Rats left shellshocked as rampant Uni reach the half-century

Photo: Karen Watson

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Reigning Premiers Sydney University overwhelmed Warringah 50-0 on Good Friday, with a performance – and result – that should send shivers down the spines of the rest of the competition.

Billed as a grand final rematch between the two sides who contested last year’s big dance, in reality, less than half of the 46 players that lined up that day were on show again at University Oval No.2. But the disparity on the scoreboard wasn’t far different, the Students putting on a powerhouse display in front of their own supporters to rack up the half-century, and leave a stunned Rats outfit scoreless in the process.

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The tone for the afternoon was set inside 23 seconds. Uni no.8 Mitch Whiteley took the kick-off as the Rats’ chasers missed their mark, and the ball was quickly shifted to the flanks for Harry Potter to power his way into the opposition half. A clean-out from Jack Sherratt removed both Sam Ward and Max Girdler, and cleared a path down the blindside for Uni scrumhalf Banjo Travers to scoot away and feed skipper Guy Porter for the corner.

Warringah were back defending their own 22 shortly after, Porter clearing upfield from the restart, and an eager cavalry of Uni chasers pinning them back, forcing an error, and earning a lineout. From there the Students rolling maul took over, marching them forward before play was again taken towards the fringes.

The Rats threw everything into defending their line. But after several surges from Uni’s battering ram softened their resistance, prop Wayne Borsak drove over from less than a metre to leave his former side back under the posts again, and 12-0 down inside five minutes.

Shute Shield 2019

Warringah prop Baxter King struggles to break free from Uni’s attentions – Photo: Karen Watson

The visitor’s had a chance to regroup off back-to-back penalties. But three lineouts inside Uni’s red zone were cruelled by two overthrows, and a third that was successfully taken, but eventually driven back over halfway by Uni’s linespeed, and almost manic determination.

Their ferocity in the tackle, and connections and communication in defence were giving Warringah no time or space, and forcing plenty of turnovers in the process. And off one such opportunity in the 12th minute they almost went in for a third, Harry Potter – the leading try-scorer in the comp after two rounds – missing a chance to extend his lead when he lost the ball forward with the line begging, after a desperate hit from Rats fullback Liam Windon.

But the visitor’s reprieve lasted barely three minutes. A scrum penalty inside the 22 allowed Uni to go for touch and set up another lineout drive. And when his fellow forwards had skittled their opposition and paved the way, hooker Tom Horton was the man at the back to claim try number three.

Uni were like a team possessed, their intensity at a level befitting another grand final, rather than round three of a new season. And with their scrum starting to pay dividends at both ends of the field, the set-piece was another area where the beleaguered Rats were struggling to make any headway at all.

It took a terrific lineout steal from Sam Thomson to thwart another Uni raid inside the 22, after a well-marshalled kick-chase had left Hamish Angus isolated and dragged into touch. The two-time Ken Catchpole Medallist was seeing precious little ball with which to apply any kind of control to proceedings, alongside long-time halves partner Josh Holmes.

Shute Shield 2019

Two tries for Sydney Uni captain Guy Porter puts him top of the try-scorers list – Photo: Karen Watson

But their first half struggles weren’t over, and Uni wrapped up an imposing opening stanza with a bonus point fourth try just a couple of minutes before the break.

James Kane got the ball rolling with a damaging run from deep and a lovely offload for Potter, before similarly deft hands from the winger, and then Stu Dunbar and Will McDonnell, opened the space for Potter to get a second touch and power infield at the heart of the Rats defence.

With the visitor’s waiting for the next Student to come around the corner for a pick and drive, captain Porter took almost everyone by surprise except his scrumhalf, running a peach of a line from deep to hit the ball at speed, and race over the chalk with nobody home for his double.

Staring down the barrel at 24-0, Warringah head coach Mark Gerrard visibly read the riot act to his troops on the field at half-time, urging them for an effort more befitting their status as a competition heavyweight in the second half.

Their cause wasn’t helped by the loss to injury of chief playmaker Angus for the rest of the afternoon. But Gerrard must have been gnashing his teeth just a few minutes after the restart, when their attempts to get some semblance of a foothold in the contest were stymied by two lost lineouts, and another wasteful overthrow.

Shute Shield 2019

Tyson Davis put in a tireless shift for the Rats on a difficult afternoon – Photo: Karen Watson

A lovely backline move from Uni that saw McDonnell and Porter combine to give Kane the chance to drop a cute little grubber ahead, looked to have garnered another five-pointer when Potter chased hard and dotted down, only for referee Matt Kellahan to rule that he’d knocked on in grounding. However, once again it was the shortest of respites, the ensuing five-metre scrum earning a penalty for Uni against the head, and the subsequent lineout driven home with scant resistance for no.9 Travers to claim the spoils.

Terrific scrambling work from Holmes and Windon cleared the Rats’ lines when Uni adopted a similar kicking ploy in behind just before the hour. But it was still largely one-way traffic.

Tyson Davis was doing his best to turn things around, the hardworking wing/centre involved in most of the few positives you could attribute to his side, racking up a tally of bell-ringing tackles to back up his footwork, speed and direct running. The trouble was, he didn’t have too many sticking their hands up alongside him to help carry the fight, and that’s just not something you could say about Warringah in recent years.

As the game entered the final quarter Uni head coach Robert Taylor emptied his bench, with warhorse Dave McDuling back for another year of club footy in his beloved Varsity jersey. He joined a game that had just begun to ramp up a notch in intensity levels, the disgruntled Rats taking their frustrations out in contact, and both sides going absolutely hammer and tongs at each other at the breakdown.

But it was still the Students that were making the greater percentage of dominant hits, with Nick Champion de Crespigny and Waratah Lachie Swinton, revelling in their work in the engine room and enforcement stakes to keep the Rats on the backfoot.

Shute Shield 2019

Uni scrumhalf Banjo Travers had a fine time behind his hardworking pack – Photo: Karen Watson

The reshuffling of Uni’s pack didn’t imbue any shifting of the balance of power at scrum-time either. Indeed, it was merely a case of ‘as you were’ when ref Kellahan ran under the uprights to award a penalty try with 10 minutes to go to make it 36-0. And it only got worse before it was over for Warringah.

A lovely jinking run and reverse offload from James Armstrong, sent replacement prop Jay Spencer under the black dot on his 1st Grade debut. And the ignominy was complete when a bullet pass from freshly introduced halfback Theo Strang, stranded several defenders to give Nathaniel Tamwoy a popular run in, and Kane added the extras to rack up the half century.

A warning sign to the rest of the competition from Sydney University then. And the fact that they were still chugging along with the same pace, enthusiasm and physicality in the 80th minute as they were in the 1st, suggests that the reversal they suffered on the very same ground just a fortnight ago against Eastern Suburbs, may have been a red herring their competitor’s would be wise to dismiss.

What it also indicates, given Warringah were celebrating victory over Easts themselves just seven days earlier, is that it doesn’t take long to turn things around in this competition. And while this has to go down as a dark chapter in their recent 1st Grade history, you simply don’t write off a team that has reached back-to-back grand finals after one bad day at the office, particularly in April.

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SYDNEY UNIVERSITY 50 (Penalty Try, Guy Porter 2, Wayne Borsak, Tom Horton, Banjo Travers, Jay Spencer, Nathaniel Tamwoy tries; James Kane 4 cons) defeated WARRINGAH 0 at University Oval No. 2. HT 24-0

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