The Final Word: Exclusive Grand Final preview by Todd Louden

Expert analysis on the title decider from Todd Louden, the former Waratahs and Bulls attack coach, Premiership winning Sydney University head coach in 2012, and current West Harbour head coach.

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For the rugby purist the final series has not been as entertaining, or displayed as much quality as some of the games in the regular season, however the Intrust Super Shute Shield Grand Final is going to be a cracker of game, that will literally hinge on a bounce of a ball, or a referee decision.

There is no doubt that the two best teams and clubs on and off the field are competing in the grand final. Both clubs are the bench mark of the competition. Let’s take a look at some of the key elements of the game, and which team may have the advantage.

The Build-Up

Both head coaches are trying to take the underdog tag. But really for both, the title of underdog does not fit, and is the reason why it will be such a close game for the rugby purists, and those that simply want to watch a good contest.

Robert Taylor, head coach of Sydney University, is a technically superb coach, who has claimed he has a bunch of schoolboy players – surely with tongue in cheek. Robert has numerous fringe Waratahs players as well as Jake Gordon and Paddy Ryan, and two Wallabies in Tolu Latu and Nick Phipps at his disposal. And don’t forget Dave McDuling, who has a vast amount of Super Rugby experience as well. University have a strong forward pack, and are guided around the field by Stu Dunbar who also has a wealth of experience.

The University development system is strong, no matter how young the players are, and this particular team has a great blend of young skilled enthusiastic players, supported by some older players with a vast amount of Super Rugby experience. Taylor will no doubt be using as part of his motivation to his team, that the pressure will be on Warringah as they try to win back-to-back Premierships.

Darren Coleman, head coach of Warringah, is also a great coach who has come through the Australian system developing his craft and experience. He will be pointing out to his team that they have the size, speed, depth and experience to win back-to-back titles, but they will need particular aspects of their game to gain ascendency.

Some of the Warringah players have played together for over a decade and their strength is their combination. Motivation in part will be back-to-pack Premierships, as there is no getting away from this, but Darren will want to keep his players grounded in the game plan.

Whilst finals rugby is about doing the things you have done all year well, both coaches and teams will need something up their sleeve and variations in their game, to win the 2018 Premiership, as that is how close the two teams sit.

The Scrum Battle

Whilst both teams have a strong scrum, Sydney University has the edge. They are the most technically efficient scrummaging pack in the competition, and will often want to scrum long and look for penalties for exiting, or points.

The Sydney University scrum will want to assert their dominance as early as possible to allow their backs to launch cleanly, or in defence to disrupt Warringah’s attacking momentum. However, don’t be surprised to see Warringah target and pressure Paddy Ryan to unbalance Universities scrum. Darren Coleman knows Paddy well from their work together at the NRC Country Eagles, and knows that once off his game, scrum penalties can follow.

Unfortunately, there is likely to be a lot of reset scrums, as both teams work each other over trying to wrestle momentum from each other at scrum time. This will suit Warringah, as they do control the game rest periods well.

Sydney University will win the scrum battle but it is unlikely to decide the game.

The Lineout Battle

The lineout battle may well decide the game, given in finals rugby the kicking game is essential. Both teams will want to defend lengths of territory rather than being camped down and defending in their 22m zone. Bottom line – it is no use having a long kicking game if you can’t win your lineout throws. Look at the last couple of test matches.

Sydney University have a number of lineout jumpers, and their lineout tempo is quite fast. Tolu Latu’s connection with the jumpers is crucial, and may be under pressure early in the game as he readjusts from Wallaby duties. Warringah have a slower yet efficient lineout, and launch attack with variation from their lineouts.

The lineout battle will be close, and if Sydney University can disrupt Warringah’s lineout, which they have great potential to do, it will go a long way to helping them win the game, as it will negate a lot of Warringah’s attacking shape.

Mauling Battle

Both teams maul well, and the maul will be used often. Both teams maul illegally at times in the set-up, but that has been a theme across the competition all season. Warringah’s maul has greater variation in attack.

Look for Warringah to sometimes detach from the maul and pass to Sailosi Tagicakibau to get over the gain line, and then play to the edge or down the short side.

Warringah has the edge in the maul battle.

Kicking Battle

There is a contrast between the two teams’ tactical kicking games.

Sydney University has a very good short attacking kicking game, often on the front foot, so the kick chase defence can hustle and bustle the opposition. University do have a long kicking game, but it’s not as strong and as accurate. Warringah have a short kicking game as well, but it is their long kicking game that they excel at.

We will examine the defence of both teams later in the analysis, but University have an opportunity to counter attack on Warringah’s long kicks, as Warringah’s broken-field defence is the weakest part of their strong defensive game. Other teams have found success against Warringah counter attacking on long kicks during the 2018 season.

Both teams have a left foot kicker, and therefore can kick equally down both sides of the field.

Warringah have the edge in the kicking battle.

