Grand Final Key Match-Up – Tim Clements vs Reece Macdonald
Photos by AJF Photography & Andrew Quinn
Guiding their teams around the park from the back of the field this afternoon will be Sydney University speedster Tim Clements and Gordon’s versatile playmaker Reece Macdonald. Both have a Premiership winners pewter mug in their locker already, two in Clement’s case, and both will be desperate to add to their collection off the back of an influential performance in the title decider.
Having played a pivotal role in the Students back-to-back triumphs in 2018 and ’19, Clements got his opportunity to shine at the next level this year with the Aussie Sevens, injuries unfortunately restricting him to just a couple of tournaments as his team mates went on to record their recent history-making World Series success. Now back amongst his brethren, his pace, eye for a gap and thrusting counter attacks have been to the fore once again.
Macdonald made his way to Chatswood Oval thanks to team mate Jacob Abel, whom he’d played alongside for Bay of Plenty and had put him in touch with former Gordon coach, and now Waratahs head honcho, Darren Coleman. He played a significant part in the Highlanders first Premiership since 1998, and has been a fulcrum of their side ever since, complementing his talents at both flyhalf or fullback with a lethal boot that earned him the Roscoe Fay Trophy this year as the Shute Shield’s leading points scorer.
Behind the Ruck caught up with the opposing fullbacks this week to reflect on their own differing experiences this season, their team’s journey to the big day, their opinion of each other, and their team’s chances of glory.
ON THE SEASON SO FAR AND THE RUN TO THE FINAL:
Tim Clements: “Anytime a club has success there is high turnover, and rightfully so a promotion of good players and coaches to the next level. Luckily there was enough of a good core of players who had been at the club for a number of years, and the senior players that were left made a point of saying that we weren’t going to use an excuse like losing a number of players derail our year before it started. Players were given an opportunity to stake their claim to a 1st Grade jersey after a couple of years working hard in colts or 2s and 3s. And the nature of our pre-season often creates a few diamonds. So it’s not a surprise that the club has done well. No point in working hard all year if you don’t expect to win.
“I remember spending almost every afternoon together with the backline from 2018 and 19 and before that in our time as colts, and this group is no different. We love spending time with each other on and off the field. We have a saying at Uni that mates win and I’m a big believer in it. Relationships build trust and if you trust the blokes around you you’ll go the extra mile. Will Goddard, Eddie Poolman and Angus Bell are exceptional footballers in very similar moulds to guys like Guy Porter, Harry Potter and Will McDonnell. More importantly, they’re all workers who haven’t had anything handed to them. Hopefully that doesn’t mean that they’ll be lost to rugby in Australia and end up playing for England whenever the next tour Down Under is…
“It doesn’t take a genius to realise that it’s been an even competition. For those couple of defeats early on we weren’t at our best and we lost. I think it’s great for the competition that it’s been such a tight season, and I’m sure it’ll continue next year. Naturally the playing and coaching group have grown into the year on the back of performance and time in the saddle. Players needed some time to discover for themselves what they can and can’t do in a game at 1st Grade level. Similarly the coaches learnt how to replicate this at training, and make training harder than the game. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve learnt to make our own luck, narrow our focus and win ugly, which is all finals footy is about.”
Reece Macdonald: “I think the early part of the season was extremely challenging as we just weren’t clinical enough and lacked discipline. As you can tell from results the competition was extremely tough this year and no game was a certain win. Coming off a row of losses by a margin of seven points or less, and a few injuries that tested our depth, really did challenge us. I think getting a couple boys back was helpful to strengthen our depth in a few key positions, but I really think it was just the approach we took.
“We had a big emphasis on the bye week being our reset week, and Billy [Melrose] did change the style of the way we took each week by not really focusing on the long run but on each game at a time. Sitting at ninth or something we were basically do or die each round basically, and have been playing play-off games since round eleven just to try and make the top eight. So focusing on us and just delivering our best performance each week we knew the rest would take care of itself.
“Not wanting to let go of that trophy has definitely played its part in helping us get that desire to hold on to it. We set a goal at the start of the year at camp that we don’t only want to be known as that 2020 Gordon team that won, but to be here to stay. To make our own new legacy.”
ON HOW THEIR RESPECTIVE SEASONS HAVE SHAPED THEIR ROLES:
Reece Macdonald: “Funny how things happen. Before moving over here to Gordon from NZ in 2020 I had only played a handful of games at fifteen, so spending the entire season there was interesting. I really did learn a lot and it made me appreciate what the fifteen does for the ten. I really enjoy playing both. At ten I feel like you get your hands on the ball more and can really control the game how you want to, but you don’t have as much freedom to roam as you do at fifteen. So switching back to fullback towards the back end of this season has been fun.
“Gordon has certainly had its struggles this year with injuries and that has really tested the depth in our squad. I think that just shows how strong the club is connected, you have boys who were in 3rd Grade the week before and play 1st Grade the next week. Being able to adjust to the way different people play in different positions has been slightly challenging but has made me personally grow as a player. I just try to get involved as much as possible and play with confidence.
“I’ve always put a lot of work into my goal kicking and pride myself on it being one of my main skill sets, so it’s awesome to see it paying off. But I guess I’ve got to thank the boys in front of me for scoring a load of tries! I really do love goal kicking though, there’s just something about the pressure I enjoy.”
