It’s steady as she goes as Sydney Uni juggernaut rolls on

By MARK CASHMAN

Opportunity knocks at sometimes the most inappropriate of times but as we head into a fallow weekend in the Shute Shield the question swirling around the competition is will the departure of Rob Taylor bring Sydney Uni back to the field.

News leaked earlier this week that Taylor had taken up the head coach’s role at the NEC Green Rockets in Japan’s Top League and would hand over the reins to his defence and skills boss Phil Blake.

Taylor will work closely with NEC’s new director of rugby, former Wallabies boss Michael Cheika, and to be perfectly honest it’s one of those opportunities of a lifetime.

In some ways you’d be tempted to edge towards saying yes to that question, but the vibe that I am getting is that it will be steady as she goes.

Blake told Rugby News that he’s not going to re-invent the wheel at Camperdown, far from it.

“To be quite honest the program has been Rob’s baby since we first came together last November,” Blake said.

“The program’s been set up and our job from here is to steer the players through and try not to hit any icebergs.

“Rob will still be there as a sounding board but the players very much own the program and they are all very proactive in driving the standards and the work ethic.”

Blake’s not unfamiliar with the landscape at Uni, popping in to watch his youngest son Harrison play lower grades whenever he was in town over the past five years or so.

That led to some Saturday afternoon conversations with Taylor and the tap on the shoulder when the wheels of professional rugby slowed in the northern hemisphere at the end of last year.

It’s not ideal but what Taylor has done in the first nine rounds of the competition in many ways demonstrated why he is such a coach in demand.

The Students are eight from eight and have notched up a bonus point in each of those victories that have been streamed live and advert free on Stan Sport, but importantly they have got their defence in order with the help of that man Blake.

They are two points clear on top of the competition table and are second behind Northern Suburbs (118 against) in the defence pecking order having conceded 137 points in total at an average of a tick over 17 points a game.

“My first reaction was one of excitement for Rob,” Uni skipper Jack McCalman said.

“It’s not unalike like players getting an opportunity further up the tree and the whole playing group are really happy and excited for him.

“Obviously we’d love got have him as our head coach for the rest of the year and finish off what we’ve started but he’s never going to be far away whether that’s in Japan or here in Australia.

“Blakey’s been with the group right from the get go of our pre-season and has played key role in the way that we are playing.

“He’s been very hands on and has played a major role in setting the foundation for the season.

“What we need to do now is to sustain that momentum as we push towards the finals.”

Uni have a particular brand of rugby, they work hard at it and in many ways it’s hard to see that dropping away anytime soon.

Sides know that they need to take risks if they are going to get any sort of reward.

“Uni vary between a side that you would rate eight or nine out of 10 every week while just about every other team in the competition varies between a six and a nine,” Randwick coach Ben McCormack told me last week as he prepared to take on the juggernaut.

As every team in the Shute Shield knows the race is on!

Catch all the Shute Shield speedsters live and on demand on Stan Sport throughout the 2021 season. 

IMAGE: AJF PHOTOGRAPHY