2018 Jack Scott Cup Grand Final: Unbeaten Uni reclaim throne
Photo: AJF Photography
Sydney University Women have completed an incredible unbeaten season to reclaim the Jack Scott Cup, with a 38-17 victory over reigning Premiers Warringah at Woollahra Oval.
A hard-fought opening half hour was played out with Uni asking most of the questions, despite the scoreboard remaining level at 3-3. But while the Ratettes rearguard was superbly up to the task in unseasonably hot conditions, you wondered if that effort would come back to bite them, and two tries from Kim Davey and veteran Ash Hewson before the break had the Students out to a handy 17-3 advantage.
Warringah hit back after the restart, Shanice Parker going under the posts and Britney Duff converting to make it a one-score game. But Uni began to turn the screw up front, and Ili Batabasaga soon restored the lead from in close after good work from her forwards.
As the Ratettes tired, Uni put the foot down with two more from the tireless Grace Hamilton (her 17th of the season), and replacement Claudia Bell. The outgoing Premiers still had the final say when Parker ran in for a deserved second, but the damage was done, and Uni could rightly celebrate a peerless season of 16 wins from 16 games, and an average of just under 46pts per match. Now that’s how you win back a title.
Having beaten Warringah both times during the regular season, Uni went into the decider as firm favourites. But having done the same last year only to fall to the Ratettes at the final hurdle, there was never going to be any sense of complacency from a group of ‘Lionessess’ hungry to win back their throne.
A couple of early penalties gave Uni the field position to move for an early strike, but every carry towards the red zone was met with enthusiastic resistance by a green wall of Ratettes. Wily flyhalf Ash Hewson mixed it up with a neat dab over the top into the corner, but the bounce of the ball just beat the onrushing Annie Hack, and rolled to safety.
Uni came again in the 10th minute, another tester in-behind from Hewson requiring a terrific mopping-up job from Warringah fullback Shanice Parker with two Students bearing down on both her and the tryline. And the pressure didn’t abate, the Ratettes forced into procuring several turnovers at the breakdown, which allowed the exit-kicking prowess of halves combo Cobie-Jane Morgan and Chloe Leaupepe to shine.
It took until the 12th minute before Warringah could even get out of their own half. But they were soon on the backfoot again, Uni props Tisera Volkman and Brittany Le’Au’Anae acting like battering rams in tandem on the Ratettes defensive line, while several strong carries from lock Noella Green also needed multiple green jerseys to be alert.
There were a number of Wallaroos on display for both sides and one of the most recent, Warringah centre Crystal Maguire, was also doing a good job of shooting out of the line to shut down the passing options of one of her most illustrious predecessor’s in the national jersey – Hewson.
With the match still scoreless as it came to the end of the opening quarter, it was Warringah who could claim the moral victory having had so little ball and been forced to make so many tackles. But something had to give eventually, and when it did, it came off the back of Uni’s best passage of play.
Sixteen passes and six phases got them from their own 10-metre line to the edge of the opposition 22, where a stray hand from Warringah no.8 Linda Devereux knocked the ball down and earned them a penalty. On pretty much every other occasion I’ve seen that happen this season it’s resulted in a yellow card, so Hewson’s regulation three from in front was a somewhat sweeter pill to swallow for the Ratettes.
Nice interplay off a scrum on halfway got Warringah into their first genuine attacking position on 23 minutes, Maguire and Kennedy Cherrington combining to put fullback Parker away down the flank, where some over-eagerness at the next breakdown from Uni gave them a rare penalty.
Leaupepe duly put it into touch, only for the lineout to be lost. However, Wallaroos scrumhalf Morgan came up with a captain’s play when she broadsided Kirrily Laws in style, and the Uni centre was pinged for not releasing. Up stepped Britney Duff, and for all their territorial and possessional dominance, Uni still found themselves level-pegging on the scoreboard.
The renewed parity acted as the perfect wake-up call, and the Students were back in front within a couple of minutes of the restart. Hewson got the ball rolling, getting some payback on Maguire with a thumping hit that sent the centre backwards, and left Morgan to kick upfield under pressure.
When the ball fell straight into the arms of the well-placed Tamyka Laws, the Uni no.15 ran it back into traffic with interest. Outside centre Kim Davey then cleared from the ruck for Taz Sheppard, and when the combative hooker brushed two aside and offloaded in the tackle, it was Davey who was back on hand to take the pass and surge away to the corner.
A superb sideline conversion from Hewson opened up a 10-3 lead, and Warringah’s cause suffered another setback when hooker Amanda Gibson finally succumbed to an injury she had sustained early in the game.
On came Ratettes stalwart Aggie Palu to pack down at tighthead for the next scrum, with Sarah Laman reverting to her old position at rake. But the Uni pack sniffed blood in the water, and a seismic shove moved Warringah off their own ball to earn a penalty, and offer a worrying vision of the forward dominance that would follow.
As the half drew to a close Uni’s pressure was beginning to tell, and the penalties began mounting as a result. Hewson pushed a rare one past the posts, but seizing the moment, they then opted for a couple of tap and go’s that saw a succession of storming surges from Le’Au’Anae, Hewson and the ever-dangerous Grace Hamilton, only repelled by some desperate scrambling from Warringah on their own line.
But it was coming, and after another demonstrative carry from the impressive Sheppard, the Students trucked it up again a few times for good measure before scrumhalf Ili Batibasaga fed Hewson, and she dummied, span, and wriggled free of the attentions of Morgan to gleefully dive home.
The subsequent conversion of her own good work made it 17-3 at oranges, and given the effort Warringah had already put in just to stay in touch, you feared for a second half blowout if the momentum in the game stayed the same.
