Semi-Final time is upon us in this shortened 2020 version of the Canstaff Metro Premier Rugby competition. The top four have certainly earned their place finishing over a game ahead of the fifth place Old Boys.
There are plenty of players missing due to Rep honours but that shouldn’t have much effect on the quality of the best club competition in New Zealand.
TROPHY SEMI FINAL ONE: Christchurch (1st) v Marist-Albion (4th)
Previous Result: Christchurch won 37-17 in Round 9
The red-and-blacks snatched top spot with a stunning win against Lincoln University last weekend and go into the semi-final on a 5-game winning run.
Coach Simon Kneebone believes his side have grown in confidence over the past few weeks, “We are ticking some boxes, but we aren’t quite there yet” alluding to that complete performance that his coaching staff are searching for.
Christchurch will be missing the likes of Hugh Renton and Will Tucker and with Dallas McLeod and Cam Bailey named for Canterbury to face Tasman it means the red-and-blacks will need to call on some youth although Kneebone is adamant that he and his coaching staff have every confidence in the players that will fill those roles vacated.
Blake Thompson has been impressive after his switch from Rugby League to Union this season. The wing is often seen getting his hands dirty in the ruck and looking to carry the ball forward to help out the big men up front and he will need to do that again this weekend against a youthful Marist side.
Marist are looking to right-the-wrongs of the previous result with Strahan McIntosh admitting that the group had spoken about a semi-final against Christchurch. The preparation has been no different to any other week according to McIntosh “Our standard is high at all trainings, so this week has been the same. We have tried to maximise the time with the playing group this week. We had a video session on Sunday, so we could be on the park, Tuesday and Thursday”
That last match against this weekend’s opponents started a mini slump of form, even trailing Sumner last weekend at half-time before running in 55 unanswered points in the second half which has boosted the confidence of the team. McIntosh saying that the Sumner match was an excellent build-up to the semi-final. “They brought a lot of energy in that first half last week and we had to play forty minutes of real hard footy, so we probably got the best of both worlds.”
Elliott Smith is a player to watch. The young second-five has played every minute of every game this season and always at a high level. “He has lots of potential to move to rep footy. I have never seen him have a bad game in the couple of seasons he has been here” McIntosh said before continuing “When I rock up at training around 5.30, he is already on the park doing lengths”
TROPHY SEMI FINAL TWO: Lincoln Uni (2nd) v Sydenham (3rd)
Previous Result: Sydenham won 23-20 in Round 7
After being taken to school by Christchurch last weekend, suffering their biggest loss in a long time, Lincoln coach Alex Robertson said that they have now moved on from that. “We have had a pretty positive week. We put the Christchurch game to bed after we learnt what we needed and are now focussed on enjoying the week.”
Kale Thatcher has been a standout for the students. After spending the first three rounds in Prem Reserves, Thatcher has come back and been a consistently strong performer for his team. “Since he has come back into the squad, he has given it is all, that’s all a coach can ask for” Robertson said.
Robertson wanted to give credit to the Canterbury coaches who have been “open and honest about availability of players” which has allowed the Lincoln coaching staff to prepare and allow younger players more game-time in preparation for the semi-final and potential final.
Sydenham have not been beaten for two months, since Round 3 of the competition and boost an impressive 8-win, 1-draw, 2-loss record, six of those wins by a five points or less proving that they know how to win the tight ones.
Coach Sid Tauamiti said that what his team has achieved thus far counts for little now although he does believe that the tight contests put his team “in good stead” for finals footy but admitted that it will likely be the best team on the day that live to fight one another week.
Tauamiti is not reading too much into the form that Lincoln bring into the semi-final knowing that finals experience, that Lincoln have plenty of, carries a lot of weight.
Vice-Captain Moses Faletolu has impressed Tauamiti this season with his consistent performances at centre. “He may not always be the standout, but he does the subtle things and ensures that ball gets the speedsters out wide.”
PLATE SEMI-FINAL ONE: Old Boys (5th) v Burnside (8th)
Previous Result: Burnside won 36-16 in Round 4
Old Boys are on a roll with three wins and a draw in their last four starts. The Polar Bears were out the blocks slowly which ultimately cost them an opportunity to defend their title, but you can be sure they will want the Plate. Burnside have lost their last couple of narrowly going down to Lincoln they ran out of steam last weekend with a weakened bench. Zach Gallagher is expected to be missing after being named on the bench to take on Tasman tomorrow night.
PLATE SEMI-FINAL TWO: New Brighton (6th) v Shirley (7th)
Previous Result: New Brighton won 23-12 in Round 5
New Brighton are a proud club and despite missing out on the semi-finals for the first time in several years the players still have pride for the jersey and will look to pick up some type of silverware. It looks as though Aaron McCoy will have to come back and play another season if he is to notch up 200 games with injury ruling him out of this weekend and potentially next weekend if they can get past Shirley.
The Vikings have found their mojo again going back-to-back to end the season. After a positive start, a poor mid-season cost the boys in blue but they will be desperate to continue their good run of form and settle the score with the seasiders who beat them earlier in the season.
BOWL SEMI-FINAL ONE: University (9th) v Belfast (12th)
Previous Result: University won 78-5 in Round 6
University coach Nigel Smith admits his squad are disappointed not to be playing further up. The students have had a breakthrough year which saw them lose three games in the final minutes against Top Four sides, Sydenham (by 4), Lincoln Uni and Christchurch (both by 2) however Smith said “Silverware is silverware and we are out to finish the season well and use that as a springboard into next season.” Smith said they hadn’t focused on Belfast, but more about “nailing their own style of play.”
BOWL SEMI-FINAL TWO: Linwood (10th) v Sumner (11th)
Previous Result: Linwood won 33-5 in Round 4
Linwood have had a season that saw inconsistency. Despite losing their last three matches they have been competitive and will hope to get the win this weekend in a match that they are still treating as a semi-final.
Sumner have struggled on the park, and now are struggling to get a full team with only 14 eligible players for this weekend. Coach Martin Field-Dodgson asked his team on Thursday night what they wanted to do and every player to a man said they wanted to play whether they had to default the game to Linwood or not. The Wave have used country players from Mid Canterbury, Kaiapoi and Oxford over the past couple of weeks but due to the rules saying players needed to have played three games the club needed to apply for dispensation which was turned down. It was disappointing for Field-Dodgson who is stepping down as coach for 2021. “After four seasons coaching at Sumner, I am taking a break next season. A coach needs a whole lot of tools to be effective. I am taking a bit of time to go away and sharpen mine. My best coaching years are still ahead of me.”
Words: Glenn Matthews