Grand Final Key Match-Up – Rohan O’Regan v Sam Ward

Photos: AJF Photography & Karen Watson

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With plenty of talk around this afternoon’s Intrust Super Shute Shield grand final revolving around the physicality of the two packs, and how Warringah in particular will need to meet fire with fire if they are to reclaim the Premiership throne from Sydney University, one glance at the respective team sheets garners a long list of potential hardmen to dissect the battle ahead.

Uni will be without the unquestionable passion and flame of Nick Champion De Crespigny after he was ruled out through suspension, and they will undoubtedly miss his particular brand of enforcement. But they still have fellow firebrand Lachie Swinton, and a bevy of willing hard-hitters that stretches across the park from Harry Johnson-Holmes, through Josh Kemeny, to the combative centre pairing of skipper Guy Porter and James Dargaville.

The Rats meanwhile, can call upon the likes of Rory O’Connor, Sam Thomson, Tyson Davis, and Max Girdler off the bench, in their search for the required levels of starch needed to go toe-to-toe for 80-plus minutes. But two of the toughest of the lot, arguably the toughest on the field, are also two of the nicest blokes you could ever hope to meet off it, in Rohan O’Regan and Sam Ward.

O’Regan is an unassuming assassin that never takes a backward step, does all the ‘shitters’ as they say, and leads by example, a trait that bore fruit when he captained Uni to the title against Warringah a year ago. After a somewhat frustrating but nonetheless enjoyable season in the UK, his return to the Students for the run home was a welcome return indeed.

Staring him down on the other side of the ruck is the Rats undisputed ‘brick with no eyes’, Sam Ward. Like his counterpart, you rarely see ‘Wardy’ shouting, hollering or handbagging his way through a contest. He just focuses on the job in front of him and hits hard – very hard. And then he does it again. And again, And again…. You get the picture.

Behind the Ruck caught up with club rugby’s Jekyll and Hyde persona’s this week to reflect on the season so far, see how they rate each other, and their team’s chances of glory.

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ON THE SEASON SO FAR:

Rohan O’Regan: “I always knew what the club was capable of achieving this year, particularly the 1st Grade squad. The senior squad probably had one of their best pre-seasons with time over in New Zealand, where they were able to train, play and spend time with one another 24/7. It’s a great team and club to be a part of, and I had no doubt about the heights we were capable of achieving.

“I think the plan for every team is to peak at the right time of the year. Every week the squad works very hard at correcting any issues that may have crept into the game, so by the end of the year it’s about ironing out anything small. The hours Rob [Taylor], Joe [Horn-Smith], and the rest of the squad put into review and preview. really helps this continual goal of improvement. 

“I think it’s fair to say that the team were men long before last year. It’s also fair to say that after a Premiership you do enter the following year with a perceived status. Complacency has never been an issue with this squad, and the work that was been put in since the latter stages of 2018 by the coaches, players and management staff to create an environment for success, has helped maintain the levels of performance.  

“It’s unfair to compare this team with last year because both teams are great in their own right. It’s been a continual process of improvement with a lot of lads that have progressed from last year and grown under Rob and Joe, and the growth has been unreal. There’s also been many new and old faces that have come in and brought their own spice to the jersey.”

Rohan O Regan_Sydney Uni v Norths_2019 SF_AJF

Rohan O’Regan finds the line against Norths in last weekend’s semi-final – Photo: AJF Photography

Sam Ward: “Whilst the final was disappointing last year our season was still very successful. To follow up from a very challenging year and still make our second consecutive final, is something the 2018 team and I were proud of. It was always going to be a challenge, and potentially as a team there may have been some complacency with thinking it was just going to happen for us again. This year we knew we were not going to be the hunted, so it’s enabled us to work our way to where we are now with relatively little fuss or pressure to perform.

“It was rocks and diamonds for the first three rounds. But from then on there’s been far more diamonds, and we have grown so much as a playing group, and we have so much belief as a group and love to play for each other. This year has been a big learning curve for lots involved, and I’m so proud of this group to achieve what we have this year. We won the Sir Roden Cutler Shield, came within one try of winning the Minor Premiership, and we won the most games of any team during the regular season.

“‘G’ (Mark Gerrard) is completely different to DC. DC comes with years of experience and rugby smarts as a coach, and his attention to detail and analysing of teams is second-to-none. He’s a massive reason why we were so successful over the previous two seasons, and he is to credit for helping me to understand the game of rugby. ‘G’ on the other hand brings years of experience playing at the highest level you can, and has so many insights and a unique understanding of how the game should be played.

“He challenged us as a leadership group to take a big role in implementing the way we play, and said he was going to help us achieve this. He’s laid back and focuses on what we do well, and that helps to build confidence in what we are doing and have done. He’s grown in his role, but the effort of ‘Rivo’ (Michael Ruthven), ‘Tree’ (Cam Treloar), and Dan Tilley cannot go without mention, as it’s been a real team effort this year. We wouldn’t be here at the pointy end without the countless hours they have put in to help this group.

