Colin Caird Shield Final: Uni see off Easts in points bonanza

Photo: AJF Photography

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Sydney University have claimed back-to-back 2nd Grade Premierships in style, seeing off a gallant Eastern Suburbs 43-27 to retain the Colin Caird Shield in testing conditions that saw four seasons in 80 minutes.

The Beasts had opened the scoring early off a maul that threatened further damage. But they couldn’t get enough possession or territory to make it pay, and a Uni side with plenty of pace and invention in the backs despite the difficult conditions wrought by a thunderstorm, carved them open several times to lead 28-10 at the break.

Further scores as the weather changed and the sun came out to play had the reigning Premiers up 38-10 with less than half an hour remaining. But some telling contributions from the Easts bench brought three late tries and a more respectable final scoreboard. However, it was not enough to dampen Uni’s celebrations of a Premiership title and trophy, that will go some way towards easing the pain of what has been a somewhat underwhelming season by their lofty standards.

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It was a sloppy, nervy opening from both sides, with plenty of dropped ball and loose carries as they tried to settle into an attacking rhythm. But Easts had the first glimmer of hope when a kick through from fullback Will Maddocks was dealt with a touch too casually by Uni halfback Henry Robertson. He didn’t see Nic Shannon racing up behind him and almost gifted the Beasts no.10 with the ball and a clear path to the line, and was mightily relieved to see the troops arrive to bail him out with an exit.

However, when Uni went off their feet at the next ruck after the lineout, Maddocks kicked to touch to give his pack a chance to grind again from just five metres. And even though the Students appeared to quell the momentum of the initial maul, the Beasts span it round for hooker Andrew Smyth to dive home for his eighth try of the season, and an early lead in the big dance.

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Will Goddard glides home for Uni’s opener – Photo: AJF Photography

That advantage was short-lived, Uni putting together a sublime first-phase try off a lineout with flyhalf Stefano Hunt using a couple of decoy runners to hit a terrific line from Will Goddard with a delayed pop pass, and the winger racing straight up the middle and under the posts in style. They almost repeated the trick shortly after the restart, Angus Bell the recipient this time as he pumped his legs through the gap, but Shannon just about held onto him and forced a knock-on. But the Students were settling nicely with ball in hand, and they bagged a second try before the end of the first quarter.

Easts didn’t do themselves any favours by giving away a needless penalty at the lineout, with Uni’s Josh Schwager unceremoniously dumped to the floor. And it was the skipper who dusted himself off to play a key role in the ensuing score, a couple of bulwarking runs at the heart of the Beasties defence attracting defenders, and when the ball went through the hands they had a mismatch neatly punished by Eddie Poolman for Connor O’Shea to run in. Goddard added the extras for a 14-5 lead as the predicted rain started to fall around Leichhardt Oval with increasing velocity.

As the storm clouds rolled in and thunder and lightning enveloped Sydney’s inner west, the rumble from above was matched by the Easts forwards at ground level, as they looked to power their way back onto the scoreboard. And they did so with relative ease, softening up the Uni line with a couple of mauls before resorting to the pick and drive that eventually paved the way for flyhalf Shannon to carve his way through to the chalk. Game on.

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Nic Shannon finishes off a well-worked five-pointer for the Beasts – Photo: SPA Images

With conditions worsening and handling increasingly hazardous, keeping it in tight was the smart option. And Uni showed they were just as adept at creating opportunities with the ball up their jumpers as they were in letting it fly, when they mirrored Easts approach with a dominant maul carrying them inside the 22, and pick and drives to within inches of the line. When the ball was finally sent wide for the knockout blow this time however, it slipped from O’Shea’s grasp as he tried to put the waiting Will Terry into the corner.

They didn’t need to wait long for another opportunity though, and it was a crash-ball from Terry off a lineout that got them back on the front-foot. Swift interplay sent it to the flanks for Goddard, Poolman and Hunt to have a dash, but with the line now in sight they switched into pragmatic mode and waited for the big boppers to arrive, and prop Tom Osborne was on hand to pile his way over with a little help from his friends for the Students third.

They repeated the dose a couple of minutes later as a Beasties side forced to make plenty of tackles began to lose a bit of bite in the shadows of half-time. Pick and drives were again the go-to as a bevy of Uni carriers put up their hands for the hard yards, Schwager in particular putting in a tireless captain’s knock at the coalface, and this time it was Osborne’s propping partner Charlie Hancock that finished the job. Goddard converted again and the Minor Premiers headed to the sheds with a dominant 28-10 lead.

When the teams returned, sunshine was trying to peak it’s way through the clouds and the wind had slightly abated. Unlike Uni’s desire to put this one to bed early as they dominated the opening exchanges with a full two minutes of possession, before brilliant work on the floor from Easts openside Donny Freeman stemmed the blue and gold tide. But the respite was brief, Uni regrouping to come hard at them again with pace and admirable precision considering the slippery conditions, and when a Beasties hand popped out of the ruck to knock a pass to ground, Goddard stepped up to make it 31-10.

