Off-colour Students edge dogged Marlins in war of attrition
Photo: AJF Photography
Two-time Premiers Sydney University have maintained their unbeaten start to the 2020 season, after only just seeing off a determined Manly side 10-6 at Uni Oval No.2 last Saturday. In a game that will certainly not go down as one for the ages, the two Shute Shield giants battled some early rain, a slippery surface as a result, a litany of incomplete scrums, and each other’s well-drilled defences, to fight out a titanic tussle that could easily have gone the other way.
With the desperately unfortunate Sam Lane likely to miss the rest of the season after dislocating a shoulder in the season opener against Western Sydney Two Blues last week, the no.10 mantle – and kick-off duties – were assumed by a fellow ‘leftie’ in James Ohmsen, who ironically missed out last week because of injury.
But it was the Students who clicked with ball in hand early, halves pairing Banjo Travers and Connor O’Shea stretching the Marlins line and looking for an opening on the edge. A slick offload from James Kane almost sent Ofa Manufetoa away, only for the imposing winger to be double-teamed to the floor. But a quick recycle and some flat passes to the line soon had Tim Clements scampering away down the opposite flank and diving for the chalk, only for another twin-team of Manly defenders – Yool Yool taking the man and Harry Bergelin targeting the ball – to keep the fullback off the floor and ruled held-up.
A couple of scrum penalties as Uni looked to exert their traditional set-piece strength kept the foot on the visitor’s throats. And after shifting it off the third engagement to let the big boppers do the hard yards with a succession of pick and drives, Manly’s rearguard was broken when Travers fired a swift pass for Henry Clunies-Ross to punish a spacing error and go under the posts in his 50th First Grade game.
The reliable boot of Kane, last season’s joint-leading points-scorer in the competition, added the extras, and Uni had a handy 7-0 lead inside 10 minutes as the intermittent rain began to fall again in earnest. And when the hardworking Bergelin had to leave the field shortly after the restart with a nasty-looking cut under his eye after copping some friendly fire courtesy of Ohmsen’s boot, the Marlins were also forced into an early change – although, former skipper Kotoni Ale is a pretty handy replacement.
The visitor’s looked to settle and get some possession under their belts to take the sting out of Uni’s momentum, and they had a bevy of more than willing ball carriers to take the fight to their opposition. But their attacks were all a bit side-to-side as they struggled to break free from Uni’s defensive shackles, such was the linespeed, aggression and dominant tackles they were encountering.
It took an offside penalty at the end of the first quarter to get the Marlins inside the home 22, and once they did get on the front-foot with a bit of territory to work with they made it count. A scrum penalty was a nice fillip for the forwards to build upon, and when a late shot on Ohmsen quelled their next attack from the ensuing lineout, former Colts sensation Yool Yool stepped up to calmly slot his first points in the Shute Shield to make it 7-3.
Another scrum penalty in their favour shortly after the restart was a further shot in the arm for the visitor’s, with the whoops, hollers and back-slap’s that followed an indication of the confidence and belief began to grow within this Manly outfit. Conversely, the furrowed brows amongst the Uni on-field think tank told their own story.
With both team’s happy to play at the other end of the field and prey on any mistakes made on the increasingly greasy surface, a kicking duel came to the fore between Kane and Ohmsen. With both looking for grass and a decent kick-chase to apply pressure, the ball spent plenty of time in the air. But it was the grunt up front – Manly earning a third scrum penalty in a row on halfway – that paved the way for the next points. A penny for the thoughts of Uni’s quarantining co-head coach and scrum guru Joe Horn-Smith when he sees the video.
Kicking to touch the Marlins set about looking for a weak spot in Uni’s gold and blue blanket. But if they weren’t able to find a way through with ball in hand, the home side’s increasingly punitive penalty count was doing the work for them. Another offside penalty inside the red zone saw captain Ohmsen smartly point to the posts, and up stepped Yool Yool – clearly so good they named him twice – to make it a one-point ball game with five to play in the opening stanza.
Bucking the trend, a penalty for hanging on from Kane’s kick-off gave Uni their first time inside the Manly 22 for almost 20 minutes. But their attacking zest was also flailing in the winter drizzle, and the Marlin’s on-point maul defence quickly snuffed out any attempt to drive for the line – much to their frustration.
When they were then awarded a scrum penalty from in front, the smart money was on Kane slotting the 3pts to give his side a bit of breathing space to take to the sheds. But captain Rohan O’Regan boldly opted for another lineout, a decision that wasn’t vindicated when they went off the top for O’Shea to shift a reverse pass into the path of Manuofetoa, and Manly winger Jack Veitch was perhaps a shade lucky not to see yellow for knocking the ball to the floor.
