Lincoln University have the opportunity to sew up top spot on Saturday when they travel to Burnside, who themselves need to win in order to have a sniff at top four in the penultimate round of the Canstaff Metro Premier Rugby competition.
Christchurch and Marist can both secure semi-final berths with wins over Sumner and Old Boys respectively while Sydenham can put one hand on the remaining place with a win against Linwood.
New Brighton and Burnside are a chance but need results to go their way while Old Boys and University are still in the hunt mathematically although both know they are more likely playing for a middle-four semi-final.
Burnside v Lincoln University @ Burnside Park
If Burnside want to keep their final’s hopes alive, they must beat an in-form Lincoln University who have run in more than 40 points a game throughout the season. Burnside also have hit some form, unbeaten in four.
Zach Gallagher has been a standout for Burnside during 2020 earning himself a callup to the Canterbury Under 19 squad. Coach Bevan Sisson likens the young forward to another who featured for the Crusaders this season. “He is one of the toughest guys I have seen straight out of High School. He doesn’t care who you are, he treats everybody the same, he has the same pedigree as Cullen Grace.” His work ethic impresses Sisson also. “Everything is 100 miles an hour. He has played more than we intended due to some injuries this year, but he wants to play every game.”
Sisson admitted the season could be seen as a successful one for Burnside who boast a 5win-1draw-3loss record, two of those losses in the first three weeks. “Obviously, we set a goal of top four, although any other season it would be a top six so if we made that, yeah, I think it can be called a success.”
Had there been any talk around potentially confirming top spot after the round-robin stages this week for Lincoln. Coach Alex Robertson gave a short answer, “Not really. You know how I roll, one game at a time.”
Robertson put his teams scoring spree down to a couple of factors. One… The players understand the big picture, being adaptable no matter what position you play. Two… “We just enjoy playing the style we are playing.” A lesson that can be learnt a successful team is a team having fun together.
Since losing the DCL, Lincoln have scored 107 points in the past fortnight but Robertson is adamant it wasn’t that game that fired his team up, saying that you expect to have a “blimp” in the season at some stage. He will be hoping that doesn’t happen at Burnside Park but is also under no illusions on what to expect. “They will be really tough. They have had a good season and just been pipped a couple of times.”
There will be a battle inside the battle with coach Sisson and his opposite Robertson, who took over from him at the helm of Lincoln in 2019 leading the students to the final in his first year. Both coached together with Canterbury B and have a mutual respect. Sisson mentioning that his mate was a student of the game. “He (Robertson) studies everything. He has a side with quality all over the park, but you still have to lead them in the right direction, and he does that.” Robertson saying he was looking forward to having a yarn after the final whistle.
Jay LuaLua is expected to earn his Blazer this week for Burnside, whether that be from a start or from the bench.
Linwood v Sydenham @ Linfield Park (Mark Flynn Cup and DCL Shield Challenge)
Sydenham have not been beaten since round three back at the start of July and will take on Linwood for the inaugural Mark Flynn Cup. This also doubles as a DCL Shield challenge for the Bulls. Flynn played for both clubs and the cup will be played between the two sides every year but only in the first round.
Flynn started his playing career at Under 18 and 19 level for Linwood before shifting to Sydenham and going on to play over 50 games at Premier level before finishing his career with Sydenham Saracens. Now at Linwood, Aaron Flynn said this will be a huge game for both teams. “There is nothing to lose especially with the DCL and the inaugural Mark Flynn Cup on the line.”
Immanuel Opetaia will make his first start for Linwood at centre against his old club replacing Inga Finau who picked up a contract with Auckland for the Mitre 10 Cup.
Old Boys v Marist @ Bob Deans
The equation is simple for Old Boys if they want to keep their slim top four chances alive for another week, win and keep Marist from getting any bonus points. Old Boys had a solid win last weekend against Belfast after heartbreak the previous weekend conceding a late try to Sydenham and settling for a draw. Marist suffered their first loss in a month last weekend and will be desperate to bounce back.
They hadn’t even thought about top four admitting the job isn’t yet done and there is an ultimate goal to be there on finals weekend. They boys in green and white hoops identified errors from last weekend and intend to put that right. “We weren’t happy about losing, nobody is but this weekend is a chance to put in a better performance.”
Fritz Vaa is expected to make his 50th appearance for the Prem’s after being “there or there-abouts” since arriving at the club from Auckland in 2014.
Sumner v Christchurch @ St. Leonards
Sumner have struggled this season, make no bones about it. The positives for the Wave are the amount of young talent coming through their Colts, almost a dozen players have made their debuts this season from Colts level which has coach Martin Field-Dodgson excited for the future of the club. With Scott “Razor” Robertson spotted at St. Leonards on a regular basis supporting his club you can bet that this club will get better over the coming seasons.
Christchurch have won their last three and propelled themselves into second on the competition ladder. Last weekend was their best performance of the season in beating high-flying Marist by 20 points although still not quite the “complete performance” coach Simon Kneebone is after. The red-and-blacks will sew up a semi-final spot with a win.
Belfast v New Brighton @ Sheldon Park
Belfast host New Brighton with the seasiders needing a bonus point win and a couple of results to go their way if they want to keep their chances of making another semi-final alive.
Shirley v University @ Burwood Park
This one is a battle for a middle-four semi-final position. Shirley have had a horror run of form after kicking off the season with four successive wins, the Vikings have lost five-in-a-row and now sit just behind the students in 9th position. University have had a successful season compared to their normal standards and currently sit 8th with 20 points. There is already plenty of excitement around this squad for next season, but they know there is a job to do in 2020 first so do not expect them to start to relax just yet.