The final score line of 41-32 in Uni’s favour did not do justice to a brave Eastwood performance as the blue and whites bid farewell to the season that was 2016.
In a see-soaring and at times pulsating InTrust Shute Shield Qualifying Final, the Woodies came firing out of the blocks on a blustery but sun-drenched University Oval 2 on Saturday.
The arm wrestle began in earnest when Eastwood broke the line and drew first blood in the corner to take an early 5-0 advantage.
All of that hard work was undone just minutes later though, coughing up an intercept try as University pegged back the game 7-5.
Each side traded continuous passages of phases while line breaks were kept to a minimum.
The best opportunities evolved from bombs in the air, utilising the wind that became more unpredictable as the match wore on.
Yet the first half was all about Eastwood, piling on the pressure from a solid set piece and smart kicking game from flyhalf Jai Ayoub.
The clever number 10 slotted a penalty kick from right in front before a barnstorming run from number 8 Michael Kovacic extended the lead to 15-7.
Tries were traded for both sides before Eastwood grabbed another 5-pointer barely minutes from the half time whistle to take a commanding 29-14 lead at the main break.
Hooker Hugh Roach returned to club rugby from the NSW Waratahs as a second half substitute with the Woodies rotating their front row stocks.
Former Tahs inside centre Thomas Carter fired up the home crowd as University immediately turned the tables.
Back-to-back tries to the yellow and blues closed the gap to within 3 points until a third consecutive try made a 15-point deficit into a 2-point lead at 31-29.
Fullback Johnathan Malo put in an outstanding performance, using his speed and agility to carve open some openings for the visitors.
A penalty goal by Ayoub put the Woodies briefly in front at 32-31, yet that moment would be the last points scored by Eastwood for the afternoon.
A soft try conceded under the posts followed by a 3-point conversion in the wind made the 41-32 score academic with minutes remaining – there would be no comeback from here.
The Woodies bow out with Randwick at the Qualifying stage while University move on with Warringah, Norths and Southern Districts to play out the final 4 of the competition.
It was a tremendous game of rugby worthy of a Final, let alone at the last 6 stage.
University’s superior fitness in the dying minutes, along with some experienced heads that kept their nerve under pressure, was all that separated two quality Shute Shield outfits.
Reporting for Eastwood Rugby
Freelance Sports Writer and Photographer