It was the start of the business end of the season with University hosting a home qualifying final against the Manly Marlins. The sun was shining brightly but a polar blast and a swirling wind was diabolical to gauge. Despite a sluggish first half, University overran the Marlins in the second half to record a 47-31 victory.
Manly were undoubtedly the more productive running into the non-zephyr like wind. The Marlins backline were focused on spreading the ball wide and this showed in their first try after ten minutes. An attack through the hands saw a loop around to the open. A mistiming of the defence saw Manly slide though a narrow channel and outrun the Students defence for a converted try.
University were stung and decided to redeem themselves soon after. Rapid recycling was being applied inside the Manly quarter. University were inching their way ever so close to the Manly try line. Halfback Jake Gordon shot the ball to the open where prop Chris Talakai lobbed a ball to a looping Ben Hughes who scored adjacent to the posts.
However Manly were determined to keep punching away with a game plan to use width as fast as possible. Again they scored through a phase of broken field running. The score line was see sawing more than the value of the Australian dollar. Once again University hit back. Jake Gordon engineered the try by delivering a short ball to a rampaging prop Harry Johnson-Holmes who crashed over to bring scores back to an even 14-14.
Then a moment of melancholy occurred. In the process of scrambling for a bouncing ball towards the University line, winger James Kane was consigned to the sin bin for taking out a player. Manly were awarded a penalty try with University now behind 21-14. The Students were now a man down with the Marlins showing considerable momentum.
But the pride of University once again stepped forward four minutes from the break. Phases were being recycled inside the Manly quarter. They had driven towards the goal line with some ferocious picks and drives culminating in the hyphenated one Harry Johnson-Holmes crashing over for his second try. University were now only down 28-21 going into the half time break. It was not one of University’s better halves of rugby but they were still within striking distance of Manly.
University came back for the second half with noticeable more focus as their trademark discipline was applied. Only four minutes had been played when a dominant driving scrum saw number eight Rohan O’Regan score to bring scores back to 28-28. Manly with the wind saw a penalty as a means to leap frog the Students at 31-28. However this score ended Manly’s points for the afternoon.
Once again the lethal set piece of University was the telling factor with a rolling maul from a lineout allowing University to gain the lead. James Kane returned to the field after his ten minute sentence which was just enough time for the aspiring actor to freshen up with a quick makeup session.
The new lead was the impetus for that man of mystery winger Harry Potter to show the impossible is possible. The ball was swung to the open and Potter came off his wing to make an extra man. As he hit the Manly defence line you could hear composer Elmer Bernstein’s score from the Ten Commandments come from out of nowhere! Potter had that Charlton Heston like persona parting the Manly defence like the Red Sea. Defenders literally fell off Potter as he glided through untouched to score another bizarre like try. 40-31 and University had gained breathing space and looking very confident.
The Marlins were being backpedaled by University. Their first half fluid ball movement had now gone with the wind. They were having enormous problems getting out of their half. University were cleverly rotating players off the bench. A fresh front row came on and again in the form of strapping young prop Angus Bell who quickly made his presence felt. Bell busted and trampled through Manly defenders in a massive surge towards the Manly line only for the ball to be later pulled back. University’s last try was reserved for Captain and centre Guy Porter who backed up Ben Hughes to score a converted try. Porter continued to lead by example and in one sequence near the end of the game lined up his opposite Manly centre and split his opponent in two with a telling tackle. The Marlins had been filleted! The match ended at 47-31 and University progress to next weeks semi finals at North Sydney Oval to play either Norths or Eastwood.
Guy Porter was waxing lyrical about what the victory meant, “To come back in the first half showed real character so we should enjoy it and soak it up, said Porter. Co - coach Joe Horn -Smith reflected on some important points, “It was a great test for us down 28-14 and chase them down. It was a clinical display in the second half and great impact was provided from the bench coming onto the field,” said Horn-Smith.
Finally University had pure culture transcend into the dressing room afterwards. The club hosted world renowned French baritone Monsieur Ludovic Tézier a Chevalier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres.* Coming from a Toulouse rugby background Monsieur Tézier was enthused with what he saw at Camperdown, “I played years ago. To be here is familiar but there are tough guys out here who are incredibly fast and strong, “ said the acclaimed baritone as he generously sang an impromptu song inside the dressing rooms post game with his new friends. Merci beaucoup!
*An order of France awarded for significant contribution to the arts.