Students versus green Rats. No this was not a schlock horror movie starring University winger James Kane but the restart of the interrupted 2020 Shute Shield. University toughed out a thrilling 36-27 victory over Warringah at Pittwater Rugby Park to kickstart their 2020 campaign.
The past years grand finals meant nothing as both sides were intent to notch a first up win for 2020. University dominated the opening quarter stifling Warringah’s attack by pinning them inside their quarter. When the Students tracked their way into the five metre zone it was a degustation delight for University five eighth Connor O’Shea. O’Shea was putting his teammates through gaps with some clever passes and deft footwork.
University were pressing hard inside the five metre zone and the ball was quickly shifted towards the grand stand side through the holy Trinity - halfback Travers, O’Shea and inside centre Will McDonnell. Likened to a Goonoo Goonoo station* red kelpie dragged green jerseys in his wake after backing up O’Shea. McDonnell received a handed backhand offload from O’Shea to dive across the line.
University were bustling the Rats causing loose balls to be produced. Captain and number eight Rohan O’Regan salivated when he pounced on a loose Rat ball from a lineout. O’Regan made a break heading south and was brought down. But whilst falling in the tackle the ball was offloaded to his support O’Shea. Sir Donald Bradman honed his batting skills hitting a ball against a corrugated iron water tank, O’Shea showed running skills developed from another unorthodox drill. O’Shea’s formative years appreciating reruns of classic Hollywood musicals through his father Pat, a veteran high school drama master shows that the studying the skills of John Travolta, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly would prove a masterstroke!
O’Shea darted down the blind. In the space of a few seconds he changed his pace then syncopation, danced around the defence and added a change in direction. The mesmerising running lines completely turned inside out and bamboozle the Warringah defenders for a try under the posts. Halse decided shortly after to kick another penalty but University were still ahead 14-6.
University continued where they left off by camping inside the Warringah five metre danger zone. Ferocious recycling through the rucks saw outside centre Henry Clunies-Ross dive over wide. The conversion was missed but University were leading 19-6 half way through the first half. Everything was working like a Swiss watch. The backs were fast and the forwards were giving them a solid platform. The young front row anchored by Darcy Breen with Pat O’Doherty at hooker and Tom Osborne at loosehead were holding their own at the set pieces.
Warringah persevered and scored a converted try by Halse through good lead up from a rolling maul five metres out. 19-13 remained the score till the half time break.
There was no howling wind from the south. However, the Rats drew first points with a try causing them to now just lead University 20-19. University blinked and were stung but there was ample time left.
University had their backs to the wall after breakaway Nick Champion de Crespigny known colloquially as N de C or his nom de plume ar2de2 was sin binned for killing the ball at the ruck. Less than twenty minutes remained in the game and Warringah now had momentum, a one man advantage and gaining valuable field position. But an injection of fresh reserves proved productive for University to surge again. Winger James Kane was brought in and slotted a penalty for another tender lead of 22-20.
This breathing space was the catalyst for a late surge with ten minutes remaining. O’Shea once again proceeded to make inroads into the Warringah quarter. O’Shea applied a diagonal run towards Pittwater Road and linked with another pivotal substitute the man from Molong breakaway Jack McCalman who crashed over for a much needed 29-20 lead and a bonus point.
University continued the momentum where Warringah were making mistakes by playing catch up. A phase of fierce rucking saw a short ball from replacement half back Theo Strang to the open. N de C returning from the sin bin received the short ball running hard. The big breakaway crashed over to roaring applause from the University supporters.
36-20 but Warringah scored a consolation converted try shortly before full time for a final scoreline of 36-27. A solid hit out for University against a typical physical Warringah.
Debutant winger Ofa Manuofetua was momentarily lost for words after the game sucking in the oxygen. “It’s my first game as a first grader in the Shute Shield. I’ve got no words, I’m so tired it’s just so fast!” said the strapping young winger.
Last words are reserved for winger and points machine James Kane. Unable to take up his professional rugby contract and television hand modelling career in Britain due to Covid -19 Kane said, “Don’t fear the one who ponders 10,000 times. Fear the man who practices one kick 10,000 times.”
Next week University are at home against the other northern beaches team the Manly Marlins.