Fast-finishing Jeeps edge Uni in Club Championship thriller

Photo: Karen Watson

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The Australian Club Championship spoils have headed back over the Tweed River to Brisbane, after GPS downed Sydney University 37-31 in a thriller in the wet at Ballymore last Saturday night.

The annual fixture between the Brisbane Premiers and Shute Shield winners had seen the Sydney-based sides enjoy success in recent years, with Northern Suburbs (2017) and Warringah (2018) both triumphant. And it looked as though the title would be remaining in New South Wales when a dominant Sydney Uni took a 24-7 lead shortly after half-time.

But the hosts dug deep and came back with a vengeance, scoring 20 unanswered points to retake the lead with less than 15 minutes to go. A runaway try to Henry Clunies-Ross then looked to have put the Students back in the box seat. But GPS went again, and a succession of penalties in the closing stages were ruthlessly punished by flyhalf DP De Lange, whose 17pt haul went a long way to ensuring the trophy’s pride of place in the Sunshine State for the next 12 months.

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The home side started on fire, pinning Uni inside their 22 from the kick-off before fronting up at scrum time to kick-start a surge to the line. An offside penalty conceded right in front of the posts offered them an easy 3pts but scrumhalf Jordan Lenac wanted more. Tapping and going himself it took several Uni defenders to hold him out, but when the ball was recycled for another dart at the line from Mitch King, the burly no.8 couldn’t be prevented from going low to find the chalk.

De Lange added the extras to cement a tidy opening for the local favourites, but a high shot on Uni skipper Guy Porter soon had the Students in range at the other end. Bulwarking carries from centre Will McDonnell and Porter himself then had GPS on the backfoot, and when they then conceded a kickable penalty, Uni also declined the 3pts and opted for a scrum.

A huge weapon for them throughout their 2018 Shute Shield campaign – particularly in the grand final defeat of Warringah – Uni weren’t able to exert much influence over the GPS pack this time. But after another run from the combative McDonnell sucked in defenders, Mitch Whiteley scooped up and went straight though the middle of the ruck to dot down, only to be called offside when he took possession.

Australian Club Championship 2019

Ben Hughes slams down Uni’s first try – Photo: Karen Watson

A terrific chase and dominant hit from the pumped-up Porter then caught GPS in their in-goal, and gave Uni another chance to flex their scrum muscles from five metres out. When the first engagement drew a penalty they duly packed down again, and despite GPS holding up at the second time of asking, Whiteley still had the time to target the short side and feed Ben Hughes, and somehow the flyhalf shrugged off two tacklers to stretch for the line.

The Gallopers thought they had struck again shortly after, hooker Maile Ngaumo smashing his way to the corner, only for a superb try-saving tackle from Uni scrumhalf Banjo Travers, who put his body on the line to hold the powerful hooker up over the in-goal.

The home side then needed their own try-saver at the other end, openside Matt Gicquel tackling Whiteley as he looked to put Porter away, and knocking the ball into touch for good measure as the game continued to open up and provide opportunities. But it wasn’t long before the scoreboard was called upon again, Uni using their power game up front to work an opening on the short side, and there was Hughes seagulling on the wing again, to grab a double.

The visitor’s started to turn the screw over the next 10 minutes, their scrum enjoying the upper hand thanks in no small part to the work of loosehead Matt Sandell, while the booming boot of fullback James Kane was turning every GPS infringement into prime field position.

The fact that Uni were now enjoying 80% territory was beginning to take it’s toll on Jeeps, who were issued a warning from referee Graham Cooper. So it was no surprise when a menacing looking driving maul from the Students was illegally felled shy of the line, to see a yellow card shown to home lock Ollie Bartlett.

It was also no surprise that Uni went for the very same play with their hosts a man down, and this time they had the numbers to complete the job, hooker Tom Horton at the back to flop over and help his side to a healthy 19-7 lead at the break.

Australian Club Championship 2019

Uni centre Will McDonnell was at his combative best – Photo: Karen Watson

They wasted no time in adding to their tally after the resumption of hostilities, a charge-down on a clearing kick from De Lange almost earning Henry Clunies-Ross a score. But from the resultant five-metre scrum, another barraging hit-up from McDonnell paved the way for blindside Will Cocker to be driven over from close range.

A rare missed conversion from Kane was almost made up for when he latched onto a loose pass on halfway to run home, only for play to be called back for a dubious-looking offside. But just as the Students looked set to run away with the game, GPS hit back with a vital score.

A searing run from winger Esera Tapeli Esera split the Uni line and helped his side work a position deep inside the 22, and when the big boppers arrived to plough their furrows towards the chalk, it was Bartlett – only just back from the naughty chair – who went low and hard to find the line.

Now back to full strength, it was the Gallopers who started to ask some questions of the Uni defence with half an hour to go. The deluge of rain that had hit Brisbane in the previous 24hrs had left a slippery surface and a pitch that was beginning to cut up, and utilising the tools that helped them towards a first Premiership in 22 years last season, the home side stuck it up their jumpers and played the percentages.