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Hamish Dunbar slides under the posts to finish off a brilliant Uni try – Photo: AJF Photography

There was more to come. When Angus Bell spilt the ball backwards on his own 10-metre line as Uni looked to stretch the field off a lineout, momentum appeared to have been lost. But the alert Stefano Hunt scooped up and skirted towards the touchline to attract two defenders before putting in a Benji Marshall-reverse pass for Goddard, who pinned back the ears to race past three tricolour jerseys and offload for the supporting Hamish Dunbar to go all the way for another. Exhilarating stuff.

Staring down the barrel of a heavy final defeat with 25 minutes to play and Uni clicking nicely through the gears, Easts really needed to get something on the board, and soon. The trouble was, they were not getting enough territory, possession or ill discipline from their opponents to wield their most potent weapon, the driving maul, while their ponderous attacking shape wasn’t looking likely to trouble the Students from open-field either.

The injection off the bench of Sam Fogarty and Mosese Tuipulotu into the backline – two players with Shute Shield experience this season – brought some dynamism, while the introduction of halfback Archie Gavin also seemed to put a much-needed spring into the Beasties step. The service was suddenly snappier, the offloads quick and clean, and the running options enhanced, and they’d made a difference within a few minutes.

A penalty conceded as Tuipulotu tested the line was kicked to touch for a chance to flex those maul muscles. However, an overthrow took out the tall timber waiting to pounce and forced Easts to play off the cuff, Freeman taking it to the line and backed up by a barnstorming surge from another replacement in the shape of Malachi Hawkes. The quick recycle went wide for Maddocks, and he cleverly drew in two defenders before flicking it out to Will Paterson for the corner to make it 38-17. Too little, too late, or the start of a comeback?

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Will Paterson’ s try offered brief hopes of an Easts comeback – Photo: SPA Images

That little equation looked to have been answered when Uni went straight up the other end and scored again – off a rolling maul! Seemingly, anything Easts could try to do Uni could still do better, as they set themselves up from a full 18 metres out and simply didn’t stop, Josh Schwager shooing aside any thoughts from replacement scrumhalf Banjo Travers around peeling off for a dart himself by assuming control at the back to marshal the final assault, and putting the icing on the cake with a skipper’s five-pointer.

Now four scores down with only 10 to play, there was nothing left for the Beasties to do but go down fighting, and great credit to them for doing exactly that and not hoisting up the white flag with one foot already in the bar. They weren’t exactly helped by a yellow card for James Behringer, the burly prop leaving one in on Osborne as he was on the floor. But the pace and ability to break the first tackle from Tuipulotu in particular started to open a few doors, and Max Patterson danced right through one of them to grab a consolation.

They did so in front of a crowd now bathed in glorious sunshine as ‘La Niña’ continued to play her fickle hand in proceedings, and building nicely ahead of the big one to follow. But the impressive cameo from Tuipulotu wasn’t over, the powerful centre going from his own 22 when Uni lost possession in attack off the restart, and exchanging passes with Blake Rixon before fending off O’Shea to bludgeon his way under the posts and put a bit more respectability on the scoreline.

That made it six tries to five, and if Easts have any regrets about this one, it may be that they should have thrown a few more shots earlier in the piece as they clearly had the capabilities to find a way to the line. You could also suggest that the Students had put the cue in the rack and were already celebrating what was a second successive 2nd Grade final victory over the Beasties, following their 39-18 triumph last year. No matter, in a season where Uni lost their grip on the Club Championship after 16 years, and 1st Grade’s defending two-time Premiers bowed out of the finals in week one, this was a much-needed and thoroughly well-deserved dose of glory.

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POST-MATCH REACTION:

Sydney University captain Josh Schwager:

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Skipper Josh Schwager with the Colin Caird Shield Photo: AJF Photography

“It’s been a year like no other with a shortened format, and from the start we had coaches and senior players referring to this as a sprint rather than the marathon you get with your standard twenty-one week competition. So, to come through that amended format and the disruptions in pre-season with blokes everywhere, and bring it all back together and get it done with finals in multiple weeks and limited crowds is a really good result, and a testament to the boys’ work ethic and ability to make things happen in uncertain circumstances.

“We were quietly confident going in because we’d nailed our preparation and although we’d been disrupted, we were in a good spot and knew that if we executed and brought the level of intensity that we were looking to achieve all year, that we’d be very hard to keep up with. Luckily, we were able to pull out that sort of performance for fifty or sixty minutes of the game.

“We watched a fair bit of footage of Easts and played them in a trial and in the regular season, so we knew they had a very handy set-piece. They were difficult to scrum against in the round game, so we took the time to make sure we had a bit of a plan on how to execute there and also disrupt their maul. But for their first try, you can plan all you want but when they come over the top of you in the way that they did it’s hard to stop.