“The old fellas in the team talk about our early days at the club a lot. I remember being smashed by Parramatta 44-17 I think it was, and those times were particularly challenging. Lots of players, myself included, were relatively inexperienced. But we always had that hunger to work hard and hang in there. We were littered with talented players but just didn’t gel well as a team on the field. We would have moments of brilliance, and moments which would cause you to have a long hard look in the mirror. This club has come a long way from those times, and it’s credit to all those who have been involved from then til now. They should be proud of themselves.”

ON THEMSELVES, AND EACH OTHER:

Sam Ward: “I think that I am obviously more experienced now and I understand the game a lot more. I understand why we do things in certain areas of the field, and what we need to do to achieve a certain picture or to win. My favourite part of the game is still the physicality of it and always will be, and when I can’t come with that edge anymore I know that will be my time to hang them up. My mentality has always been that I’m going to hit or run harder at you than you will at me. Even if someone gets a good shot on me, I’ll let them know that was solid, but I pride myself on just getting up and keep trucking.

“Rohan is a great man and one of the nicest blokes off the field. He plays a physical game, he’s got a great shoulders-down carry and great tackle technique – rarely missing any. He is also a genuine lineout option, and he has a big engine.

“I love playing against him, I think we are very similar in the way we play the game and it’s always a good contest. I don’t remember any specific run-in’s that we have had, mostly because I think he avoids me – ha ha! Come Saturday though, you bet your bottom dollar there will be some contact!

Shute Shield 2019

Sam Ward takes on two Marlins in the derby – Photo: Karen Watson

Rohan O’Regan: I had a great time overseas. London is a great city in the middle of the world and I was able to see different cultures and live in another country through rugby, which is something I’m very grateful for. I was able to play a part in a professional program that went close to promotion. I had a few injuries at the back end of the year, which meant I couldn’t contribute as I would’ve liked on the field. But all in all it was a great experience.

“Guy Porter’s done a great job as captain this year. He’s more intelligent, better looking, and a better footballer than me, so it’s no contest really! Having known him since he was 17 and watching from afar early on in the season, it was clear he was relishing the role.

“Wardy’s a great bloke and someone I’ve played with and against a lot over the last few years. I think his physicality is his strong point. He loves to put his team on the front-foot wherever he plays, and it’s great to be tested by players who play the game with the spirit he does. 

“Both being loose forwards, stopping what he does whilst concentrating on what I need to bring to the game are two things that go hand in hand really. If I can perform my role for the team to the best of my ability, it’ll stop Wardy’s influence on the game. It’ll be a great challenge against a quality Rats backrow.”

ON THE GAME:

Rohan O’Regan: “You can have some key takeaways from individual games about what worked/didn’t work but at the end of the day each performance is different and you always have to work hard to get the desired result. I’m sure they will be fired up regardless of what has happened over our last few meetings. Both teams will be ready to go, after all it’s a grand final.

“I think they have some special players littered through their side, and they showed in the semi-final against Eastwood that they can cause a few headaches at the breakdown if allowed. They also have an experienced 9-10 combo which you have to keep an eye on. I think for us it’s pretty simple, if each individual does their role for the team and really up’s the intensity we’ll have a good day. Good luck to all the teams on grand final day. Up the Students!”

Sam Ward: “There was obviously a lot of changes in the coaching and playing side this year, but a large nucleus of our team who have been here for the last five-plus years remained. ‘Hamo’ (Hamish Angus), Josh (Holmes), Rob Kelly, Tyson (Davis), Rory (O’Connor), Boyd (Killingworth) and Harry (Jones) have all been around for five years or more now.

“Add in the experience of ‘Thommo’ (Sam Thomson), ‘Needsy’ (Sam Needs), ‘Fouldsy’ (Matt Foulds), and ‘Windo’ (Liam Windon), the youthful energy of ‘Girds’ (Max Girdler), ‘Marrsy’ (Ben Marr), ‘Baldee’ (Ben Woollett), ‘Mack’ (Ruaridh Mackenzie) and Luke Reimer; plus the impressive rise of ‘Big Sexy’ (Faavae Sila), ‘Choif’ (Harley Attwater), and Wes Thomas, and we’ve had a perfect combination of youth and experience. So I am not surprised to be where we are heading into this grand final.

“Past performances mean nothing because any team on their day can damage another. We aren’t trying to make up for anything because 2018 was Uni’s year, just like 2017 was ours, and 2019 will be decided this weekend. It will be an awesome contest, and I’m confident in our belief and skill heading into the game. I have faith in every player in our team from 1-23, and wouldn’t trade them for anyone in the comp. They are my boys and I will have their backs come Saturday.

“They obviously have a strong physical pack and young enthusiastic backs who play with lots of speed and confidence. But the game will be won in the forwards and at the breakdown. Just how it should be!”

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THE EXPERT VIEW:

Darren Coleman: Both add very similar attributes to their team – consistency, leadership, calmness and physicality. Both are jumping options and both will carry, tackle and cleanout till they fall over. Who does it with the best quality and error free, will help their team the most.”

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To read all of Darren Coleman’s fantastic in-depth analysis of the final, please click here.

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