point I feared I must have missed an early departure. Indeed, after about 20 minutes, every other player, coach and supporter were now firmly ensconced at the bar, and all that was left was the sound of the shed floor being swept.

When I ventured inside, lo and behold there they were, two brooms in tandem, helping a NSWRU volunteer to ensure that every last piece of support tape and clog of Chatswood mud was removed. After they’d finished carrying the loam-laden bin outside and asked if there was anything else that needed doing, the volunteer shook his head and remarked, “I wish there were more blokes like you in club rugby.”

It is a moment that has stayed with me ever since.

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*Up to & including this afternoon’s Grand Final
All statistics kindly provided by Craig Fear, S.U.F.C club statistician

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First published by Rugby News on September 14th, 2013

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