2018 Shute Shield Final: Dominant Students down Rats to reclaim title
Photo: AJF Photography
The Intrust Super Shute Shield is back in the hands of Sydney University, after they dismantled reigning Premiers Warringah 45-12 at North Sydney Oval on Saturday, to reclaim the title they last held in 2013.
Playing in front of 15,500 passionate club rugby followers at the iconic old ground, the Minor Premiers made good on their efforts throughout the year to land the big prize off the back of a dominant scrum, brutal defence, and clinical execution inside the red zone.
Waratah halfback Jake Gordon was a standout, grabbing two first half tries to set the platform for a second half barrage, which saw the Students grab four more five-pointers, and sharpshooter James Kane finish with an 18pt individual haul.
Warringah produced two crackers of their own from Dave Feltscheer and Seb Wileman – one of the best on ground in a losing side. But last year’s heroes simply couldn’t contain a Uni side that were relentless in their speed, aggression and desire to carve their own slice of Varsity history.
The tone was set for a long afternoon for the Rat-pack when referee Will Houston awarded a scrum penalty from the first engagement just two minutes in. And the efficacy of Kane’s long and accurate boot was also immediately on show, as he gained the maximum yardage to put the Students on the front-foot on the edge of the Warringah 22.
Rumbling forward off the ensuing lineout they looked poised to strike early, only for Luke Holmes and Mahe Vailanu to shoot out of the line and force a knock-on from Paddy Ryan. But due warning had been served.
Warringah sent out their own message shortly after, some scrappy work from both sides at the breakdown giving the Rats a few chances to concoct some trademark runs from deep with Tyson Davis and Dave Feltscheer to the fore. But it was the Students who opened the scoring, a barrage of pick-and-drives drawing a penalty and Kane dispatching the three points from in front with ease.
The Rats were trying to play their way into the game and build some phases, but they were being met with stiff resistance from a Uni line looking to make a dominant tackle with every hit. Inside centre Will McDonnell in particular, was like a man possessed every time a green and white jersey entered his air space.
The reigning Premiers persevered, and after working their way upfield through 10 phases in the 15th minute, a rare miss from McDonnell allowed Wileman to streak through a gap and find the ever-willing Josh Holmes to have the Students on the back-foot for the first time.
A grubber into the corner from Vailanu perhaps wasn’t the best option, but it did force Guy Porter to concede a five-metre lineout. But as the Rats looked to power their way towards the Uni line, the big frame of Paddy Ryan stepped in to bring the surge to a halt and win the turnover penalty.
Uni’s halves decided to take matters into their own hands from the resulting scrum, Stu Dunbar playing advantage from what was the third penalty against Warringah, and kicking down the touchline for the rapier-like Gordon to keep it in play with a brilliant offload. Five passes later, the ball had gone coast-to-coast for fullback Tim Clements to race to the corner for the first five-pointer, only to be called back for a forward pass from Kane.
The relative stalemate continued, but Uni’s near-miss had their tails up, and they went in search of legitimate reward. Happy to break en masse when the opportunity presented through their exciting young backline, this is a side also content to return to more traditional Uni fayre when required, and it was the slow metres gained by the forwards that finally opened the door.
Former Waratah Dave McDuling was revelling in the heat of battle with his carries, and in tandem with the similarly industrious Brad Wilkin, Lachlan Swinton and Nick Champion de Crespigny, a pathway to the posts was eventually forged in the 25th minute, Jake Gordon executing a trademark snipe under the posts to break the tussle open.
Kane converted and 10-0 down, the Rats body language looked a tad flat, while the muted silence amongst the massed hordes of travelling ‘Hillbillies’ was palpable. The champions needed something, and fast, and when they got it, it was from a couple of reliable sources.
A tap-and-go from Vailanu in his own half proved to be suicidal when the effervescent Wilkin jackaled his way over the ball and earned a penalty to keep Warringah pinned inside their 22. They had a brief respite when Tolu Latu’s radar went askew at the lineout, but looked certain to be on the receiving end of a tighthead at the following scrum, as Uni’s well-marshalled eight powered forward.
But just as it looked like ref Houston was about to blow for the obvious, skipper Sam Ward scooped up under pressure and fed Josh Holmes, who suddenly saw open space in front and pinned back the ears for a run. Carrying over halfway, the Rats sniffed blood in the water with Uni still tracking back and they punished in style, recycling down the line for Wileman to feed Feltscheer, and the speedy fullback rolled back the years to carve a path between Clements, Porter and Harry Potter to dive home.
The Students suffered another blow when the impressive – but damned unlucky – Wilkin, was forced from the field with a hamstring issue, Jack Sherratt on in his place. But they looked to hit back immediately, Gordon and Latu carrying the fight deep into the Rats’ red zone once again. And when the forwards did the hard yards at scrum time in front of the Warringah posts to earn yet another penalty, the quick-thinking Gordon was first to react, tapping to himself and catching the Rats napping to go in for his second.
