Heading into the inter-varsity Australian Club Championship clash with Shute Shield Premiers Sydney University this Saturday, Hospital Challenge Cup champions University of Queensland are set to unveil their new recruit – lock Connor Vest - who has been able to provide some inside intel on what the Red Heavies can expect.
Vest, who has been a mainstay of the Northern Suburbs pack in Shute Shield since 2013, has made the move north of the border in the off-season and is set to pack down at lock for the Red Heavies this weekend.
Originally from Grafton in Northern New South Wales, whilst hungry for a new Rugby adventure at St.Lucia, Vest was also happy to move closer to home.
“I chose to come to UQ through a link with a few friends that had played here as well as at Norths in Sydney,” said Vest.
“I wanted to come up to Brisbane and test myself in a new environment with a new team.
“It was also about being close to home, my Mum has a young family so it’s always good to head home on a weekend and help out on the farm.”
Vest has four seasons of National Rugby Championship (NRC) experience under his belt, having played for the Sydney Rays from 2016-2018, before last year being selected for NSW Country, where he was coached by Sydney University head coach Robert Taylor.
Having competed against the Sydney Students in Shute Shield, paired with his experience under Taylor in NRC, Vest has been offering the inside word on what kind of reception the Red Heavies will endure this weekend.
“Through NRC last year I was coached by Robbie and I know a lot of the Sydney Uni boys from playing with and against them. I’ve got an understanding for the way Taylor coaches and what kind of game plan they will implement, so I’ve been chatting with the UQ coaches ahead of the weekend.”
Whilst working as a carpenter during the day, Vest still has aspirations of higher honours in Rugby. He isn’t the first player from down south to notice the elevation of so many Queensland Premier Rugby products to the Queensland Reds squad under head coach Brad Thorn’s tenure.
Players such as captain Liam Wright, Jock Campbell and Scott Malolua have come through the Premier Rugby pathway, as well as more recently Hunter Paisami, someone who moved to Queensland from Melbourne chasing an opportunity last year.
“I felt like I was bashing my head up against a brick wall in the system down in Sydney, I just wanted to challenge myself in a new competition,” he said.
“Thorny is rewarding blokes who are consistently performing for their clubs week-in-week-out, that is definitely appetising for players looking from the outside in.”
At the age of 25, Vest is a bit of an anomaly at the notoriously youthful UQ, and is fast taking over the token ‘old guy’ role in the forward pack previously held by the likes of UQ stalwart Tim Buchanan and former British & Irish Lions Test prop Tom Court. Despite automatically becoming one of the old heads within the group, Vest believes he has a lot to offer the squad and has enjoyed his pre-season experience thus far.
“I think I can offer a lot around set-piece, namely line-outs, being a bit older I’ve got a bit of experience to add into the mix,” said Vest.
“I’m learning a lot from the coaches in Mick Heenan, Elton Berrange and Cameron Lillicrap.
“I’m definitely enjoying it, it’s a great culture, it’s different to Shute Shield. There are more grades here which definitely makes a difference in terms of support at games, but overall I’m just enjoying the company of everyone here at UQ.”
Vest’s return to Sydney this weekend sees him as one of a handful of players in the UQ outfit who weren’t part of their 2019 grand final winning side. However, having missed his opportunity to claim the Australia Club Championship with Northern Suburbs after their 2016 Shute Shield title, he is looking forward to the chance to redeem his missed chance.
“It’s definitely a bit nostalgic,” he said.
“I went on a Rugby tour after the premiership and broke my ankle so then I missed out on the team’s Australian Club Championship win over Brothers here in Brisbane at the start of 2017. I’m definitely looking forward to another crack this weekend.”
The Australian Club Championship clash between University of Queensland and Sydney University kicks off at 4:30pm AEST this Saturday, and will be broadcast live via Kayo.