From the sheds… Sydney University v Southern Districts

SYDNEY UNIVERSITY 45 (Angus Bell 2, Jack McCalman, Will Goddard, Simon Kennewell, Ciaran Loh, Henry Robertson tries; Will Goddard 5 cons) defeated SOUTHERN DISTRICTS 12 (Christian Kagiassis, Tokahirere Sopoaga tries, Christian Kagiassis con) at University Oval No.2 – HT 31-5


Southern Districts’ season of woe continued as they went down 45-12 to Sydney University last Saturday. Sitting second-last on the ladder and suffering through illness and injury the Rebels arrived at Camperdown looking for a third win of the year to kickstart their campaign, and a well-worked try inside two minutes showed their intent. But the Students regrouped and slowly took control of proceedings, and clinically took their chances to blast away to a 31-5 lead by the break. The heavy rain of the second half made it a set-piece battle that was edged by the home side, allowing them to defend their lead with the necessary game management before an intercept from Henry Robertson put some icing on the cake.

Behind the Ruck got the post-match reaction from both camps…


Sean Hedger (Sydney University head coach):

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Sean Hedger – Photo: Karen Watson

“We knew their physical presence was going to be the number one thing that they’d bring, so the challenge to our group was to front up to it. We were lucky enough to have Lachie Swinton do our jersey presentation because that’s how he plays the game, and that’s how he challenged our players to play today with what they needed to do. They listened to him and they went well in that area.

“It was like a training run their first try, we were just going backwards, backwards, backwards. But they didn’t manage to do it again and that’s because our defence maybe connected a little bit better and pushed up a little bit harder. We usually try to defend with a lot of line speed and I thought we did that for the rest of the game. We also chose to pass the ball at the right times as opposed to running it through the forwards all the time, and that allowed us to use more width of the field than we have been in the past few weeks.

“The try right before half-time where Henry broke away and set up ‘Belly’ (Angus Bell) is what I call a defence try. We defended for nearly two minutes straight but they spill the ball and we pick it up and run it in, so the big chat was well done on the defence and let’s keep on doing that. Then the rain comes down and it becomes a set-piece game, and up to the twenty minute mark of the second half there hadn’t been any footy played. All we had to do was keep defending but Henry Robertson gets an intercept, so we scored another off the same sort of system.

“You’ve got to respect every team in the comp because they’re all so close. Souths pushed Randwick right to the edge and they put a lot of points on Easts the week before that, and we struggled to beat Easts. So I think the positions on the ladder don’t mean so much as every team is so close, which is good. I didn’t have a clue where we’d be so I’m very happy to be in the top four at this point. I get a good feel for the comp at the moment and finishing in the top four is going to be really, really important. I think we have the ability to do it and that’s what we’re aiming for, but it’s nowhere near a guarantee.

“I definitely didn’t try to change too much when I came in and coincidentally, the game model Uni were using is quite similar to the model I was using in Japan, there’s very similar philosophies along the same lines. So, I didn’t have to change too much of my thinking anyway, and I was happy to talk to the players about what they think works and what we need to keep doing because I can tweak a few things but it’s them who are out there playing, and they need to be confident in what they’re doing. If what they were doing last year was working I wasn’t going to come in and change it.

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Uni’s double-team tackles thwarted many Souths attacks – Photo: Karen Watson

“These guys are skilful, they’re talented and they’re fit, but they’re inexperienced and you can’t train that. So we’ve got to supplement them with the right guys around the place. And while inexperience is the biggest factor within the playing group, we’re lucky to have a bit of experience within our coaching group and we’re just trying to impart as much of that as we can.

“I’m loving the Shute Shield. I coached in the Brisbane comp for five years and part of the excitement of coming down here was that challenge, and I’m lucky that I’m here in a season where we’re looking like it being the tightest competition that anyone has been talking about for the last twenty years. Penrith are out of the competition and the Two Blues have suddenly become a powerhouse, so all of a sudden every week is a genuine challenge and you’ve got to be on your game. We were ten percent off in our game against the Two Blues and we got blown away on our own ground, so it’s exciting.”

Todd Louden (Southern Districts head coach):

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Todd Louden – Photo: Karen Watson

“I don’t think the score was really indicative of our performance when you consider the overlap we had at half-time that ends up with them scoring instead, and then the intercept in the second half. But that’s what Uni do to you. You can’t defend a certain way if you’re not getting the players every week and if you look at Uni today, they had fresh reserves. We had five props available, so if we’d dropped a prop in first grade we would have had to go to uncontested scrums, and I need to give a big shout out to our second grade because they played with fourteen men to help us out and still scored thirty-three points. We’re not one of the bigger clubs with the depth to pull people in and out, and when you’ve got five props out it kills you, especially against a side like Uni.

“We had other opportunities to score similar to the first try but we either didn’t pass the ball or we forced the ball, and I think that’s just a product of connections or the lack of them, and kind of shows you where we are at as a club. We’ve just had sickness with this awful flu that’s going around and we’ve had a few season-ending injuries already, so I don’t think we’ve had a consistent team for eight weeks, it’s chopped and changed every week. That’s one of those things that you work through and they’re not excuses, and I’m pretty confident that we’ll turn the corner soon.

