What a match! What an advertisement for Canterbury Club Rugby. Due to Level Two restrictions the crowd numbers for a final were lower than previous years however the supporters of both sides made sure they were heard creating a decent atmosphere.
Lincoln University are the 2020 Canstaff Premier Rugby Champions after a thrilling 30-29 win against Marist-Albion at Rugby Park on Sunday afternoon handing the students their fifth title in six years after settling for runners up in 2019.
Lincoln captain, Josh Bokser scored the defining try 90 seconds from full-time right next to the uprights when he looked up and saw a gaping hole in the Marist defence 10 metres short of the line giving Fletcher Morgan a simple conversion to win the championship for Lincoln.
Rico Syme looked to have snatched victory for Marist five minutes earlier after another brilliant individual try, almost an exact replica of the try he scored to put his side into the final last weekend against Christchurch.
Marist showed their intentions after just 70 seconds. A lineout on halfway won by JJ Manning. Marist then took one hit up before spinning the ball wide where Declan McCormack turned Morgan inside-out before giving a pass to Sekove Delaicautata who tiptoed his way down the tram lines to score in the right corner.
Rowan O’Gorman extended the lead after a classic forwards try from a rolling maul on 13 minutes but it was a try-saving tackle by Syme on Lincoln wing George Coull in the left corner two minutes later that showed Marist were well and truly up for it. Lincoln put it through the hands from a scrum near halfway, Morgan drawing in Syme before giving the ball to Coull but somehow the Marist fullback was able to turn and catch the Lincoln wing tackling him into touch before he could get the ball down.
Lincoln didn’t enjoy a lot of territory during the first half but when they were in attacking areas the students came away with points, Luke Donaldson dotting down following a patient 20 phase build up after 23 minutes, then led for the first time on the half hour when Morgan kicked a penalty from in front.
After turning down numerous penalties during the first spell, backing their attacking ability instead, Marist finally decided to take the three on half-time sending them to oranges holding a slender 15-13 lead.
Lincoln have dominated most matches during the second half this season, their fitness levels better than most, and they showed that for most of the second spell. Seb Calder crashed over after 50 minutes handing Lincoln their biggest lead of the match, a mare five points, but it should have been more going into the final 10, errors and poor discipline letting the students down at times.
When Elliott Smith scored after 65 minutes then that little bit of magic from Syme a few minutes later it looked as through the momentum had changed and Marist were going to claim their first title since 2003, leading 29-23 with five on the clock then it was Bokser who strolled through the middle after a pick and go and a free run 10 metres to score the match winning try.
Marist won the kick-off giving themselves hope, a penalty would do, but as they have done all season backed their attacking capability, throwing the ball wide which ended with Fritz Vaa being tackled into touch by Ryan Barnes and Oscar Koller ending the contest.
Lincoln coach Alex Robertson said after the game they were not surprised the way Marist came out and looked to attack from the start. “When we had a look at them against Christchurch they did exactly the same thing and that’s they way they have been playing all year so we expected it and we had some processes around it, eventually they are going to break through, its just how many times you can limit them from doing it.”
Richard Duchess has been part of the Lincoln management team for over a decade and through all the finals he had been involved in admitting today this was the most nervous he had been heading down the stretch praising the opposition. “Credit to the Marist boys today, absolutely phenomenal. They should be holding their heads up just as much as us. I know that’s hard to do but I hope they will reflect on it with pride.”
Both Duchess and Robertson said the team had belief that they could still win following the Syme try, Duchess saying the team took a big breath behind the posts and talked about going back to process, Robertson calm and smiling saying, “there was still five minutes left.”
Robertson was thrilled with the way his skipper Josh Bokser had stood up this season after the departure of Rameka Poihipi to Mitre 10 Cup. “He doesn’t say much, but when he does people listen then he goes out and follows up his words with actions on the field. He is someone that young men like Seb Calder and George Bell who are first year out of school actually go and follow and look up-to so he has taken on that role well as you can see in his performances he has been outstanding for us as a captain and a person.”
The Marist changing room after the whistle was understandably subdued although each player received applause as they left the field from their supporters. Strahan McIntosh admitting it was a hard one to take but hoped that the club could continue to build and be successful.
“Its bloody hard to get to a final, these guys don’t make it look like it but look at Old Boys, champions last year and missed semi-finals this year. We need to retain our players now and keep them fit” McIntosh said just after the final whistle.
LINCOLN UNIVERSITY 30 (Luke Donaldson, Seb Calder, Josh Bokser tries, Fletcher Morgan 3con, 3pen) defeated MARIST-ALBION 29 (Sekove Delaicautata, Rowan O’Gorman, Elliott Smith, Rico Syme tries, Hagan Schulte 3con, pen) HT 13-15 Marist. Referee: James Munro.
Shirley 51-27 Burnside
University 36-26 Linwood
Words: Glenn Matthews