Sunday, March 18
A morning departure from All Saints College, with special thanks to Rugby master Scotty Gardiner for helping make our stay in Bathurst so enjoyable.
Today is a travel day, 350 km south to Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory. Weather is very much in the news, with bush fires raging throughout the state of Victoria. The four hour drive comes complete with a mini windstorm, making for a dry and dusty trek. Some of the time is spent getting up on the local “culture” as we watch Crocodile Dundee.
Of more concern is how players with various bangs and knocks will recover for what will be a short turnaround before Monday’s matches versus powerful St Edmund’s.
St Edmund’s is one of the premier rugby schools in Australia, with numerous alumni, such as George Gregan and Matt Giteau, having moved on to the Senior Wallabies squad shortly after graduation. The whole campus simply oozes rugby tradition.
Billeting assignments, thanks to the superb efficiency of coordinator Mary-Jane MacLeod, are handled quite literally in the blink of an eye. Many of the SMUS boys will be on their way to watch the Canberra Raiders play a National Rugby league match in the evening.
Monday, March 19
Canberra, now with a population of some 430,000, is situated equidistant between Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s two largest cities. The site was chosen so as not to offend either, as both had their sights set on being the country’s capital city.
Walter Burley-Griffin and his wife won the contest to design from scratch what was effectively a brand new city. After various delays and alterations, construction of various buildings began, all around a man-made lake some 4 metres deep.
Our morning city tour features a tour of the “Parliamentary Triangle”, complete with all the various government offices, national libraries, galleries and residences. Also nearby are both the high commissions (Commonwealth) and embassies (non-Commonwealth). Each of the buildings have been constructed in a manner to reflect their respective nations. The USA Embassy is heavily fortified, with layers of gates, fences and guards. This contrasts nicely with the Papua New Guinea building, complete with large tent, a gate wide open and not a guard in sight!
The tour then moves to the top of Mount Ainslie, some 900 metres above sea level, and from where one gets a superb look down to the National War Museum, Anzac Parade, the lake and Parliament.
The Australian War Museum is the final stop of the morning, and a better, more thought provoking two hours could not have been spent. Australia’s significant contributions to the wars of the late 19th and 20th centuries are well chronicled, backed up by numerous interactive displays videos and demonstrations.
After lunch the SMUS party returns to St Edmund’s to prepare for the matches, which are set to be played at the nearby Queanbeyan RFC, home long ago to former Wallaby legend David Campese.
While some non availability hampers selection for both the SMUS Junior and Senior teams, nothing can take away from the depth and quality displayed by both St Edmund’s sides. Serious pace, power and physicality make their high-tempo, off-loading game very difficult to combat, with exhausted defences eventually cracking in the final 15 minutes of each match.
St Edmund’s 70 SMUS 12
Despite the final scoreline, SMUS showed great courage throughout. Duke Curran, Max Nishima, Josh Mao and Will Kinahan showed a complete disregard for their own safety, throwing themselves into countless tackles and scrapping for the few loose balls available. Others followed suit, and made St Edmund’s work for everything. That the hosts, using the match as a trial of sorts, fielded 40 players over the three periods, made life even more difficult for SMUS.
Indeed, the first third of the match was reasonably competitive, as SMUS answered two St Edmund’s tries with a fine effort themselves as Kinahan finished off good work from the forwards by diving in close to the posts. Matthew Gordon added the extras. Then, after the hosts notched another pair to lead 22-7, SMUS scored the best try of the day, completing eight phases and over 20 passes before Mao crossed in the right corner. This score drew a deserved round of applause from the growing crowd.
St Edmund’s 48 SMUS 3
Though on the back foot and living off a beggar’s ration of possession, SMUS held out for 19 minutes before St Edmund’s scored the opening try of the game. Centres Matt Hagkull and Luke Rainier-Pope were both heroic in defence, while forwards Nick Papaloukas and Ranon Ng were the pick of an under-sized and under-pressure pack.
St Edmund’s battered away throughout the second period of play, denied on several occasions by scrambling defence, but managing another two scores. Then, somewhat against the run of play, SMUS counterattacked from deep in its own half, eventually winning a penalty kicked which was successfully converted by Rainier-Pope. 15-3, with one restart to come before a much-needed break. Alas, though winning the kickoff through Simon Gilmour, an overly ambitious decision to run the ball from inside the 22 proved fatal, as a knock-on allowed St Edmund’s to move the ball through their clever fly half and electric fullback for a fourth tally.
This turn of events seemed to knock the wind out of SMUS, for whom the final third of the match was difficult. A relentless St Edmund’s attack finally fractured the tiring defenders and resulted in four more tries, all converted.
For SMUS, scrum half Ephraim Hsu played extremely well in difficult circumstances while left wing Adam Gheis showed some neat touches.
Afterwards, following an absolutely wonderful meal prepared by the St Edmund’s rugby parents, came the traditional speeches and gift exchanges. For SMUS, there was certainly plenty to ponder and reflect upon, as well as lessons to absorb in advance of a two-day break in Wollongong and then the last tour game in Sydney versus Saint Ignatius’ College.