Marist-Albion have reached their first final in the top division of Canterbury club rugby in almost two decades with an exciting 31-28 win against Christchurch. They will meet Lincoln University who led throughout their semi-final with Sydenham despite never having a lead more than a couple of tries.
Rico Syme was the hero for Marist with a stunning solo try two minutes from time that gave his side the ascendency heading into the final plays. Syme found the ball in his hands 45 metres from the try line. As the former Christchurch Colts player had done so many times in the past in red and black, Syme beat the first man on the outside before cutting inside and outside half a dozen others before diving over untouched.
Thomas Hanham-Carter had the opportunity in stoppage time to draw level and take the match to extra time with a penalty from 37 metres out, after successfully landing his previous three kicks, the most important of all was waved away to the left signalling full-time.
There was no lack of quality tries from either side, two of the best scored within the first quarter hour of the match. The first followed some excellent balance shown and a superb grab from Blake Thompson just inside the left touch before putting a grubber into the try zone which saw Henry Saker first to the ball and dot down for Christchurch.
Marist, not to be outdone, struck back within five minutes when a 25 metre Hagan Schulte pass landed on the chest of a flying Dylan Lolohea who was never going to be stopped from 10 metres out.
Marist were the better team in the first half, especially in the second 20 of the half where they scored three unanswered tries, one an intercept and 80 metre run from Sekove Delaicautata which involved stepping Zac McKay helping turn an 11-5 deficit into a 24-11 half-time lead.
Whatever was said at half-time did the trick and the red-and-blacks dominated the second half and chipped away at the Marist lead only jumping in front with four minutes to play after former Marist player Shayne Anderson scored.
Then came an enthralling last five minutes involving a moment of brilliance from Syme and an opportunity for extra time squandered.
Marist coach Ben Blair pointed to the “massive ticker” shown by his team especially during the second half and that moment of brilliance. “It makes turning up to South Hagley on a Tuesday and Thursday for six months a year worth it.”
Blair thought it was “great for club rugby” for two clubs to have a “little bit of feeling” and there was no lack of this which is shaping to be the rivalry of Canterbury Club Rugby for years to come, this match was proof of that, with plenty of hard hits, a few scuffles and a couple of yellow cards.
When speaking of Syme, the Marist coach could not praise his young fullback enough believing he is destined for higher honours. “He is an unbelievable, freakish talent, what a try, in that situation as well.” The man himself was philosophical about it. ““I am just taking it game by game, If I just keep playing how I am and keep doing what I’m doing hopefully opportunities will come my way”
Lincoln have turned in a clinical performance in beating Sydenham 37-28 to reach another final. There is no doubting this club are the benchmark of the competition and they proved that again, against a side that had not been beaten in two months.
The turning point was an intercept try from Joe Brial which pushed the students lead beyond double figures down the stretch although coach Alex Robertson said the start his side got was vital especially after slow starts over the past month which saw his team have to come from behind to win matches. “We led 12-0 early and kicked on from there” describing the start as one of the big moments.
Sydenham lost Dan Fransen before kick-off although coach Sid Tauamiti didn’t feel affected his sides performance. “They (Lincoln) were classy. Yes, they had a lot of players out, but they don’t rely on them, they stick to their systems.”
Tauamiti admitting his side were disappointed that they could not go to the big dance. “It was a sombre mood in the changing sheds for a while afterwards” although felt once his team had the chance to reflect on the season, they would be able to look back and be proud of themselves.
Burnside have dug deep with 17 available players to beat Old Boys 26-14 claiming a spot in the CanStaff Plate Final against Shirley.
Coach Bevan Sisson was extremely proud of his team pointing to the performances of Zach Gallagher and Troy Hallett. “All the forwards played eighty. Zach and Troy played were absolutely brilliant after backing up from playing for Canterbury yesterday.”
Shirley defeated an understrength New Brighton side 42-21 making it three in a row setting up what should be an exciting final against the Burnside.
Hooker, Sam Cottam scored a first-half hat-trick for University setting up a 47-22 win against Belfast to claim a spot in the Bowl final against Linwood who were handed a free pass following a default by Sumner.
University coach, Nigel Smith, praised Belfast for the spirit they showed after trailing 40-0 at the split. “Its probably the best I have even seen Belfast play (in that second half) so credit to them.”
Smith cleared the bench at half-time which he admitted disrupted the flow a little bit for his team but was happy to get through and have a shot at silverware.
Shaun Harrington was one of the best for the Vipers. His direct running and strong carries stood out for Smith while Matt Letoga also got a mention turning in another solid performance at No.8
TROPHY FINAL: Lincoln University v Marist-Albion (Sunday 13th September 2.45pm)
PLATE FINAL: Burnside v Shirley (Saturday 12th September 2.45pm)
BOWL FINAL: University v Linwood (Saturday 12th September 2.45pm)
Words: Glenn Matthews