They looked to have a third right on half-time, Gordon – now running riot – scything his way through a fractured Rats line to put the supporting Clements away to the corner. But somehow, in what can only be described as sheer bloody-mindedness, captain marvel Ward reeled the younger, seemingly quicker fullback in, executed a superb try-saving tackle, and got his team to the sheds with a catchable 10pt deficit, and a chance to regroup and go again in the second stanza.
Indeed, the Rats looked positively pumped when they re-emerged after oranges, despite losing the unfortunate Luke Holmes to injury just before the break – a cruel end for one of club rugby’s finest warriors in recent times. That ensured a reshuffle with Vailanu going to his preferred position of hooker, and Ruairidh MacKenzie into the backrow. But any renewed belief the Premiers were trying to foster was summarily crushed within two minutes of the restart.
James Kane’s deep kick-off was inextricably allowed to bounce into touch to force a five-metre lineout, and when that was duly turned over on the floor and Uni opted for the scrum, the alarm bells were ringing once again. Sure enough, another powerful surge from the pack gave Gordon the platform to pick out the onrushing Harry Potter, and he didn’t require any magic to crash over for try number three.
They were back in the same position some sixty seconds later, when a laser-guided box kick from Gordon found touch. And when the lineout throw from Vailanu went awry and gave Uni the put-in, the Rats were in danger of implosion. Two scrums later and their grand final fate was virtually sealed, ref Houston seeing enough dominance to run under the sticks to award the ninth penalty try of the season for the Students. Another pat on the back for forwards coach Joe Horn-Smith.
The front row reshuffle continued with Rats no.3 Harry Rorke departing with a shoulder injury, and Uni props Matt Sandell and Paddy Ryan given an early mark for their efforts. But any hopes that the scrum contest would even out were soon put to rest at the next engagement, replacements Harry Johnson-Holmes and Chris Talakai – the most destructive tighthead in the comp all season – simply ramped up the pressure even more, with Rats loosehead Rory O’Connor spectacularly popped and driven back a couple of metres whilst airborne.
It was going to take something special to get the Rats back in with any chance of a comeback, and they got it just before the hour. Seb Wileman, a standout for Warringah all season and best on ground for the Rats on the day, had plenty to do when he received a pass from Hamish Angus a few metres out from the 22. But the forceful centre brushed aside Johnson-Holmes, jinked past Kane, swatted away Porter, and dummied inside Potter with a show-and-go to find the chalk in style.
That was the cue for the outstanding Gordon to make way for Nick Phipps, who was given the warmest of welcomes from giant Rats replacement Emmanuel Meafou with a late hit that forced a recount of his ribs. But the hardy scrumhalf was back on his feet soon after, and shrugged aside any ill-effects to produce the pass of the match, a torpedo across the front of three bamboozled Rats defenders and straight into the arms of the arriving Tolu Latu on an angle, for the game sealer.
Kane slotted his fifth successful kick to make it 38-12 with 15 to play, and the flame-haired winger was on the mark himself within a couple of minutes to rubber stamp the victory. Latu made a powerful bust straight up the middle carrying two or three Rats with him, and when the ball was recycled and sent wide by Phipps to McDonnell, the nuggety inside centre sucked in the last man with the ball in both hands, and freed Kane on his outside to put the icing on the cake of a memorable performance.
SYDNEY UNIVERSITY 45 (Penalty Try; Jake Gordon 2, Harry Potter, Tolu Latu, James Kane tries; James Kane 5 cons, pen) WARRINGAH 12 (Dave Feltscheer, Seb Wileman tries; Hamish Angus cons) at North Sydney Oval. HT 17-7
SYDNEY UNIVERSITY: 1. Matt Sandell; 2. Tolu Latu; 3. Paddy Ryan; 4. Lachlan Swinton; 5. Dave McDuling; 6. Nick Champion de Crespigny; 7. Brad Wilkin; 8. Rohan O’Regan (c); 9. Jake Gordon; 10. Stu Dunbar; 11. James Kane; 12. Will McDonnell; 13. Guy Porter; 14. Harry Potter; 15. Tim Clements – Replacements: 16. Tom Horton; 17. Harry Johnson-Holmes; 18. Chris Talakai; 19. Jack Sharrett; 20. Viliame Cocker: 21. Nick Phipps; 22. Theo Strang; 23. Henry Clunies-Ross
WARRINGAH: 1. Rory O’Connor; 2. Luke Holmes; 3. Harry Rorke; 4. Sam Thomson; 5. Jack Tomkins; 6. Tom Preece; 7. Mahe Vailanu; 8. Sam Ward (VC); 9. Josh Holmes; 10. Hamish Angus (C); 11. Esera Chee-Kam; 12. Sailosi Tagicakibau; 13. Seb Wileman: 14. Tyson Davis; 15. Dave Feltscheer – Replacements: 16. Ruairidh Mackenzie; 17. Faavae Sila; 18. Baxter King; 19. Emmanuel Meafou; 20. Maclean Jones; 21. Mark Gerrard; 22. Myles Dorrian; 23. Harry Jones