It would be a brave person to back against the top four of Lincoln University, Christchurch, Sydenham and Marist Albion not being the teams to face each other in the semi-finals after the latest round of the Canstaff Metro Premier competition in the city on Saturday.
Lincoln and Christchurch are now guaranteed positions in the top four with the final round next weekend. New Brighton can still mathematically make it but with Sydenham and Marist due to face Sumner and Belfast you would have to think the seasiders will be playing a middle four semi-final in 2020.
Lincoln were superb in the second half to pip Burnside in the dying stages and it was a similar story at Linfield with Linwood leading comfortably at the split before Sydenham snatched it late. Old Boys won a high-scoring affair against Marist. Shirley celebrated Phil Watson’s record-breaking game with their first win in six while Christchurch and New Brighton both cruised against Sumner and Belfast respectively.
An Oscar Koller penalty five minutes from full-time has given Lincoln the spoils against Burnside 18-17 after he had missed an attempt a couple of minutes earlier from in front on the 22.
Both teams scored three tries while goalkicking proved difficult, Koller kicking one from five and his opposite Duncan Wood one from three at a open and windy Burnside Park.
It looked like it would be Burnside’s day when they led 17-5 at the split, coach Bevan Sisson saying they spoke about getting “one more try” early in the second half to really put the pressure on, but it went the other way with a couple of knock-on’s presenting the students with the chance to hit back.
Sisson felt after that, for a while at least, his team lost a little bit of confidence in themselves and the students took advantage scoring twice in the opening 15mins of the second spell but was proud of the gutsy effort they put in after that to stay in the game and almost snatch it in the last minute.
Tamaiti Williams impressed his coach playing the full 80 minutes after some early injuries forced a rethink to their strategy. “He isn’t used to playing 80. He was under pressure at scrum time, obviously, but his ball carries were good and his defence, very good.” Halfback, Keita Yamamoto also drew a mention from Sisson. “He is gutsy for a little fella, makes lots of tackles, I thought he was pretty consistent.”
Lincoln coach Alex Robertson was “stoked” at his side’s effort. “The fact that we went down as well, then the determination and grit from young men to get back into the game was outstanding”
At half-time Robertson said they simply just spoke about rising to the challenge in the second half and asked his team how much they wanted it, the response in the second period definitely didn’t leave anything to the imagination.
Robertson pointed to the impact off the bench, especially from the likes of George Bell and Corey Kellow who he felt brought energy and direction while Josh Loveday also received a mention when he came into the critical first-five position.
Robertson heaped praise on Burnside though, “Credit to them aye, they brought the fight and they needed to win with their season on the line. Like I said to you they have been pipped all season and they got pipped again today. It’s a success from where they were last year to now, so Bevans done some good work”
Sydenham have done it again coming from as many as 15 points behind at half-time to win 26-23 against Linwood. The insertion of Gibson Popoalii at half-time proved to be the difference scoring two tries, the second, the match-winning one with six minutes to play, Max Hughes kicking the all-important conversion to make the lead three points. Linwood had the opportunity to kick for a draw making the Hughes conversion even more relevant as it forced the Bulls to go looking for a match-winning try instead, which they could not find.
New Brighton coach Ross Martin admitted his team won ugly 38-14 against Belfast but was happy that they “got the job done.” The seasiders led comfortably before Belfast fought back scoring a couple of tries later in the match to add some respectability to the score.
Thomas Hanham-Carter scored a hat-trick while Zac McKay and Nick Annear both scored doubles as Christchurch scored a half century beating Sumner 50-3 setting up a blockbuster clash with Lincoln next week, a match that could decide who finishes top of the table for the semi-finals.
Phil Watson’s record-breaking 277th match for his beloved Shirley Club was a successful one as the Vikings ended a five-match losing streak to claim a hard fought 22-14 win against University. Watson did not manage to get a meat pie, but the 38-year-old played the full 80 minutes which was an achievement according to coach Deane Lutton. Junior Taia was strong on defence for Shirley while Bill Fukofuka impressed also.
A forward dominated display from Old Boys has set up a 36-27 win against Marist-Albion although it was not enough for the Polar Bears to have a shot at defending the title they won in 2019. The result left Marist needing to win next weekend to secure what looked like a certain semi-final spot just a fortnight ago.
Points (After 10 Rounds): Lincoln Uni 44, Christchurch 39, Sydenham 35, Marist 34, New Brighton 31, Old Boys 28, Burnside 26, Shirley 23, University 20, Linwood 18, Sumner 4 and Belfast 1
Bold indicates team has qualified for semi-finals.
Words: Glenn Matthews