They weren’t helped by a yellow card to Chloe Leaupepe barely a minute after the restart, the influential pivot paying the price for a succession of team infringements. But the Ratettes were given a reprieve by another rare Hewson miss off the tee.
They got the rub of the green again soon after, a trademark dash up the sideline from Grace Hamilton drawing in a batch of green jerseys, and the pass inside putting Batibasaga away to the line, only for play to be pulled back for a foot in touch.
When they then survived another period of pressure inside their own 22, saw Uni try-scorer Kim Davey sent to the bin for needless foul play, and Cobie-Jane Morgan take them 60 metres upfield with a well-placed kick from hand, they had the attacking opportunity they had been crying out for. And they took it.
Palu punched it up the middle, Maguire hot-stepped her way across the field, Anne Rutlidge darted down the right flank before Laman powered them within range, and when Morgan popped off a pass for the onrushing Shanice Parker, the fullback neatly sidestepped Batibasaga to race under the posts.
Duff added the extras, and from a position that had been looking increasingly fragile, the girls from the northern beaches were back in the hunt at 17-10.
Uni brought on some fresh blood in the pack in the shape of Bridie Gorman and Sera Naqaima, and a reversion to the basics of the game brought them reward when a rolling maul was felled short of the Warringah line, and lock Sabine Blakeman was given 10 minutes in the bin for preventing Batibasaga’s quick tap for the line.
Sticking to their forward strength, the reliable duo of Sheppard and Hamilton then softened the Ratettes defence with a couple of barraging runs, and the alert Batibasaga was on hand to scoop up and twist her way across the chalk for Uni’s third try.
Hewson’s radar was back on song and at 24-10 with just over a quarter of the game remaining, a tiring Warringah needed to pull something special out of the bag if they were going to turn it around. But the writing was pretty much on the wall when Uni went over again in the 63rd minute.
Replacement prop Nicole Puni scuttled a few Ratettes inside the 22, flanker Emily Chancellor took it to within 10 metres, and when the ball came back down the line via Batibasaga, Hewson and Noella Green, who else but Hamilton was in position to glide over for her 17th try of the season.
The increasingly influential Chancellor almost put the athletic Naiqama away for another as Uni began to cut loose, but they didn’t have to wait long to seal the deal. Hamilton carved a path through the green wall, and Naiqama was only prevented from scoring by a terrific last-ditch effort from Shanice Parker. But with Warringah firmly on their heels on their own line, a trusty bounce pass from Batibasaga cut-out two defenders and put replacement winger Claudia Bell over in the corner.
Perhaps fittingly, the outgoing Premiers still had the last say before passing the title baton back to the team whose grasp they had wrenched it from 12 months ago. Showing lashings of spirit, they put together multiple phases inside the Uni 22 that ended with a clutch of Ratettes held up over the line.
Undeterred, they duly stuck it up their jumpers again from the resultant five-metre scrum, and after patiently working over the Students’ goal-line defence, a quick switch infield allowed the ubiquitous Parker to show her class again as she shrugged off three to slam the ball down under the sticks.
Now 38-17 behind, they went again from the kick-off. The elusive Maguire jinked this way and that before putting the irrepressible Parker away down the right flank, and it needed a terrific lunging tackle from Tamyka Laws to prevent her from running in her hat-trick. But when the ball came infield, the blue and gold line was back in place to force a turnover, and thwart any further designs on a late comeback.
A tight contest for large periods of the game, Uni just had the extra class, power, fitness and strength-in-depth to get the job done over a Warringah side that never gave in, and can take great heart from a title defence that only fell at the final hurdle.
Taz Sheppard was awarded Player of the Match for her efforts, but there were some notable performances as well from Hewson – who finished with a 20pt personal haul, the all-action Noella Green, and the industrious Fi Jones to name but three. But ultimately, it was the Students teamwork that won them the day.
The unbeatables. What a season.
SYDNEY UNIVERSITY 38 (Kim Davey, Ash Hewson, lli Batibasaga, Grace Hamilton, Claudia Bell tries; Ash Hewson 5 cons, pen) defeated WARRINGAH 17 (Shanice Parker 2 tries; Britney Duff 2 cons, pen) HT 17-3
SYDNEY UNIVERSITY: 1. Brittany Le’Au’Anae; 2. Tasmin Sheppard; 3. Tisera Mataia Volkman; 4. Haruka Takahashi; 5. Noella Green; 6. Emily Chancellor; 7. Fi Jones; 8. Grace Hamilton; 9. Iliseva Batibasaga; 10. Ash Hewson (c); 11. Madda Wilson; 12. Kirrily Laws; 13. Kim Davey; 14. Annie Hack; 15. Tamyka Laws – Replacements: 16. Bridie O’Gorman; 17. Kaitlyn Hart; 18. Nicole Puni; 19.Gabi Piolli; 20.Celine Tan: 21. Sera Naiqama; 22. Barbera Waddell; 23. Claudia Bell
WARRINGAH: 1. Matalena Wilson; 2. Amanda Gibson; 3. Sarah Laman; 4. Nat Maclarn; 5. Sabine Blakeman; 6. Lynda Robertson; 7. Britney Duff; 8. Laura Devereux; 9. Cobie-Jane Morgan; 10. Chloe Leaupepe; 11. Kennedy Cherrington; 12. Crystal Maguire; 13. Eriko Hirano; 14. Anne Rutlidge; 15. Shanice Parker – Replacements: 16. Aggie Palu; 17. Dan Meskell; 18. Lilin Tay; 19. Sarah Carrington; 20. Claire Illsley; 21. Shenai Lendill; 22. Mikaela Trbojevich; 23. Mardi Watts