Christchurch have snatched top spot from Lincoln University after a comprehensive 41-15 victory over the students on Saturday meaning they will host Marist and Lincoln will host Sydenham in the semi-finals after both won easily in their final round matches.
Due to the Level 2 situation we find ourselves in at present, plenty of supporters were forced to watch from the neighbouring Westminster Park but would not have left disappointed as Christchurch and Lincoln entertained showing why they are the top two teams in the competition.
Christchurch scored five tries through wingers, Blake Thompson and Dan Koster while Tana Luke, Zac McKay and the big unit celebrating 100 games, Hamish Kilpatrick all got meat pies. It was a perfect display of kicking off the tee from Dan Dorgan (4/4) and Cam Bailey (3/3). Kale Thatcher, George Coull and Corey Kellow scored tries for Lincoln with Oscar Koller unable to land any conversions.
Christchurch looked up for the occasion right from the get-go scoring twice in the opening quarter, first through Thompson after Nathan Evans won a lineout on Lincoln’s ball before the red-and-blacks went wide immediately for the former league player to score on the left wing and then Koster dotted down in the opposite corner after catching a speculator from the impressive Walter Huata.
It wasn’t until just after the midway point of the first half that Lincoln got some ball inside the Christchurch 22 but the red-and-blacks repelled the students phase-after-phase defending almost two dozen before holding them up over the line in the final one.
After Nick Annear was sin-binned following a string of penalties conceded by the home team, Lincoln took immediate advantage rumbling one over, Thatcher appeared to be the player to come up with the ball at the bottom of it.
Holding a 21-5 half-time lead Christchurch needed to start well, knowing the threat that Lincoln pose in the second half of matches and an early Dorgan penalty extended the lead to 19, then when Coull dived over in the corner it seemed the comeback was back on.
When McKay zig-zagged his way past a couple of would-be defenders with 15 to go it seemed that today was their day, Bailey adding a penalty with 10 to go putting the result beyond any doubt but not the battle for first place.
Kellow’s try for Lincoln with 7mins play gave hope that the students could steal a four-try bonus point and with it finish top-of-the-table but the red-and-blacks dug deep and capped off a fantastic performance when the centurion touched down 4mins from full-time.
Christchurch coach Simon Kneebone is a tough taskmaster saying that it still wasn’t “the complete performance” but he hoped that would come in a couple of weeks’ time should his team get past Marist next weekend. “We had very clear goals for what we wanted to achieve today, and we probably ticked those boxes, but we are still coming in and out of games”
Kneebone said his team know the job was not yet done this season as they look forward to the next weekend and renewing the rivalry with Marist. “The teams I have coached here have dipped out at the semi-finals before so the focus will be around us and how we can be better”
Kilpatrick joked after the game with Donny Bell that he may have “pinched it off Matt Etheredge” saying it was “pretty special to bring it up with the old man in the crowd.” The 100-game man admitted there was a good feeling around the squad this year. The boys are loving it”
Lincoln coach Alex Robertson gave credit to Christchurch post-match “They played awesome.” He believes that the occasion no doubt lifted the home team “When you play a hundred games for a club you want do him justice and give him the result that he deserves.”
Robertson said his team would accept and learn from this result rather than just forget about it and move on. “There is not much point forgetting about it when there are lots of opportunities to learn from that game and grow. It wont affect us to much, we know what we have to do going forward so we will just make sure we nail the detail for next week”
Blair Ryall, Dan Fransen, Corban Harding and Monty Lama all scored two tries each as Sydenham successfully defended the DCL and consolidated third on the ladder beating Belfast 77-12.
Marist put on a second half masterclass in defeating Sumner 67-12. They trailed 12-10 at one stage before scoring 50 unanswered points, Declan McCormack smashing a hat-trick.
Old Boys conceded an early lead of 14 points, but it did not stop the Polar Bears rolling over New Brighton 39-21 and leapfrogging the seasiders into 5th place.
Shirley earned themselves a middle-four semi-final against New Brighton after a 24-12 win against Linwood while University won an entertaining match 42-31 against Burnside.
Final Points: Christchurch 44, Lincoln University 44, Sydenham 40, Marist Albion 34, Old Boys 33, New Brighton 31, Shirley 28, Burnside 27, University 25, Linwood 18, Sumner 4, Belfast 1
Semi-Finals: TOP 4: Christchurch v Marist-Albion and Lincoln University v Sydenham, MIDDLE 4: Old Boys v Burnside and New Brighton v Shirley, BOTTOM 4: University v Belfast and Linwood v Sumner (Bottom 4)
Words: Glenn Matthews