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Club rugby's jewel ignored

Date

Daniel Lewis

Spectacle with too few spectators ... the stands at Concord Oval yesterday.

Spectacle with too few spectators ... the stands at Concord Oval yesterday. Photo: Mick Tsikas

At one end of Concord Oval yesterday were the might, tradition and privilege of the University of Sydney. The Students were in their eighth straight Shute Shield grand final and aiming to take their 47th Sydney club rugby title. University trace their origins to 1863 and boast they are the world's oldest rugby club outside Britain. They enjoy recruiting the cream of the GPS system by offering university scholarships, plus networking and mentoring courtesy of their affluent old boys.

The club's president, David Mortimer, AO, has just stepped down as chairman of Australia Post.

At the other end were the suburban battlers Southern Districts. The Sylvania Waters-based Rebels, formed out of crisis 23 years ago through an amalgamation of St George and Port Hacking - and no strangers to the wooden spoon - were in their very first grand final.

Sydney University players celebrate after scoring a try against Souths. Click for more photos

Uni claim Shute Shield

Sydney University win their seventh Shute Shield title in eight years with narrow win over Southern Districts. Photo: Mick Tsikas

The club mostly relies on locals, organises players apprenticeships and sells beers to help pay salaries. Its president, Nev Shooter, admits University are simply the best club in Australia and if they had offered him a scholarship when he was younger ''you wouldn't have seen me for dust''.

There is great rivalry between the clubs and the Rebels' local MP, Scott Morrison, told federal Parliament on Thursday: ''It was only five years ago that their opponents … sought to have the Rebels ejected from the Sydney rugby competition. So we will have the opportunity to settle that score this weekend.''

However, the clubs' two presidents agree on a few things: this year's Shute Shield competition produced some sensational rugby, but even some traditionally strong clubs are struggling financially and changes are needed to improve the health of Sydney's venerable competition.

For the record, Uni won 15-14.

In recent weeks, fears about the future of club rugby have been fuelled by speculation that the Sydney competition would lose its bible, the Rugby News match program, as well as its television coverage on the ABC.

While Rugby News is set to continue next year to celebrate its 90th birthday following a deluge of support, talks continue between NSW Rugby and the ABC over television coverage.

Mr Mortimer said he was particularly frustrated that club rugby did not get the publicity it deserved.

''Dare I say it, it's often much more entertaining and enjoyable than the Super stuff and, indeed, some of the Wallabies stuff,'' he said. ''I think [better promotion] will bring crowds back, which will bring revenue to the clubs. The story needs to be told.''

He believes the publicity would come if another competition pitted the top Shute Shield clubs against the top clubs from elsewhere in Australia.

Mr Shooter said the Wallabies and Australia's Super Rugby franchises did not give back enough. ''It's expected that the clubs develop the players, but there's just nothing given back to the clubs. It seems like there's a hell of a lot of money spent at the top and the bottom of the pyramid gets very, very little.''

At the grand final yesterday, Matt Brown, 45, of Ashfield, said: ''The standard of play is good but I don't think there is enough support of the competition. The crowds are really low.''

Just as Southern Districts was born through an amalgamation of survival, Mr Shooter added that other club amalgamations might be needed to make club rugby more viable and attractive.''We think we did the right thing [by amalgamating]. This year has vindicated it.''

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Sat, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
ENG 0vs FJI 0 05:00Twic
TGA 0vs GEO 0 21:00Kholm
IRE 0vs CAN 0 23:30MilS
Sun, 20 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs JPN 0 01:45Brig
FRA 0vs ITA 0 05:00Twic
SAM 0vs USA 0 21:00Brig
WAL 0vs URU 0 23:30MilS
Mon, 21 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs ARG 0 01:45Wemb
Wed, 23 SepTimes shown AEST
SCO 0vs JPN 0 23:30Kholm
Thu, 24 SepTimes shown AEST
AUS 0vs FJI 0 01:45MilS
FRA 0vs ROM 0 05:00Olym
Fri, 25 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs NAM 0 05:00Olym
Sat, 26 SepTimes shown AEST
ARG 0vs GEO 0 01:45Kholm
ITA 0vs CAN 0 23:30Ella
Sun, 27 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs SAM 0 01:45Villa
ENG 0vs WAL 0 05:00Twic
AUS 0vs URU 0 21:00Villa
SCO 0vs USA 0 23:30Ella
Mon, 28 SepTimes shown AEST
IRE 0vs ROM 0 01:45Wemb
Wed, 30 SepTimes shown AEST
TGA 0vs NAM 0 01:45Sand
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WAL 0vs FJI 0 01:45MilS
FRA 0vs CAN 0 05:00stadium:mk
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NZL 0vs GEO 0 05:00MilS
SAM 0vs JPN 0 23:30stadium:mk
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SAF 0vs SCO 0 01:45St James' Park
ENG 0vs AUS 0 06:00Twic
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ARG 0vs TGA 0 00:30KPS
IRE 0vs ITA 0 02:45Olym
Wed, 07 OctTimes shown AEDT
CAN 0vs ROM 0 02:45KPS
FJI 0vs URU 0 06:00stadium:mk
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SAF 0vs USA 0 02:45Olym
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