The 2014 GPS season was one of the strangest, most exciting, most surprising and talked-about in years—with plenty of upsets, anticipation, close calls and beltings across all three divisions of Opens rugby.
As it was in 2013: Scots, Riverview, Joeys, Newington, Shore and Kings did battle in a two-round format in the First XV and Second XV competitions. The other GPS teams: Sydney Grammar School, Sydney Boys High School and The Armidale School competed in an official Third XV competition against the Third XVs of the other six schools.
Riverview entered the competition as favourites. There was some hype about them because their class of 2014 had been dominant throughout the years, and they had retained plenty of talent from the 2013 season.
Joeys, who always produce a competitive team, weren’t expected to be world-beaters this year, though a few vocal supporters thought they were significantly underrated. Many, including this writer, weren’t too sure what to expect from the Cerise and Blue, and were wary of their ability to pull off an upset or two.
Newington, after a dominant season last year, had a few question marks around them. Most were aware of the punch that key individuals packed, though they weren’t sure how the components would come together.
Kings were a darkhorse going into this season. Whilst they had a few players returning from last year, no one was sure what to expect, and they could be underestimated.
Shore had a class of 2014 that had been a strong cohort throughout the years, though the graduation of a few key players and a lack of recent success made it difficult to predict what they’d be like.
Scots, who won the premiership jointly in 2013, were a mysterious prospect, with a team made up of a lot of young guys, though balanced with a decent ration of returning players. People suspected they would be good, but how good remained to be seen.
Like last year, it became clear mid-way through the season that the competition was effectively a two-horse race, with Riverview and Scots both undefeated, despite a number of close calls for the former.
Despite this, a intriguing, though confusing, battle was going on for third place. During the first half of the competition, Newington and Joeys beat Shore, Kings beat Newington, Joeys beat Kings, Newington beat Joeys and Shore beat Kings.
In retrospect, Round 4 was a particularly tumultuous one, as Scots drew significant attention to the GPS competition after their 101 point drubbing of last year’s co-champions Newington; whilst Riverview were lucky to escape a resurgent Shore side with a last minute try.
Scots and Riverview were the only unbeaten teams before they met in Round 5, the last of the first half of the season. Playing away, Scots broke the deadlock and put one hand on the Premiership pennant by beating Riverview in a rousing contest.
The second half of the season threw even more spanners into the works.
Joeys and Shore, who were both flogged by Scots in the first rounds, each came within inches of claiming a huge scalp when they played return matches against them. Shore was rewarded for its years of persistence with a last minute, one-point victory over Riverview in the second-last round, which effectively gave Scots the premiership.
Meanwhile, the race for third place got busier as Kings and Shore lost to Newington, and Joeys beat Kings but tied with Shore.
In the last round of the season Joeys leapfrogged Newington into third place; beating them with some brilliant ensemble rugby, and Kings upset Shore. Riverview challenged Scots until the last minute of their return bout, but the Bellveue Hill boys showed the resolve and skill that earned them the 2013 co-championship, to hold on and have an unbeaten season.
The Scots College – 2014 GPS First XV Champions
This season Scots went one better than last year’s side did: going undefeated and earning the rare distinction for them of being of being the sole GPS First XV Champions. It was the first time they had won the Championship outright since 1993, and only the fourth time since World War II.
They were a class side, boasting high quality players like Australian Schools player Angus Critchton (#13), exciting Guy Porter (#15), young gun Charlie Smith (#8), dynamic Theo Strang (#9), and versatile Toby Rudolf, who played in the front row, second row and backrow (#1, #4 and #6).
In addition to having the superb individual talent, the coaching of Marcus Blackburn deserved particular commendation. His charges played an amazing style of running rugby and always in the right spirit. It was great to watch and they never took a penalty shot at goal during the season.
Despite carping comments from the media about the provenance of their team, Scots are deserved champions for this season.
Best players – 3. Angus Crichton (#13), 2. Guy Porter (#15), 1. Theo Strang (#9).
St. Ignatius’ College – 2nd place
As mentioned: Riverview went into this season with significant expectations, and, by some measures, failed to deliver.
They had good players: they retained many from their original 13A side during the years and some thought that the success they achieved in their younger years would carry on to the Opens. Hence the pre-season hype.
In any other year, a team with two Australian schoolboys—Evan Pritchard (#2) and Henry Hutchinson (#13), multiple NSW reps – Jack McGregor (#10), Hosea Fotukava (#1), Beau Petterson (#4), and several returning 1st XV players – Jack Bowditch (#3), Bill Freeman (#15), et al.—would have been dominant, but this year it wasn’t to be.
Although they will rue their shock loss to Shore, and their inability to capitalise on opportunities against Scots in both games, this team should be proud of their season.
Best players – 3. Henry Hutchinson (#13), 2. Jack McGregor (#10), 1. Bill Freeman (#15).
St. Joseph’s College – 3rd place
This year Joeys continued their dominance across the board, with the usual plethora of pennants distributed nicely across teams in all age groups, several of whom were undefeated. They remain the benchmark in the GPS for overall superiority and this argues that they have the best programme.
Whilst their record in the First XV is not great compared to former years, their supporters take a jaundiced view on why and how some other teams have quality mainly in their First XV—and have thereby changed the landscape at that level
With two Australian Schools players—Nick Duffy (#9) and Connor O’Shea (#10)— and players like Tom Wright (#15), Koim Wingti (#4), Will McDonnell (#12), Tom Leaver (#6) and improving player James Margan (#2 and # 6), this improving team must have wished the season would go on for a third round of games.
More than other teams they appeared to understand the significant history and tradition behind their jersey. They also had a symbiosis that combined the individual skills of the team well; this enabled them to play above their means.
The cerise and blue should be proud of their 2014 performance, but at the same time they should feel disappointed at their inability to take advantage of opportunities to beat Riverview and Scots once, and do better than tie against Shore.
Best players – 3. Connor O’Shea (#10), 2. Thomas Wright (#15), 1. Koim Wingti (#4).
Newington College – 4th place
Newington were looking to win three premierships in a row but had a mixed season which paled in comparison to their previous two years.
Despite having players like Sepesa Loga-Tarogi (#13), Simon Kennewell (#11, #12), Matt Serhorn (#2) and returning Australian Schools (#3) Vunipola Fifita, when available, they struggled to achieve consistency. At their best they were a team that could push anyone, but at their worst they were a team that suffered a 101 point defeat.
They played their best with their big forwards in tight work; so the soft grounds in the second half of the season did not faze them. But their backs did not threaten as often as they should have despite having quality individuals.
Nonetheless, there were some positives to this season with #1 Melie Laimani and #12 Latu Latinipulu being revelations. Newington will be looking forward to next year, with with a decent core of returning talent and plenty to play for.
Best players – 3. Vunipola Fifita (#3, when he played), 2. Latu Latinipulu (#12), 1. Simon Kennewell (#11, #12).
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