31 August 2023

Community rugby union in Canberra provides a solution to rugby’s woes at the elite level

| Tim Gavel
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female rugby players celebrating

Uni-Norths Owls were victorious over the Tuggeranong ViQueens in the 2023 Women’s Premier XV Grand Final. Photo: Jayzie Photography.

Rugby in Australia is going through the worst period I can remember since I began commentating on the sport over 30 years ago.

There is discord on a number of fronts.

This includes the Wallaroos’ understandable plea for parity, the poor crowds for Super Rugby, the Wallabies’ losing five games in a row, and Rugby Australia seeking to centralise the Super Rugby system. The finances of the majority of the five Australian Super Rugby teams are also a worry (to say the least).

The one shining light continues to be club rugby in Canberra.

READ ALSO The Brumbies could cop a mauling from Rugby Australia’s new centralised model

The Brumbies would have been observing, with a certain amount of envy, the passion on display at Viking Park during Saturday’s men’s and women’s first-grade grand finals.

The crowd chant during the Women’s Premier XV Grand Final between Uni-Norths and the ViQueens was reminiscent of English Premier League soccer.

It was a sight to behold as Uni-Norths won at the death with 20-year-old Charlie Brigstocke crossing for her third try on full-time in the 30-26 victory.

female rugby player running for a try

2023 Women’s Premier XV Grand Final between Uni Norths and Tuggeranong ViQueens. Photo: Jayzie Photography.

The palpable emotion of the win sent the Uni-Norths fan base into raptures.

ACT Rugby deserves credit for realising that the women’s grand final would draw equal attention to the men’s and so played the Premier XV Grand Final on the main ground as a double-header.

The emotion generated by the women’s grand final flowed through to the men’s John I Dent Cup, with Gungahlin seeking to win their first premiership since 2003.

The chants on show during the women’s game continued in the men’s, with the Eagles supporters turning out en masse on the southern hill.

rugby fans cheering

The Gungahlin Eagles cheer squad at Viking Park for the 2023 John I Dent Cup grand final. Photo: Jayzie Photography.

There was involvement around the ground with fans from both clubs cheering non-stop.

In a particularly tough game, the Eagles edged out the Vikings 33-22 with Gungahlin full-back Issac Crowe named player of the match. Eagles legend Matt Hawke won his first John I Dent Cup in 19 seasons with the Club, and Lachy McCaffrey won a premiership in his first season as coach.

rugby lineout

The Gungahlin Eagles flying high against the Tuggeranong Vikings in the 2023 John I Dent Cup Grand Final. Photo: Jayzie Photography.

The coaching battle with the highly experienced Vikings coach Nick Scrivener was also a highlight.

For the Vikings, centre Joe Wadman was again outstanding. Don’t be surprised if he is picked up by a Super Rugby franchise or even an NRL club in the future. Yes, he is that good.

rugby player about to be tackled

Gungahlin Eagles veteran Matt Hawke bracing for contact in the 2023 John I Dent Cup Grand Final. Photo: Jayzie Photography.

In my role as the Eagles co-manager, I have managed to see plenty of rugby over the past five seasons. It has been a privilege to be involved in a minor way.

Rugby union at the elite level somehow needs to tap into the unbridled emotion displayed in both the ACT men’s and women’s grand finals on the weekend.

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Crazed_Loner5:21 pm 31 Aug 23

The Shute Shield in Sydney is good too. I used to enjoy watching games when it was free-to-air on 7 on Saturday afternoons because the games were frequently extremely free-flowing and entertaining so I was disappointed when it went behind the Stan paywall – though I only recently discovered that (some?) games were back free-to-air on 9Gem. The games are more open and not as stop-start and grinding as higher levels games frequently are. In the meantime, their loss was AFL’s gain.

I watched the Brisbane grade final on Stan last weekend, which was also fantastic.

Lefty Boomer10:58 am 30 Aug 23

Whatever happens, keep the so called business types out of it. The leather patch brigade will kill any local, grass-roots support that might be active. Well done ACT Rugby, don’t let them organise you out of existence…Trent the players and especially the fans well and you will thrive. Don’t make it a money making exercise beyond servicing the needs of those two groups.

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