Bankwest Stadium a glittering showpiece in Parramatta was the setting for one of Sydney University’s most incredible premierships. Down by 16 points at halftime, the Students staged a fightback midway into the second half an unequalled macrocosm to defeat the Warringah Rats 21-16. An incredible feat to claim repeat Shute Shield premierships.
Literally being hung, drawn and quartered in the first half, the Rats rattled University with big hits and abrasive play. University could not develop continuity being pinned inside their quarter for sustained periods. Three quick early penalties did not help University’s cause with a 9-0 deficit. Warringah’s wily Captain Hamish Angus in his last game was cleverly kicking to gain field position or sweating on a mistake. This was causing immense problems for University.
Near the thirty minute mark they added salt to the open wound when an attack to the open was received by the extra man fullback Liam Windon. Windon applied a dummy and scored a try in the north eastern corner. Five eighth Angus converted the try from the sideline and University were down 16-0 and looking as if they were about to be greeted by a tumbrel* inside the dressing rooms.
Forty minutes awaited the minor premiers to redeem themselves. There was no Gettysburg address from the coaches. Patience was the key and panic was not a concern. University did not disappoint.
The first quarter of the second half once again saw the Rats dominate field possession. Like the umbrella movement currently embracing Hong Kong, the yellow shirted University contingent seated beneath the Free Nick De C! banner were vocal in their barracking in spurring on the players. Then a moment of genius occurred and the Students did not look back. Intelligent rotations were made and into the game came in halfback Nick Phipps, prop Matt Sandell and hooker Tom Horton.
You could instantly see Phipps organizing skills around the rucks and mauls. Those innate skills developed as a Waratah and Wallaby were on show. A box kick here and a short ball there, Phipps was giving University some real go forward. Warringah were visibly starting to lose momentum. When prop Matt Sandell made a thumping run through the middle it indicated that the Warringah fortifications may be about to breach.
University had secured a five metre lineout and it was time to unleash their tradecraft-the rolling maul. The maul was set and it started to surge towards the Warringah line. University’s first try was beckoning as the maul collapsed into a mass of bodies over the line. But the referee James Quinn instead motioned towards the posts and awarded a penalty try. An added bonus for University was the sin binning of their second rower Sam Thomson for killing the ball over the line. Warringah were now a man down, a depleted scrum and losing momentum.
University could smell the kill and continued looking for field territory to punish Warringah. Some intense recycling inside the Rats quarter saw University thundering towards the tryline. The ruck was set and Nick Phipps channeled the ball to the open. But his foresight saw a short ball to a hard running outside centre James Dargaville who smashed over. The James Kane conversion reduced the scoreline to 16-14 and University were now looking the goods.
Warringah had lost their mojo. There was minimal heavy hits and bustling of the Students. All the momentum was with the blue and gold. When a kickable penalty was awarded University supporters were surprised the decision was made to kick for a five metre maul rather than goal. Warringah had that oh me oh my look as the lineout was set and minus a key lineout jumper. The ball was taken down by breakaway Josh Kemeny and the surge then took place. The University pack were grinding the Rats pack towards the sandstone gates of Parramatta Gaol as once again a try was scored by Tom Horton. 21-16 and University were in the lead with less than ten minutes left in their season.
Warringah could not mount any decent continuity to peg back the deficit. A dropped ball or crooked lineout throw stalled their comeback. Another phase of scrums inside the Warringah twenty two area was the final coup de grace to befall Warringah. A scrum penalty coincided with the full time siren sounding. The end to the 2019 season was given to James Kane. Sporting a neat haircut from Ramone of Potts Point, Kane punted the ball into the stands to call an end to proceedings.
A human wave of supporters descended onto the arena. There was hugs, tears and backslaps aplenty as the players and University faithful witnessed a great fightback in Sydney rugby.
In his swansong for the club and Australian rugby before he heads off to the London Irish Club, stalwart Nick Phipps was in reflection mode, “It was awesome playing out there. I finished my career in Australia with this club from where it all began.”
Guy Porter a Captain leading his first Shite Shield premiership was honest in his post mortem, “With twenty to go it was going to take something special after we played a terrible first half. But we got that penalty try from the lineout and then we started to roll,” said Porter.
New Club President David Lyons was afterwards just elated with what he had witnessed. “It’s just awesome seeing what the Club achieved today,” said the happy President.
A welcome rest is now required before 2020. On behalf of the Club enjoy the offseason.
Up the Students!
*a carriage used to take people to the guillotine during the French Revolution.