Another desperate defensive effort from Uni’s Jackson McCalman held GPS up over the line, but the tide was definitely turning. And after the forwards had done the hard yards through the pick and drive off the ensuing five-metre scrum, a lovely, looping cut-out pass from no.9 Lenac found the imposing frame of winger Chris Kuridrani, and the former Queensland Red finished with ease.

Australian Club Championship 2019

The battle up front intensified as the rain came – Photo: Karen Watson

Amazingly it was all-square on the hour, Uni pinged for playing the halfback and GPS opting for what was the first shot at the posts from a penalty in the match, and De Lange did the honours.  And the flyhalf was at it again in the 66th minute, punishing a Uni indiscretion at the breakdown with another 3pts to edge his side back in front 27-24.

That lasted little more than a minute however, Kane reading and intercepting a grubber to step his way neatly past a couple and fire it wide for Clunies-Ross, and with the GPS line fractured, the speedster showcased his dazzling pace to tear it up down the sideline and claim the five -pointer. But we weren’t done yet.

A misjudgement from Ben Hughes from the kick-off gave GPS a lineout on the edge of the 22, and they pounced. Livewire halfback Lenac took a quick tap when Uni were penalised at the maul, and blasted a path towards the line. And when the forwards arrived en masse to secure possession, there was no.8 Mitch King to mirror his first half effort and burrow his way over the white stuff.

De Lange maintained his 100% record off the tee with the conversion to make it 34-31 with seven minutes remaining, and Uni’s chances of turning it around late took a huge hit when prop Wayne Borsak was shown yellow for the infringement that led to the try.

The rain had returned with a vengeance for the final quarter, handling now at a premium as the clock ticked down. So a couple of knock-on’s from Uni off an up’n’under and then a lineout, only played straight into the hands of their opponents.

There was still one final twist of the knife from Jeeps, Whiteley harshly pinged at the breakdown and De Lange taking his team out by a converted try with a minute left. And even for a team like Uni that has built it’s successful recent history off the back of outlasting their opponents, this time it was a bridge too far.

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GPS 37 (Mitch King 2, Ollie Bartlett, Chris Kuridrani tries; DP De Lange 4 cons, 3 pens) defeated SYDNEY UNIVERSITY 31 (Ben Hughes 2, Tom Horton, Will Cocker, Henry Clunies-Ross tries; James Kane 3 cons) HT 7-19 at Ballymore Stadium, Brisbane

Australian Club Championship 2019

Buildcorp Group MD Tony Sukkar AM presents the trophy to GPS skipper Dan Gorman – Photo: Karen Watson

WHAT THEY SAID:

Dan Gorman (GPS captain): “We just said that we didn’t throw many punches in the first half with our attack, so we just got back to making sure we were nice and direct and putting them under pressure, and it worked. This is our third game as a group, so we couldn’t be happier with how we went, especially up against a tough side such as Sydney Uni. It’s awesome for the community, and awesome to roll on from last year and start the year off really well.”

Guy Porter (Sydney University captain): “I think it was a combination of their 9 and 10 taking control and they kicked well, and then our ill discipline I suppose. That probably swung the momentum of the game well before the yellow card. Some guys stepped up and I can’t fault the effort, they got off the line really well. But as I said, there were just a few things in terms of temperament that let us down. We both played in the same conditions, I think they took control of them better and kicked better. There’s definitely some positives. It’s an awesome opportunity to play a high stakes game in pre-season and work a few things out.”

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GPS: 1. Jethro Felemi; 2. Maile Ngauamo; 3. Fred Burke; 4. Ollie Bartlett; 5. Dan Gorman (c); 6. Michael Richards; 7. Matt Gicquel; 8. Mitch King; 9. Jordan Lenac; 10. DP De Lange; 11. Chris Kuridrani; 12. Leider; 13. Maaloga Konelio; 14. Esera Tapeli Esera; 15. Pat Nicholson – Replacements: 16. Troy Simkin; 17. Emosi Tuqiri; 18. Jonah Pologa; 19. Kieran Johnston; 20. Dan Chui-Clarke: 21. Elliot Turner; 22. Isaac De Flavis 23. Alfonso Horomia

SYDNEY UNIVERSITY: 1. Matt Sandell; 2. Tom Horton; 3. Wayne Borsak; 4. Nick Coaldrake; 5. Ratu Rotuisolia; 6. Will Cocker; 7. Jackson McCalman; 8. Mitch Whiteley; 9. Banjo Travers; 10. Ben Hughes; 11. Henry Clunies-Ross; 12. Will McDonnell; 13. Guy Porter (c); 14. Harry Potter; 15. James Kane – Replacements: 16. Declan Moore; 17. Alex Batho; 18. ? Osborne; 19. Hamish Dunbar; 20. Rory Suttor; 21. Theo Strang; 22. Daniel Poletto 23. James Armstrong

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