“That gave them an early lead and we had to chase them down. But we’ve got some very talented and very quick young backs, and when you have those young men in motion sometimes the sea can part, and that’s what happened for Will Goddard to go straight through, which was a great hit back after their score.

“The weather did it make it difficult but I thought our skills held up well in the conditions. We’d had a very wet game the previous week against Randwick and it didn’t faze us too much, so we were able to bring ourselves back into our central game plan and bring things in tight around our pick and drive game. We’ve been working on it all year in terms of hitting it with speed and continually rolling to the point that other teams can’t match the pace and it creates holes, and that’s where two or three of our tries effectively came from.

“The try after half-time where we took it to the line and there was some great skill execution from Stefano Hunt and Will Goddard, and Hamish Dunbar ended up scoring, was simply unreal. But we were still definitely worried about Easts with about thirty minutes to go, and at one point I did find myself changing my decision when we were up by twenty-three and I wanted to go for the three points, just because I wanted to continue to build that points pressure as I knew they’d come back at some point with the momentum swing.

“When Easts brought those guys off the bench they added plenty of intensity, and while I was disappointed that we let those two tries in at the end it wasn’t through our inability to defend, they were really coming at us. [Mosese] Tuipulotu brought a great injection for fifteen minutes and was doing everything out there and they really earned those tries. It wasn’t us switching off at all.

“It’s just been great to execute a game plan across the year that’s got us to this point, and that all comes from a great coaching staff behind the scenes, and a great strength and conditioning staff and medical guys that get us on the field each week. Add that into a bunch of guys who have great attitudes, are willing to work and love playing footy together, and it’s pretty special. But you’d have to ask Ray Hudd and Ross Ryan where this side sits against previous second grade Premiers, they’re the gentlemen who have been there for a long period of time and put in a great coaching shift. With the continuation of young talent coming through the second grade side is always one to watch at Uni, and prides itself on being one of the strongest in the club.

“They may not get there for a few years because there are a number of good players around at the club, but I’m looking forward to seeing what’s to come from the likes of Angus Allen, Henry Robertson, Eddie Poolman, Will Goddard and Angus Bell – if he doesn’t go off to Sevens. They’re all fresh 21-year-old’s who have added so much to this team, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how their careers develop and if opportunities pop up for them around the place.

“Being a shortened year with less club’s involved in the Club Championship and knowing that we wouldn’t necessarily have the strength in the lower grades to shine through, we knew that we needed to execute throughout the year as a second grade side. But in terms of bearing responsibility and helping the club build towards next year because we lifted a trophy and first grade unfortunately didn’t get the bounce of the ball, I don’t think we can take credit for that. Although there were twenty-three players out on the field today, there’s an extended squad of guys in first grade who train with us every week and oppose us to make us better, and guys below who also pressure us to be better. It was a whole club effort, we were just lucky enough to be team to get the job done on the field and celebrate accordingly.”

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2020 Colin Caird Shield Premiers: SYDNEY UNIVERSITY – Photo: AJF Photography

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SYDNEY UNIVERSITY 43 (Will Goddard, Connor O’Shea, Tom Osborne, Charlie Hancock, Hamish Dunbar, Josh Schwager tries; Will Goddard 5 cons, pen) defeated EASTERN SUBURBS 27 (Andrew Smyth, Nic Shannon, Will Paterson, Max Patterson, Mosese Tuipulotu tries; Will Maddocks con) HT 28-10 at Leichhardt Oval

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SYDNEY UNIVERSITY: 1. Tom Osborne; 2. Patrick O’Doherty; 3. Charlie Hancock; 4. Angus Allen; 5. Thomas Willson; 6. Hugh Summerhayes; 7. Hamish Dunbar; 8. Josh Schwager (c); 9. Henry Robertson; 10. Stefano Hunt; 11. Will Goddard; 12. Eddie Poolman; 13. Angus Bell; 14. Will Terry; 15. Connor O’Shea – Replacements: Tim Lilomaiava; Alex Masima; Will Ridley; Luke Porter; Zac Von Appen; Banjo Travers; Ben Hughes; Daniel Poletto; Strath Yeo; Ben Carolan

To find out more about Sydney Uni’s 2nd Grade Premiers, click here for some light-hearted player profiles from skipper Josh Schwager.

EASTERN SUBURBS: 1. James King; 2. Andrew Smyth; 3. Shane Byrne; 4. Nathan Brennan (c); 5. Will Nicholls; 6. James Donato; 7. Donny Freeman; 8. Sam Callow; 9. Angus Fowler; 10. Nic Shannon; 11. Blake Rixon; 12. Max Patterson; 13. John Julian; 14. Will Paterson; 15. Will Maddocks – Replacements: Joshua Smith; Mosese Tuipulotu; George Corias; Harry Doyle; Archie Gavin; Sam Fogarty; James Behringer; Malachi Hawkes

To find out more about Easts’ 2nd Grade grand finalists, click here for some light-hearted player profiles from skipper Nathan Brennan.

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