By Cameron Caccamo, Club Rugby TV Correspondent
Last time Sydney University’s Head Coach Robert Taylor caught up with Club Rugby TV, Sydney University was on the cusp of a fifteenth Club Championship. This time it is a different bit of silverware up for grabs: the Intrust Super Shute Shield; and the Students are hoping to be just as successful in taking that one too.
This weekend they face reigning Premiers Warringah as they contest for their ninth title in fourteen years; a testament to the dominance the Students have had over the competition. Their most recent Shute Shield win was in 2013; in 2016 they made the Grand Final, losing to Northern Suburbs.
Taylor was effusive in his praise for the team in their two wins in the Austbrokers Finals Series thus far. The Students had an arm wrestle against Eastern Suburbs, coming out on top 21-13, while last week they put on a complete performance to send Manly packing in a 41-3 wipeout. “Leading into a Grand Final, you don’t want to be leaking too many points” Taylor said, as he talked up the defensive effort the team put up in both games. “It’s been a very good preparation… We know that if things go wrong or if it just isn’t happening we can work our way out of that”, he continued, saying that “gives us a lot of confidence against a good attacking team in Warringah”.
Warringah have put on almost sixty points across their two Finals games, beating Manly and Northern Suburbs. They looked every bit like the team that won the Shute Shield last year. Taylor pointed to the many strengths of the Rats squad that the Students have to prepare for; “their lineout is one of the best, they have a lot of consistency in their player base, lot of big physical guys and fast backs… They’re a well-balanced team”.
Sydney University, however, has an ace up its sleeve. As has been widely reported already, Wallabies Nick Phipps and Tolu Latu are both lining up for the Students this weekend, a huge boon for the University’s title chances. Many see this as more of a challenge for the Rats; in reporting from The Manly Daily, Warringah Coach Darren Coleman welcomed the late inclusions for exactly that reason.
Taylor thinks this is just business as usual. “Tolu Latu has been a big part of our season this year… he started in our preseason and our first six games, he’s actually played more than any other hooker for us” according to Taylor, who says Latu should have no problem fitting in with the team. Phipps will not displace either starting scrumhalf Jake Gordon or reserve Theo Strang, ensuring a bit of continuity in such an important position.
Taylor does concede that having both players is “massive, morale wise”. With such a young team – only three of the starting squad played in the 2016 Grand Final loss according to Taylor – having a couple more experienced heads in there will certainly help on the day. Taylor is adamant that it will not change their game plan for this Saturday, however.
Taylor diplomatically evaded the question of whether his team or Warringah should be considered favourites for this weekend – “I don’t get too caught up in that stuff” – but was full of praise for a Rats team that haven’t lost a game since Round 7. “They’ve got a lot of players that played in the Grand Final last year, we’re a bunch of schoolkids practically” he said as he let out a brief chuckle. To have such a young team is new for Sydney; as Taylor says, “Uni has had a lot of success in the past, this is a whole new group trying to live up to that legacy”.
The Minor Premiers will sure have their work cut out for them if they want to do that.