Tim Clements: “I was a part of two World Rugby Sevens Series tournaments which have been amazing experiences. Going to places like Singapore and Vancouver and seeing the show that World Rugby can put on for a tournament was a reminder of how global rugby can be. Those couple of tournaments and the results that we have achieved this year has made the experience all the more enjoyable. Winning is fun and that squad of ‘misfits’ as coach Johnny Manenti called us, is such a tight knit group who love ripping in and spending time with each other. We’ve put a target on our backs now by winning the World Series for the first time, which will drive the group to continue to build and be even better for the next year. Hopefully I can get my body right and help them go back-to-back.
“Being a part of Sevens and fifteens has made me a more rounded footballer, but Sevens is such a different game. The way that training is structured, the duration and intensity of a game and the tactics involved are not directly transferable. In Sevens, with Johnny and Chucky Stannard we do a lot of breakdown, tackle, and skill work, which is critical to the short form game. Skills are really intensified and you get found out pretty quickly if there are any deficits in your game. So coming back into fifteens over the past month that has been really beneficial, more so than any positional sense or fitness. That being said, it’s still an oval ball on a rectangle field and fifteens is often overcomplicated.”
ON EACH OTHER:
Tim Clements: “I only know Reece from watching from afar. He brings that dual playmaker threat that everyone was after a couple of years ago. From his time steering Gordon at ten he can kick, run and pass, which is something to be aware of. For a little bloke like myself he’s also pretty good under the highball. Discipline is always a key in finals footy, teams are a lot more inclined to take points on offer. We played against a great goal kicker last week so we are aware of the dangers another great goal kicker like Reece can bring.”
Reece Macdonald: “I think I’ve only played against Tim once back in 2020, but have only heard and seen good things about him. He’s an exceptional attacker and his ability to counter attack from anywhere on the field is top class and something we will have to be very wary of. You can see why the Sevens boys really liked him. He’s quick and gets around the back field well, so our kicking will have to be very smart.”
ON THE MANTRA OF THEIR RESPECTIVE COACHES:
Reece Macdonald: “In a lot of ways Billy [Melrose] and DC [Darren Coleman] are similar, both are rugby fanatics and have a great rugby brain. DC set up a great programme at Gordon and Billy, to a certain extent, has just continued using that pathway – obviously with his own unique outlooks. Billy took charge of us backs in 2020 and led a lot of the attack, so in some ways not a lot has changed. He does drive the point of really playing what’s in front of you and I love that, but Harry Fehily has been great too. The amount of work he puts in on the analyst side of the game is crazy. We really go into games knowing what we need to execute to get the job down.”
Tim Clements: “Hedge [head coach Sean Hedger] has been fantastic. He was able to come in and really quickly identify the DNA of Uni rugby, and then went about trying to evolve that style, which only coaches of a high calibre can do. Both Rob Taylor and Hedge have lots of mantras that most people wouldn’t see or understand, and that’s what makes them both similarly great coaches. From day one Hedge worked really hard to build great relationships with everyone at the club in such a short time. He’s a great bloke with a fantastic rugby mind and has been an amazing leader for this club. Rightfully so he lent on the talented coaching staff he built around himself and tapped into the resources that the playing groups experience provided.”
ON THE GAME:
Tim Clements: “Gordon are peaking at the right time of the year, there’s no doubt about that. Watching them from afar they’ve built into the season and have welcomed some important pieces of the puzzle back into their club, and they are the favourites going into the game on the back of the momentum they’ve built throughout the finals. They were very impressive last week against the Minor Premiers and they’re the reigning Shute Shield champions.
“Experience can matter if you want it too. We certainly haven’t been banging on this week about what it was like in ’18 or ’19. I’m not sure if that would help. But in saying that, most of the players in the squad this weekend have come through colts together and won Premierships in colts and grade in the past. While people outside of Uni are only starting to notice these new players as they relish consistent good performances in 1st Grade, those within the club have known about these guys for years.
“If you look back at our 2020 2nd Grade team that won at Leichhardt you’ll notice a few familiar names. These guys have played in grand finals and dealt with the pressure together, and they are familiar with each other, finals footy and Leichhardt Oval. Whether that will count for anything on Saturday I have my doubts. In ’18 we played a Rats team that had all won the year before and I don’t think it mattered then.
“Set-piece is the most integral part to any game of rugby. It’s vary rare for a team to win any game at any level without at the very least a solid scrum and lineout platform. We’ll keep to our strengths and nail our fundamentals throughout the week and then come Saturday, just play.”
Reece Macdonald: “The build-up has been much the same as 2020 with the formalities and even the games. We played our play-offs at Rat Park and had success there, and now we’re back at Leichhardt Oval. So to be honest it feels pretty similar. I think if anything the body is a bit more sore after twenty or so rounds compared to the shortened 2020 season.
“Experience is huge in finals and having guys like James Lough and Jordan Goddard who have been there before will be handy. They really do bring that ice in the mind, fire in the belly vibe, and I think that’s exactly what you need when the pressure is on. In saying that, Uni are exceptional when it comes to finals. You can tell from the previous years they obviously know how to get the job done having won a few grand finals in the past. Finals footy is awesome though because it’s really just the team who doesn’t shy away from that pressure and plays it like any other game.
“Uni is an excellent set-piece team. They pride themselves on their scrum and maul, so a start for us would be looking after that. They also have attacking threats everywhere and their kicking from Henry Robertson at nine is very good. I think if we just play our own game and focus on the things we can control, we will go alright. It’s always good leading into the grand final with a bit of momentum but like I said before, we just see it as another challenge and another week where we have to perform.”
For a complete set of grand final player profiles from both teams click below:
MEET THE TEAMS: SYDNEY UNIVERSITY