The Red Heavies have won this year’s Premier rugby final downing a gallant Sunshine Coast 19-11 in appalling conditions at Ballymore. It was a deserved victory for the competitions high-fliers who despite a few shaky moments toward full time, always looked to be doing enough.
In a game that never reached any great heights due to the conditions, both teams struggled to find any sort of rhythm or continuity. In the end it was University’s ability to dominate the set piece that proved the difference.
The match was only two minutes old when University flexed their considerable attacking muscle with fullback Will Tuffley crossing in the second minute after a beautiful pass from Jono Lance. The try was not converted but it was just the start Uni were looking for and an ominous warning for the Coast.
To their credit Sunshine Coast were able to steady the ship to some extent but they always looked vulnerable under a surging Red tide. When Tuffley added a penalty and put the lead out to 8-0 after ten minutes it looked as if the Sunshine Coast boys would be over-run.
A penalty goal to Sunshine Coast fly-half Maurice Stone got them on the board at the 13 minute mark but just 3 minutes later University were in again after finally managing to hold onto the ball and build some pressure.
The movement started with inside centre Herman Porter giving a lovely flat ball to the flying Luke Morahan who was brought down only 15 metres out by the cover defence. A few quick pick and drives were enough to scramble the Stingray’s and once again it was Porter who was the play maker putting winger David Burns over to wide out on the left.
The conversion was missed but and as the rain got heavier, so it seemed the odds of an unlikely upset win lengthened with Uni out to a 10 point lead and making all the running.
University then tried to up the pace of the game but and play some expansive rugby but as the conditions deteriorated, it only added to the amount of dropped ball and frustration.
On the 26th minute mark University earned a penalty from a scrum and kicked for a lineout only 15 metres from the Sunny Coast line. From the lineout win the Heavies bashed away at the stoic Stingray defence resulting in Number 8 Mitch Chapman being held up over the line.
From the ensuing scrum, and almost inexplicably, the scrum penalty went against the dominant Uni pack and Sunny Coast was able to clear.
It was the last real action of the first half which was dominated by Uni everywhere except the scoreboard. Although being outplayed the Sunshine Coast were only 10 points down and still in the hunt as the players went for oranges.
From the outset of the second half it was clear Uni Coach Mick Heenan had told his troops to tighten things up with the Heavies playing it through the piggies with good results.
With an avalanche of Red-Heavy possession it looked for all the world the flood gates would open but once again the Sunshine Coast defence held firm.
Stingers coach, Toutai Kefu, brought on some fresh legs in the 55th minute his team seemed to spark and they played their best rugby. On the 60th minute mark they were rewarded with a penalty goal after University were forced to foul under pressure to trail 16-6.
Both teams upped the intensity from this point on with Sunny Coast in particular making headway. Finally there were a few bright spots from an otherwise dour game.
Sunny Coast tried their best but they simply didn’t have a consistent set-piece to build real pressure This was best illistrated when Uni secured a tight-head from a Sunny Coast 5 metre scrum in the 71st minute and cleared then kick a penalty goal a few minutes later.
At 19-6 with 8 minutes to go, the game was effectivley over.
Sunny Coast did manage one final tilt at the tryline and were rewarded to a rousing cheer from their supporters.
Livevewire replacement Louis Fesolia belted through the previously impervious Uni defence and set up quick ball which was swept left to find a grateful Thomas Cox unmarked and headed for a deserved consolation try as the final siren sounded.
It wasn’t an afternoon for sexy rugby but University did enough in the open 20 minutes to ensure it would be a hard for Sunshine Coast to threaten.
“Performance doesn’t actually matter in finals, it’s all about winning and once we got out to a lead at the start then the rain started coming down, it was always going to be tough for them to peg us back.” said University coach Mick Heenan after the match.
Sunshine Coast coach, Toutai Kefu, was pleased with his team but highlighted the difficulty they faced after Uni’s initial onslaught.
“The first 20 minutes was the difference but having said that we defended really, really well – they were just the better team.
“I don’t think any team would have stopped them scoring those first two tries, they controlled the tackle contest then outflanked us. But the boys kept trying and the will to win was there so that’s the main thing.”
Despite the obvious disappointment a proud Kefu was already looking to season 2011.
“It’s been a good year but we’ll look to go one better next year and I think we can.
“I’ve only had the boys since a bit after the season started and we’ve improved a fair bit so with a full season next year I think we can improve a heap more.”
University 19 (D Burns, W Tuffley tries, W Tuffley 3 pens) d Sunshine Coast 11 (T Cox try, M Stone pen, A Millington pen)
Tony Shaw medal winner: Mitchell Wade (University)