“One thing we did do today was try to stick to our game plan, which is something that we haven’t done, and I thought we were getting a lot of pay out of contestable balls off our ten just because they’ve got to come forward. We also had a plan of their contestable and we did it a couple of times and found some space, but then went away from it with inconsistency. If you look at our attack today I think it had some layers in it and we haven’t had that for a while, and defensively where we got caught out was having three backs on the short side. Again, that’s down to connection and understanding, and credit to Uni for exposing it but it’s fixable. We just need to get some bodies back and some consistency.

“We’ve come off two half-seasons and there’s been a bit of change, probably not enough but it is what it is and we’ve just got to work through it. I’m confident in the group and I believe in them, there’s some really good players and they’re pretty resilient. They’re fit and are working really hard, and you’ve got to remember that we’re quite a young side as well, I think the average is only about twenty-three. I’m pretty proud of them at the moment because they’re digging in, we just can’t get the consistency. However, it will turn at some point in the season. 

“There’s no form in this comp right now, everyone can beat everyone, and I think that’s where the players know that it has to turn for us at some point and we’ll get some luck. We’ve just got to ride these passages. We had a good win against Easts and played very well, and the ball was in play for thirty-five minutes last week against Randwick in an end-to-end game that could have gone either way, it was just the bounce of the ball that went against us. Eight teams play finals this year and maybe the good thing is that other sides will probably underestimate us a little bit when they look at where we are on the ladder in first and second grade, and it’s a game changer when teams can sneak into the finals and find some form. We know we can do that but we know we’ve got to get there first.”

Jack McCalman (Sydney University captain):

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Jack McCalman – Photo: Karen Watson

“We’re pretty pleased with that. The last few years when we’ve played Souths, whether it’s been in the Shute Shield or a trial match, we know we’re going to come up against an abrasive, physical pack. So, to get a really quick start on them and get their lungs burning and get our heads into the game and get that margin at half-time, we were really happy with that. You’ll always take a win against Souths, particularly in the wet.

“We had a poor exit and gave them a penalty and they scored straight away, and that’s the fine margins of Shute Shield footy. But I was really happy with the way our lads managed that two-minute storm and got into their game because that can turn into an eighty-minute storm pretty quickly if you don’t. We’ve got a pretty young pack and they’re not the biggest – particularly when compared to Souths. But we make up for it by working hard and trying to get those dominant shots in and really locking up that midfield.

“We still wanted to focus on our attack in the second half and scoring points ourselves, despite the rain. But I think both teams probably struggled in the wet to score and so that twenty-six point margin was more than enough because it’s very hard to build continuity when you can’t see your own twenty-two. The set-piece battle became key and the scrum swung both ways a bit with them winning a couple of good ones. But I think we had enough possession off our own ball and at the lineout to play a bit more footy in their half, and if you can win territory in bucketing rain you’re probably not going to get many points scored against you.

“We’ve got a bit of an Aussie Sevens flavour in the backline at the moment with Lewis Holland, Henry Clunies-Ross, Angus Bell and Simon Kennewell, and being able to play what’s in front of you and really light it up when the opportunity comes on the counter-attack, they’re some pretty hand players to execute that for us. What Lewis brings is maturity and communication, and calmness under pressure. He captained the Aussie Sevens to two Olympics and coming in at ten his presence and communication is really valuable for us in the lead-up and during training, and he proved his worth on the field today.

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Former Aussie Sevens skipper Lewis Holland enjoyed a fine run-on debut at flyhalf – Photo: AJF Photography

“From our last game last year against Gordon we lost twelve players from the starting fifteen to professional contracts. So yes, it’s a younger group with some new coaches but I think that rightly or wrongly, at Sydney University we still expect the fifteen blokes that take the field to do well. That being said, most of the blokes are now in round eight and they have eight caps, so it’s pleasing to see them starting to learn the first grade trade of consistency, sticking to game plans and being physical. The two games we’ve lost we’ve just switched off and probably showed our immaturity. In the games we’ve won like today and against Norths a couple of weeks ago, we’ve shown a bit more belief and trust in each other, which only comes from spending time together as a new team.

“Hedge (Sean Hedger) has done a really good job. He’s a really great bloke, and between him and Damien Hill, Mark Bakewell and Laurie Weeks, the group has got a really strong relationship with them now. It’s a really strong coaching group and Hedge has done a great job in bringing everyone together, and bringing a new group of players out of the Rob Taylor era and into one with an opportunity to go on and win a Shute Shield.

“We’re still fit, we’re still abrasive and want to get up with our defence and we still go to our set-piece, and I think the best thing Hedge has done is not try and reinvent the wheel. He’s taken what’s worked well in the past and applied his own rugby knowledge to it, and he’s really calm and has a great game plan and I think the players are now starting to execute what we’re being told. If you gave him six wins out of the first eight games at the start of the year he’d probably take it and it’s a big credit to him and the coaching staff to get us to that because it is a new group and a new challenge.”


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