That time of year is upon us again, no not Christmas, well for some it will be. The Canstaff Metro Premier Rugby finals will take place over this weekend starting with the Plate and Bowl finals on Saturday, the showpiece, the Canstaff Trophy Final to be played on Sunday between Lincoln University and Marist-Albion at Rugby Park.
Shirley will host Burnside at Burwood Park in the Plate final while University will take on Linwood at Ilam Fields for the Bowl with both games set to kick off at 3pm. The Trophy final on Sunday will start at 2.45pm.
Canstaff Trophy Final: Lincoln University v Marist-Albion
Marist-Albion will compete in their first senior final since 2003, one which they won, when they take on a permanent fixture at finals time in Lincoln University.
The students have featured in every final since 2015, winning four of them, only missing out last season, so if experience counts for anything, they will go in favourites on Sunday afternoon, not that either coach will buy into that.
Marist have been building to this moment for a couple of seasons now. They enjoyed an impressive 2019 season which saw them make the Top Six and end as one of the better attacking sides in the competition which followed a lame couple of seasons prior for this proud club. “We had a disappointing 2017 and although we finished low on the table in 2018, we won the Plate final against Old Boys which started the journey we are on now.” according to Strahan McIntosh.
McIntosh said the team had prepared well and felt that the average age of around 23 meant nothing in terms of experience. “We have a couple of old heads, Rowan (O’Gorman) for one who has played over three hundred Premier games. There is a fair bit of overseas experience as well, old heads, young bodies.” The team had been building well throughout the week and were enjoying themselves with no nerves to speak of.
When asked if Marist had potentially played their final in a bruising encounter last weekend, McIntosh didn’t buy into it. “We know the job isn’t done. We spoke about it during pre-season and we have given ourselves a chance” while stating that Marist would need to take the game to Lincoln and play for the full 80 minutes after giving up a half-time lead earlier in the season.
The fact Marist were largely injury-free, using only just over 30 players throughout 2020 allowing continuity was a credit to its strength and conditioning coach, Mark Vanner and McIntosh felt that set them up well for finals football. With 26 players lacing up for Thursday training Marist are fit and raring to go on Sunday. “He has done a great job keeping everybody fit and healthy.”
Lincoln coach Alex Robertson his team had prepared well and were looking forward to the challenge. “We have had to manage some sore bodies this week, but we have also been enjoying the occasion because these opportunities don’t come around every day.”
Robertson did say the preparation would have been slightly different to the one player’s went through in 2019. “We have a different group so the individual prep will be different. We are a younger side with a handful of first year players in the squad, so we have needed to manage the nerves and excitement.”
His team were under no illusions what to expect on Sunday. “They will put their heart and soul into it and if we are to be in with a chance, we must their passion and be able to match them mentally as well.”
Lincoln are missing no fewer than six players who will take the field in Canterbury’s opening fixture in the Mitre 10 Cup tonight. “We are obviously missing a few players with provincial selection, but we will be watching them with pride on Friday night.”
Canstaff Plate Final: Shirley v Burnside
Burnside got the win when the teams met mid-season 20-17 in a tough battle, one that Shirley almost stole right on full-time.
Shirley will look to give three of their players a winning send-off on Saturday with Osian Davies, Junior Taia and Keanu Taumata all playing their last matches for the Vikings, the trio totalling over 150 Premier games for the club.
Shirley are on a three-match winning streak which propelled them into the middle division and have taken every opportunity to have fun this week as the build towards their final. “We play a similar style to Burnside” coach Deane Lutton said expecting another tough battle
Burnside will again be scratching the surface to put a full team on the park after coming away with a good win against Old Boys with only 17 available players last week. “The boys came through last weekend well although we will be missing Zach (Gallagher) this week which will be big boots to fill so we had a quiet training week” said coach Bevan Sisson. “They are strong right across the park, especially in the forward pack. We need to compete at the set-piece if we are to give ourselves a chance.”
Canstaff Bowl Final: University v Linwood
University have had a solid season despite finishing 9th on the competition ladder. Players have performed, so much so that clubs have made enquiries for next season, something coach Nigel Smith hopes his lads will swat away and remain loyal in finishing what they have started in 2020.
“The boys are talking about next year because they feel we have unfinished business here.” Smith said saying there was some frustration that they did not finish higher, but the squad understand there is one more game to go. “We played Linwood in this match last year and didn’t really turn up” he said of the 38-8 loss so that added to the motivation.
Matty Letoga celebrated his 21st on Wednesday and he will hope to celebrate that on Saturday with his team-mates and a trophy in the cabinet.
Linwood got a pass to the final after Sumner had to default the semi-final and it worked well for the Bulls. “It gave a couple of our guys an extra week to get over some niggling injuries. Tepasu (Thomas) also returns after six weeks out injured as well” said Mike O’Donovan. “We have enjoyed the week. There has been plenty of banter. This is the final chapter of 2020 before we open up a new book that is 2021 and the boys want it to be exciting.”
Words: Glenn Matthews