The Attacking Battle

Sydney University will want to play an up-tempo support game in general play, as well as use the width of the field with their fast outside backs. Universities support play is very good, and based on superior technique and conditioning.

University is a machine, will not stop and will see this as an advantage over Warringah. University will be confident they can outwork Warringah in the forward pack.

University plays an attacking pod system across the field. Watch for Paddy Ryan’s ball carries in the middle of the field, as well as the forward pack looking for quick pick and carry opportunities around the ruck to break things up. The entire University team will light up and get excited on any fast attacking break.

Warringah are quite structured, and whilst often methodical in their attacking shape set up, they have some players that can spot mismatches and attacking opportunities.

Warringah are often tight and direct from set-piece, and will play a second man play around the corner from the first ruck, and move the ball wide to their fast outside backs. From the edge they will reload and work back across the field looking for mismatches and opportunities, and this is where Josh Holmes is at his best. If University can shut down Josh Holmes around the base of the ruck for the length of field, they will win the game.

For those of you that can remember the Canterbury Rugby League legend Terry Lamb, Josh Holmes’ support play straight up the middle of the field is equivalent. Everyone knows about Josh’s dummy and go, but watch his support play on a break, and Josh will get a second touch on the ball and often sniff out a try.

A key for Warringah is their big ball carriers across the field in the forwards and backs, busting tackles and creating attrition in Universities defence. Obviously, when this happens Josh Holmes comes into the game again. Don’t be surprised to see Warringah vary their attack up and play down the short side a little more due to Universities defensive style.

It is too close to call who has the edge in attack.

The Tackle Contest – Breakdown Battle

Tolu Latu at hooker is equivalent to David Pocock in his ability to ruck steal and create pressure over the ball. From defensive lineouts, Tolu will often play in the halfback position so he can get over the ball at the first breakdown. Tolu is a significant threat for Warringah, and will win penalties and the ball often.

The University team will back their support play to protect the ball in attack, as well as their ability to win back the ball in defence at the ruck.

Warringah in attack are good at getting their big ball carriers through the defensive line, which make maintaining possession easier. However, they will have their hands full if they don’t support the ball carrier immediately. Warringah in defence are also good at getting their big forwards over the ball and slowing possession. But where they are very good, is their outside backs on the edges either counter rucking or stealing the ball.

Sydney University have the edge at the ruck/breakdown.

The Defensive Battle

Sydney University are well organised in defence, and will use linespeed and multiple numbers in the tackle to try and hustle and bustle Warringah into mistakes. Once again they see their speed and work rate as an advantage, and whist their defence is very good, Warringah across the park has the size and speed in the backs, and will be a handful to contain if their set-piece is able obtain parity.

Sydney University will be looking to apply pressure in as many defensive elements as possible. Look for them in defence to bustle and manipulate the Warringah forwards, to bunch them so close you could throw a blanket over their big ball running forwards to contain them. Uni have also had success targeting Warringah’s Hamish Angus to shut his attacking options in past seasons.

In defence, Warringah are big and hit hard. University will be in for the most physical game they have had this season. Look for Warringah to also try and strip the ball in the tackle. Warringah are also very patient and don’t panic generally, but may have an Achilles Heel in their broken field defence.

Whilst Sydney University will chase down everything, Warringah with their experience, physical approach and patience, have the edge in defence.

O Connor v Ryan header

Rory O’Connor v Paddy Ryan is a key match-up

KEY POSITIONAL MATCH UPS

SCRUM: Paddy Ryan v Rory O’Connor

GENERAL PLAY: Tolu Latu v Luke Holmes

GENERAL PLAY: Nick Champion de Crespigny  v Tom Preece

LEADERSHIP & GENERAL PLAY: Rohan O’Regan v Sam Ward

ATTACK: Jake Gordon v Josh Holmes

DIRECTION OF PLAY: Stu Dunbar v Hamish Angus

DOMINATING MIDFIELD: Guy Porter v Seb Wileman


GAME BREAKERS

Sydney University: Flyhalf Stu Dunbar

Stu has some real x-factor and a great running game. University will need him to be at his best if they are to win.

Warringah: Winger Ezera Chee-Kam

Ezera is possibly not the most well-known player to the average supporter, but when in the mood he can light up a game with his attack and turn it on its head. Ezera has great feet, and is very elusive and strong through the tackle.

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PREDICTION

It is very close to call and as discussed, could depend on the bounce of the ball or a refereeing decision.

What we haven’t examined is the impact off the reserve bench, and whilst Uni have Nick Phipps – a Wallaby, Warringah across their eight reserves have players that will provide great impact on the game.

Whilst University should be the favourites based on season form and finish, if Warringah can obtain parity at the set-piece and breakdown, with their experience, size and physicality – as well as the bus loads of supporters that follow them, it should get them home.

It is very likely the game will be won on the accuracy of the goal kickers.

Whatever the result, it is going to be a game worthy of a Grand Final.

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