By Cameron Caccamo, Club Rugby TV Correspondent
With only five rounds to play, every club is looking forward to the Finals; hoping to get as many teams as possible into the top six. There are also the Club Championships to fight for – with the Gregor George Cup and the Eric Spilsted Shield both up for grabs.
Sydney University leads the way for the Gregor George Cup, with six of their seven Men’s teams in the top three of their respective competitions. While they don’t count towards the Club Championships, it is worth noting that their Women’s team are undefeated too. How do they ensure fantastic results across the Club? Club Rugby TV talked to Robert Taylor, the Head Coach at Sydney University, to find out.
When asked why the Club is doing so well, Taylor does not hesitate; it comes down to being an “aspirational Club”. “We are always looking to do a little better than the previous year,” said the third-year Coach.
He is quick to talk down his own influence on the success of the program, or even the facilities afforded to them by the University. Instead, Taylor speaks to the environment across the Club; a culture of ensuring their players bring out the best in each other.
“Winning the Club Championship is our number one goal”, Taylor states unequivocally. Having won the last fourteen in a row, it is a clearly a goal the University takes seriously. It also helps to set a “level of expectation” for new players in the program. Taylor doesn’t mince words; the Club “tracks those sort of players that are striving to be the best they can be” and it certainly shows in their consistent results.
The Students have their fair share of detractors. A common theme is that they offer players scholarships to come and play for them. Taylor is quick to downplay that; “there is a lot of noise out there… about these incentives and scholarships, I wish we did have half of what people said”.
Taylor is also keen to point out the challenges he faces running a University-based Club. Every Club deals with roster shuffling due to injury or other factors, but Taylor says their large student contingent means that time off for exams, graduations, and University breaks are quite common for many of his players across the Club. “We are probably the most transient Club of any of the Clubs in the Shute Shield”, he says. The current First Grade team is one of the youngest they have fielded.
He says this only adds to the importance of “pulling together” and having the players support each other. He knows that even though it is a tough time of year, he can depend on all his teams to back themselves and each other to perform.
James Kane leading the Students fight on 140 points in this season alone.
Looking ahead, the Students have a tough road to secure that fifteenth-straight Club Championship. Their First Grade team won’t face another top-six team unless Souths can sneak in before their Round 16 clash. The lower grades, however, will have some big matches against potential Finals opponents.
It isn’t any easier for the Colts, with all three teams looking at matches that will decide the top six. The hardest path is for the only Students not in the top six currently; the Firsts Colts. They are slated to play the current top three of Randwick, Souths, and Gordon in the final three rounds.
Taylor admits that it will be tough; “Every Club rises for Sydney Uni… there is never an easy game”.
This weekend the Club takes on Parramatta, and Taylor says “It would be nice to walk away with eight wins but I don’t think it’ll be as easy as that”. He singles out the Fourth Grade clash as one to look out for. The Two Blues recently accounted for a then-undefeated Rats outfit and will be keen to continue that momentum.
Nick Phipps runs away from Parramatta defence in Round 2. Image: AJF Photography
Many rusted-on fans of other Clubs would groan at the prospect of a fifteenth-straight Club Championship for the Students. However, it is clear that Sydney University has created a true Club-focused culture where players support each other and has led to fantastic results across all eight teams.
While Warringah and Easts are not too far behind, Sydney University are still favourites for the Gregor George Cup, while Randwick has the lead in the Eric Spilsted Shield.
Gregor George Cup Standings (Grade):
Sydney University – 2112
Warringah – 1986
Eastern Suburbs – 1962
Eastwood – 1884
Randwick – 1796
Manly – 1749
Northern Suburbs – 1730
Southern Districts – 1523
Gordon – 1111
West Harbour – 1081
Parramatta – 585
Eric Spilsted Shield (Colts):
Randwick – 659
Gordon – 583
Eastern Suburbs – 509
Sydney University – 497
Southern Districts – 481
Eastwood – 430
Warringah – 394
Manly – 393
Northern Suburbs – 335
West Harbour – 124
Parramatta – 108