Rangy breakaway Max Douglas wasn’t as lucky when he was sent to the naughty chair after a bit of afters off the ball with Nick Champion De Crespigny – the two tyros had been enjoying a healthy running battle of both body and mind all half. But with Ohmsen doing his bit for the team by filling the shoes of his departed openside at the next scrum, Manly held firm to skew the Students sideways, and there was that man Yool Yool again to interject and win back possession, and keep the Marlins line intact as they headed for oranges.
It was a scrappy start to the second stanza, Uni looking to return to the vim and vigour with which they had opened the match, but guilty of some sloppy play as they tried to force the agenda. In part that was due to the blue wall in front of them, Manly’s defiance at the end of the first half clearly fuelling a dogged determination to keep their hosts out, with inside centre Hutana Coffin a persistent no-go zone for any Uni ball-runner.
The Students were trying to play for territory and pin their belligerent opposition down in their own half, but a couple of rare missed touch-finders from Kane failed to turn the screw, while the lineout was suddenly looking shaky too with a couple of overthrows. It was all very uncharacteristic from Uni.
When Douglas returned from the sin bin with no further points conceded, the Marlins had managed to admirably hang tough with a man down. Now blessed with the full quota, the question was whether they could adjust their focus to winning the match rather than merely staying in it.
When the lively Ohmsen picked his moment to make a dart through the line and set up an attack that brought a penalty, we appeared to have an answer. They too chose to turn down the 3pts on offer – and the lead on the scoreboard – by kicking for touch. But when the forwards trucked it up and Ale appeared to find the line under a pile of bodies, it looked like their bravado had paid dividends, only for the referee to rule that the ball had been lost forward as he grounded.
The scrum lottery continued as both front-row’s got a tighthead makeover, Matt Sandell on for Uni and Mokani ‘Gunnz’ Fuavao for the Marlins. And while the purists may have been salivating over the constant pendulum swing of dominance, the number of resets was proving to be an increasing blight on a match frustratingly short of genuine excitement.
It was anyone’s game as the contest entered the final quarter, but a terrific nudge from O’Shea soon got the home side back at the right end of the field. Helped by a numbering oversight from Manly at the ensuing lineout, they were then gifted a put-in at scrum No. twenty-something of the match, and it proved to be the error that cost them the game.
Putting the platform to good use, Uni worked some damaging carries to edge towards the posts before a penalty for offside – followed by an exchange of pleasantries on the floor between serial pest De Crespigny and an irate Mick Adams – allowed Kane to open up what would prove to be an unassailable four-point gap at 10-6.
From there it was a case of game control from the Students, Kane’s lengthy boot to the fore as the call went out to keep the ball at Manly’s end and ask them to go an unlikely 80 metres for a five-pointer. A 20-metre lineout drive into the 22 followed by another three scrum resets was just what the doctor ordered for Uni as the clock ran down. And when another pinpoint grass-finder from Kane was backed up by an impressive kick-chase that forced a penalty, Manly’s chances of a late comeback were over.
SYDNEY UNIVERSITY 10 (Henry Clunies-Ross try; James Kane con, pen) defeated MANLY 6 (Yool Yool 2 pens) at University Oval No.2 – HT 7-6
Sydney University: 1. Tom Osborne; 2. Patrick O’Doherty; 3. Darcy Breen; 4. Luke Porter; 5. Ratu Rotuisolia; 6. Nick Champion De Crespigny; 7. Hugh Sumerhayes; 8. Rohan O’Regan (c); 9. Banjo Travers; 10. Connor O’Shea; 11. James Kane; 12. Will McDonnell; 13. Henry Clunies-Ross; 14. Ofa Manuofetoa; 15. Tim Clements – Replacements: Charlie Hancock; Matt Sandell; Jack McCalman; Ben Hughes
Manly: 1. Sio Tatola; 2. James Hilterbrand (c); 3. Conor Davidson; 4. Van Stewart; 5. Alex Dalzell; 6. Harry Bergelin; 7. Max Douglas; 8. Dan Alley; 9. Adam Crerar; 10. James Ohmsen; 11. Jack Veitch; 12. Hutana Coffin; 13. Dennis Pili-Gaitau; 14. Yool Yool; 15. Michael Adams – Replacements: Kotoni Ale; Aaron Blacklock; Mokani Fuavao