Soldiers charge but blown away
Appropriately on Anzac Day, the soldiers of Linton Army looked set to charge out of the trenches and win their match with 18 minutes to go on a dusty, unforgiving Johnston Park yesterday.
Linton had a chance to maul over for a fifth try which would have broken the 22-all deadlock. But instead it was the Feilding Old Boys-Oroua Stags who fixed bayonets and won flatteringly by 39-22.
A captain with three pips on his shoulders, Cory Neale, had dashed over from fullback to score Linton's second try in five minutes after halftime and it seemed he would do his duty by the Flanders poppy and the army.
It was 22-all then and all Linton.
Neale is the only officer in the team, a second in command of an infantry company. The 29-year-old from South Otago has served 11 years in the army.
"We felt it was our day to stand up today, particularly as we were representing a great cause," he said. "We felt a sense of duty and pride today in our jersey."
The soldiers did well to stay awake. The trade-off for playing on Anzac Day was they had to do duty at dawn services at Linton Camp and Ashhurst and that meant they had to rise at 4.15am.
And from today they are off on the big Exercise Halim Alfa, which will mean Linton's next game against Kia Toa will probably be deferred and played on Tuesday, May 8.
That aside, the talk of the park yesterday was the surprise return from injury of Manawatu Turbo Lewis Marshall at fullback for the first time since opening day on March 24.
When he wasn't cramping up, he was a handful for the soldiers with his running from the back.
The Stags were again short-handed in the forwards and had Peta Simmonds, who played centre last Saturday, on the flank. Linton had brought in Dannevirke prop Enesi Setu, with Manawatu Rugby Union approval, to boost their front row, but the Stags still had ascendancy there.
FOB-Oroua fans, however, must have wondered if history was about to repeat itself. They sprang out to a 22-5 lead, similar to their lead against Old Boys-Marist who had run them down.
Linton then scored three quick tries, the first just before halftime, and up went their fizz.
Had their goalkicking not been woeful, they might easily have won. And had they mauled over from a lineout, as they had done earlier, the Stags' spirits might have dropped.
But they let the Stags off the hook and with plenty of space out wide and at the back, and the soldiers missing too many tackles, Linton's steam ran out. FOB made oodles of breaks but their finishing was scruffy.
Their best were hooker Jake Anderson, No8 Sam Aupouri and first-five Paora Rakatau, while Linton's were Alby King, Papa Wharewera, who set up a try with a huge break, Casey Lowe and Grant Robson.
Scorers: FOB-Oroua 39 (Peta Simmonds 2, Gareth Watts, Tim Bailey, Lewis Marshall, tries; Paora Rakatau 2 pen, 4 con) Linton Army 22 (Frani Woodmass, Brad Meikle, Cory Neale, tries; Keelan Poi con) HT 22-12. Best and fairest: 3 Jake Anderson (Stags) hooker, 2 Grant Robson (Linton) No8, 1 Paora Rakatau (Stags) 1st5.