Australia's top two universities faced off on the sporting field last Thursday with the University of Melbourne's men's Australian Rules football team flying up to Canberra at the invitation of ANU.
After dispatching Monash University in the Varsity Challenge at Ikon Park in mid-March, the Melbourne team travelled north confident that they had the game to also defeat their rugby-raised rivals. After arriving in Canberra an hour behind schedule due to a late flight, the team was hosted to a light lunch by ANU Sport at the ACT Rugby Union Club before heading to the South Oval in the heart of campus.
The oval was presented in sensational condition. College marquees adorned the outer wing. A DJ and free BBQ were set up in the forward pocket. The weather was mild and the sky overcast. And the crowd was loud and proud of their home team. Australian Rules football was alive and well in Canberra.
Instead of wearing its traditional Winged Victory uniform, the University wore a white away strip (courtesy of the Uni Blues) to avoid a clash with the host's blue guernsey. While it may have looked a little different, the team's opening quarter was much of the same that had led it to the 2014 national university championship. In an awesome display of run and gun football, Melbourne piled on six goals to none in the first quarter to lead 6.0.36 to 0.2.2.
While they may have been shell-shocked in the first quarter, the ANU team certainly held their own for the remainder of the game. Drawing on the support of the crowd which had grown to 300 plus, the Griffins' hard attack on the ball ensured the Winged Victory had to work hard to the final siren. And work hard, and smart, they did. With superior hand and foot skills, and a radar sense of where to find the ball, Melbourne gave ANU a footy lesson. The hosts however, certainly showed enough for both teams to know that the next inter-varsity meeting will be a closer affair.
Sport Coordinator Tom Lutwyche was excited about the future possibilities of inter-varsity football.
"Our players have certainly appreciated the opportunity to represent the University outside of the Uni Games. To jump on a plane and travel interstate, and then play in front of a parochial crowd has also been an experience.
'Hats off to ANU Sport for organising a great event', said Lutwyche.
Melbourne's best players included Tyrone Bean (Arts), Alistair Robbins (Environments), Jack Wood (Environments), Hugh Curnow (Biomedicine) and William Blakey (Commerce). Goal-kickers were 5: Alistair Robbins, 4: Jack Wood 3: Andrew Wettenhall (Agriculture) and 1: Rupert Kemp (Commerce), William Blakey, Steven Hanning (Arts) Lachlan Devine (Environments).
Mid-fielder Nathan Sambevski (Law) espoused the networking opportunities of representing the University in events like inter-varsity football.
"I've been playing football for the University for four years now, and I love it because I get to network with other students that I might not get to run in to in my everyday Uni life", he said.
Centre-half Forward/Back Rupert Kemp (Commerce) also echoed the opportunities that representative sport provides.
"It's a great way (playing sport) to make new mates around Uni. . .and I'd encourage as many (students) to get down and be part of it", said Kemp.
The ANU and Monash games provided student-athletes with the opportunity to showcase their talents in front of their peers. The games also enabled the campus cohort to show their team spirit, while alumni were also able to re-engage with their universities to re-live past glories and memories of sporting invincibility.
Inter-varsity football began when Melbourne hosted the University of Adelaide in 1904 with the home team prevailing in a low-scoring contest. With Melbourne, Monash, ANU and the likes of Adelaide and the University of Sydney showing an appetite for hosting more inter-varsity games, the next step will be a league to showcase each university's sporting talent. Watch this space.